Stunned after experiencing the phenomenon herself, filmmaker Ashley Maria examines a situation today’s millennial woman finds herself in when she begins her career: an outdated workplace system of bias and opposition against women. Bringing in the experiences of other millennials like her, Ashley asks experts and achieving women how we all can take control of our careers in a backwards system. The film then offers solutions for how we can empower change for the next generation of pioneering women.
Our story begins with Ashley, an ambitious woman, who grew up knowing that if she worked hard enough, then she could achieve anything. For years, she dreamed about being behind a camera – making films that made people laugh and inspired people to think about the world around them. With several short films and prestigious awards under her belt (including a Director’s Guild of America award), at the age of 26, Ashley walked on stage to receive her master’s degree in Cinematic Arts. It was 2012 and Ashley was well on her way to accomplishing her dream of being a director in Hollywood.
Confidence turned into confusion
Ashley soon noticed her career was already defined for her – she was a “hyphenate”: a woman-filmmaker. The number of directors who are women in the film industry is very small, so Ashley wasn’t seen for her professional skill-sets but for being a woman who was trying to play with the big boys. Her day-to-day had her often assumed as ‘someone’s girlfriend’ instead of the director on set, and then, once that was cleared up, her direction would be questioned constantly. To counter this, Ashley became more forceful and, instead of being respected for standing her ground, Ashley was now considered aggressive and difficult.
Is this all there is?
Rather than just being able to focus on the work like she saw her male colleagues doing, Ashley had to keep up an exhausting balancing act to maneuver within this leadership role. She began to think maybe she wasn’t cut out for such an ambitious role even though she had wanted this her whole life. She felt like her confidence and ambition were being ‘chipped away.’
Studies show women in the U.S. are backing off from their career ambitions despite having a ‘we can do it’ attitude.
Ashley discovered she wasn’t alone in this. A 2014 Bain & Company survey revealed young women in the U.S. are backing off from their career ambitions despite having a ‘we can do it’ attitude. Ashley learns this is due to women today being ill-equipped to handle systemic bias and opposition, because, well, they grew up thinking they were equal and would be treated fairly!
During four years of filming experts and people who had experiences to share, we discovered that having a career is much more complicated and difficult when a woman tries to have one. We learned why the “chipping away” effect begins early in a woman’s life and continues on into adulthood — and what to do about it.
Pioneers in Skirts is an inspiring journey across the United States to meet women who grew up as independent and assertive girls, and – now as adults – found ways to overcome career-crippling obstacles. We meet millennial women working toward their goals, experts influencing new thought, and men committed to advocating for change.
Follow our journey as we make Pioneers in Skirts
Who’s in the film?
To bring the story to life the film follows our director Ashley Maria, some amazing teenagers who show us what they’re experiencing as they advance from middle school into high school, and a new mother who is experiencing “the mommy penalty” and learns what “work-life-blend” is all about (for her).
In the film, Ashley takes us on a journey across the United States interviewing women who found ways to overcome the unique obstacles that many women face – women like UNC Chapel Hill’s Women’s Basketball Coach, Sylvia Hatchell; Focus Brands Group President, Kat Cole; MOZ CEO, Sarah Bird; Major General Heidi V. Brown; and famed film and television actor/director Joan Darling.
She spoke to men who want to make a difference – men like Chairman of NCWIT Board of Directors and Foundry Group’s Co-Founder & Managing Director Brad Feld, television icon Norman Lear, and the fathers of the teen-aged robotic engineers we follow in the film.
And, to make sure we accurately reflect what is really happening when ambition plummets, we feature renowned leadership psychologist Dr. Hope Hills.
We are very thankful for everyone who has helped us in front of and behind the camera.