More and more, we’re seeing powerful women spark conversations about money, whether it be about equal pay, demanding more cash, or just straight-up bragging about their earnings. From Ellen Pompeo’s candid Hollywood Reporter interview about her salary on Grey’s Anatomy to Catt Sadler’s separation from E! News over a pay disparity to Cardi B’s braggadocious debut album, Invasion of Privacy, female celebrities are opening an important and long overdue dialogue about financial equality.
Frankly, it’s inspiring. By being outspoken about the archaic but pervasive issue of equal pay that still stains women’s reality—women are still being paid 78 cents to every dollar men make—celebrities are inspiring more women to do the same. Thanks to the visibility women like Pompeo and Cardi B are demanding, real women are listening, realizing their worth, and asking for more.
“I think, nationwide, females are starting to move into power positions like never before, and realizing being paid what they deserve shouldn’t be a deal breaker when searching for a job,” says Meagan, who works in marketing in New York. Citing Catt Sadler, the former E! News host quit her job after discovering her male costar was making double her salary, as her inspiration, Meagan says she recently got the confidence to ask for the money she felt she deserved.
“Two weeks ago, following a recent promotion, I got the courage to counter the salary offered to me and ask for more money based on what I believed I was worth,” she said. The New York native describes herself as naturally timid; before, she always thought asking an employer for more wasn’t an option for her. “I assumed in doing so, I would come off as unappreciative and arrogant—ultimately steering the employer in a different direction.” She’s still waiting to hear if her counter will be accepted, but now the CEO is involved in the discussions, which wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t asked.
Sadler opened a vital conversation about the wage gap and made a volcanic statement by leaving the network after discovering a male colleague was making more than she was for similar work. The host’s actions also inspired a score of female celebrities—including Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, Olivia Munn, and Natalie Portman—to speak out on behalf of Sadler and demand change. Debra Messing even called out the entertainment network while live on an E! red carpet. These women affirmed that just acknowledging the wage gap is not enough; now we must demand action, and if action isn’t taken, we must take matters into our own hands.
It’s essential for women to see other women in positions of power banding together and setting a precedent like that. During awards season, Jessica Chastain made a monumental example by demanding equal pay for women of color, who make 63 cents for every dollar their white, male counterparts make. The actress negotiated to have her costar Octavia Spencer paid the same amount as her for an upcoming film. Later Jada Pinkett Smith revealed that Chastain did the same for thing for her.
Having women at the top of the food chain, advocating for such changes together, encourages others to do the same—something Meagan knows very well. “My CRO and boss are both females who constantly fight for what they believe in, fight to get the most money for their teams, and recognize their own value,” she says. “Being around that all the time made me reassess my own value and gave me the confidence to ask for more money.”
Ellen Pompeo credits her Grey’s Anatomy boss, showrunner Shonda Rhimes, with empowering her to recognize her own worth and demand financial credit for such. Now Pompeo is making $20 million per year on the long-running show and decided to speak publicly on the matter of equal pay in hopes of propelling the narrative forward.
Alexis, a content creator in Los Angeles, cites the Grey’s star as her own personal money hero. “I’ve recently been beyond inspired by reading about Ellen Pompeo talking about how she became the highest-paid actress on television,” she says. “Or when Emmy Rossum [who won her fight for equal pay on Shameless in 2016] demanded a higher pay than her male costar, to compensate for every year she was underpaid.”
“If you accept work that doesn’t meet your worth, that’s the work you’ll continue to invite into your life.”
Alexis has adopted Pompeo’s logic into her own career as an actress and creator. “Typically, with every deal I’m presented, be it a social media branded integration, dedicated YouTube video, or traditional media project, on a case-by-case basis, we as a team will go back and ask for a higher rate.” She adds, “I believe so strongly in protecting your diffusion of energy and not putting effort toward projects that are not creatively or monetarily stimulating. I think if you accept work that doesn’t meet your worth, that’s the work you’ll continue to invite into your life.”
Female celebrities are also shaping the narrative around women and money in other important ways too, by bringing visibility to the subject and normalizing talking about it. Money has erupted as a prevalent topic in female-driven pop culture, like Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, which features songs like “Money Bag,” where the MC brags about her riches (“I park my Bentley truck on my Versace driveway”) in a way that typically only men have been afforded the opportunity to do in the past. Of course, Cardi isn’t the first female rapper to brag about luxury cars, an overflowing closet, and money—but her album is the most recent and prominent example to center such.
Taylor Swift has even shifted into a more boastful aesthetic; her “End Game” music video features the pop star in a slew of lavish outfits, dripping in dazzling jewels, partying on yachts, driving with Future in convertible sports cars in cities around the globe. She’s presenting her wealth like, historically, we’ve only seen male artists do. This subtle nudge from the singer-songwriter is an important visual for women to witness and realize that they too—excuse the platitude—can flaunt it if they’ve got it.
On TV, Lifetime’s flagship show Unreal also communicates the idea that women, like the executive producer of the show’s faux-reality series, Quinn (Constance Zimmer), can demand more without apologizing for it. In the season-three finale, Quinn jokes about evaporating patriarchal bullshit and instead installing matriarchal bullshit—all while building a one-bedroom mansion for herself to live in solitude, with the empire she’s worked her ass off to build. Even if Quinn’s life seems like an unreachable dreamscape, it’s inspiring to watch and important for women to visualize for themselves.
Ellen Pompeo is breaking the cycle and creating a space for her future generations, specifically her daughter, to see these realities. “My eight-year-old daughter gets to come here and see fierce females in charge. She loves to sit in the director’s chair with the headphones on yelling ‘Action’ and ‘Cut,’” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “She’s growing up in an environment where she’s completely comfortable with power. I don’t know any other environment in Hollywood where I could provide that for her. Now I hope that changes…and soon.”