A teary-eyed Oprah Winfrey reflected on her struggles with unequal pay while accepting the Hollywood Reporter’s Empowerment Award on Tuesday. In her speech, she recounted an incident from her days working at a news station in Baltimore where she was denied the same pay as her male co-anchor.
“I was told that because I was a single woman who didn’t have a mortgage and I didn’t have kids, that I was not entitled to earn the same kind of money as the man who was sitting next to me, doing the same thing,” she said, adding that her employers undervalued her.
This is not the first time Oprah has spoken out about the gender pay gap. When Oprah finally got a raise for working on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 1980s, she negotiated higher wages for all the women who worked with her.
Take Action: Share Progress on Education Equality
“I asked that my producers — who, incidentally, were all female — I asked that they be given a pay increase,”she recounted in her speech. A male executive at her workplace initially refused, saying, “They’re only girls.”
“I took a deep breath in that moment and said, ‘Either they’re going to get raises or I’m going to sit down,’” she said.
Oprah’s experience highlights a broader and ongoing issue in the United States and worldwide. Even though the wage gap has been decreasing since the 1980s, progress in closing the gap has stagnated in the last 15 years.
According to the US Census Bureau, the average gender wage gap is 19.3% across all US States, meaning that a woman working full-time only earns 80.7% as much as her male counterpart earns.
Black and Hispanic women are the most affected by this disparity, earning 67% and 58% of what white men earn, respectively. According to a joint committee addressing the inequality, women of color are at a disadvantage, both for their gender and their race.
The award was presented to Oprah at the inaugural “Empowerment in Entertainment” luncheon in Los Angeles — Hollywood Reporter’s first initiative to promote inclusivity. Stars Selena Gomez, Lea Michele, Caitlyn Jenner, and Maria Shriver were also in attendance.
The Hollywood Reporter also launched its Young Executive Fellowship Program at the event. The fellowship will give 20 high school juniors — from underserved schools in Los Angeles, Compton, and Inglewood — a chance to attend a two-year program that will include mentoring and paid summer internships. The initiative is part of broader attempt to promote diversity in the film and television industry.
“Let’s leave here today with the collective memory of wanting to create enlightenment in the world,” Oprah told the students and audience members.
The actress, philanthropist, and media mogul has consistently been a proud advocate on behalf women and people of color in the entertainment industry, and is a champion of girls’ education.
The Young Executive Fellowship Program aims to aid the future generation of film and television members from low-income communities to have equal opportunities in the media industry and elsewhere.
"These students are going to be brought into a world where they go, 'Aha. So, this is what's happening. This is how it's done,'" Oprah said.