Just like any other major industry, entertainment is another field that can be beholden to racist and inequitable norms. Hollywood’s union of television and film writers, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), has been on strike to demand a fairer contract. While the industry’s writers are responsible for the creation of television series and movies that generate billions of dollars for networks and studios, their own wages are unstable.
Hollywood may still have a ways to go when it comes to equity and inclusion, but organizations and their leaders can still learn a few lessons from the people holding down the picket lines. At the heart of the strike, and in particular for writers of color, are questions about the value we place on labor, and how to develop anti-racist compensation practices:
While the stories created by writers can generate millions of dollars for corporations, the writers themselves struggle to make ends meet. Capitalism has similar effects across fields like education or in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, where teachers and other professionals are not paid a living or equitable wage. Across the board, the outcome is a workforce that upholds racist, patriarchal, and capitalistic standards.
With the pay gap being more severe for women of color, organizations can take action to not recreate those same values by setting standards for pay in a way that addresses the legacy of white supremacy culture. Stretching beyond the limitations of what market value dictates can help organizations to dream up and implement ways to compensate employees equitably for their work, and bring balance to the pay gap that exists across gender, racial, and ethnic groups.
Transparency is also a key antidote to the hyper-individualism that white supremacy culture insists on; being transparent about salary negotiations during the interview process and continuing that same practice throughout an employee’s tenure can help to build trust.
Restructuring compensation philosophies around anti-racist values can also create a framework for your organization to reimagine what it means to care for the full-lived experiences of your team, and in particular those of color. Making benefits such as flexible work and supportive caretaking policies the norm can round out a package that creates more equitable living conditions for each individual.
Valuing All Labor
A conflict on equity arises when on one hand, your organization has values that are team and person-centric, yet on the other, team members who are not managers or senior leadership are barely paid a living wage. Capitalism teaches us that the roles– and the people filling them– of service workers, administrative staff, and manual laborers hold no value, and thus, should be paid less. Organizations tend to model these same standards by paying those in roles such as coordinators, assistants, and more significantly less than the directors, managers, and more on their same team. An anti-racist approach would strive to compensate employees at all levels with a living and equitable wage.
With no signs of the strike ending in sight anytime soon, there is space for organizations and their leaders to ponder on how they are also upholding racist and capitalistic norms in their own compensation philosophies and practices. Equitable pay practices can not just boost employee morale but are a key indicator of how your organization is holding true to its anti-racist values.