Filming since 2012, Pioneers in Skirts explores a phenomenon of career burnout, shockingly unique to millennial women in their twenties and early thirties. They are caught off guard, not realizing a wall could go up in front of them, and are ill-equipped to deal with it.

Pioneers in Skirts follows a millennial filmmaker, Ashley Maria, who experiences first hand that “wall.” We investigate the causes, and how we all can work individually and together to overcome them.

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 inspiring people to think.  With several short films and prestigious awards under her belt (including a DGA student award), at the age of 26, Ashley walked on stage to receive her master’s degree in Cinematic Arts.

She built up confidence and felt strongly that she was well on her way to accomplishing her dream.

Confidence turned into doubt and insecurity

Soon after, Ashley discovered she was only referred to as a “hyphenate”: a woman-filmmaker. She was in shock. Ashley wasn’t seen for her professional skill-sets but for being a woman who was trying to play with the big boys.

Opportunities that she worked so very hard for, and earned, were taken away from her each time someone simply said in passing, “Wow, you’re a woman in the film industry and accomplishing so much.” Why was her success so surprising?

She could feel her drive to dream big slowly chipping away.

Ashley’s friends, working in various industries, ALL shared that they felt the same way, and we found studies that showed women in the U.S. are backing off from their career ambitions despite having a ‘we can do it’ attitude.

We knew we had to find out more about a phenomenon called, “chipping away” — a slow peeling of a woman’s pioneering attitude, confidence and ambition.

In the documentary, we feature a recent Bain & Company survey that revealed after two years of employment women lose their aspiration and confidence. We wanted to know what happens in those two years? What happens to women after two years?

We not only discover that having a career is much more complicated and difficult when a woman tries to have one, we learned the “chipping away” effect begins early in life and continues on into adulthood. In the film, Ashley follows two teen girls for 3 years to learn how they and their mentors are taking steps to combat that “chipping away.”

Pioneers in Skirts is an inspiring story ending with solutions. It’s a journey across the United States to meet women who grew up as independent and assertive girls, and – now as adults – found ways to overcome their own obstacles. We also interview millennial women working toward their goals, experts influencing new thought, and men committed to advocating for change.

Every woman should be her own pioneer!

Joni and Norman


The people helping us to understand this phenomenon —

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).

Director StatementIn 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; famed film and television actor/director Joan Darling, and 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.

We meet real-life Rosie the Riveters from West Virginia and speak to organizational experts like NCWITAAUW and NWHM. And, to make sure we are accurately reflecting what is really happening when a young woman’s ambition plummets, we feature renowned leadership psychologist Dr. Hope Hills.

We are very thankful for everyone who has helped us to learn how to battle the fact that careers are much more complicated and difficult when a woman tries to have one.