Ashley MariaI’ve always dreamed big. Ever since I was a young girl I have dreamed about being behind a camera; making films that made people laugh, and inspiring people to think. My parents were my #1 supporters. They teamed up to make sure I would do all the right things to accomplish my dream —  to connect with mentors and learn my trade early in high school so that I could build my skill-sets.

My parents supported me when I attended two of the top universities in the country, and cheered me on when I landed coveted paid internships that provided real-life experiences.

Then, in 2012, with several short films and prestigious awards under my belt, my parents watched with pride as I walked on stage to receive my masters degree in Cinematic Arts. I had so much ambition, and felt I could accomplish anything.

Confidence turned into confusion

Soon after I entered my profession I was surprised to discover I was being referred to as a hyphenate: a woman-filmmaker, and my drive to dream big in my career chipping away. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t being seen for my professional skill-sets, but for being a woman who was trying to play with the big boys. I was in shock.

Opportunities that I worked so very hard for, and earned, were taken away from me each time someone simply said in passing, “Wow, you’re a woman and still accomplishing so much.”

Why was my success so surprising?

I noticed my tone was being corrected on set too, and then someone called me aggressive… what?

I could feel myself doubting my dream

Ashley Maria directing Friday Night Fright

Friday Night Fright won Ashley a Directors Guild of America award in 2010

We are all taught to follow rules in a career ‘game’ that allows us to learn, take advantage of opportunities, and make steps towards an upward trajectory in our career. I did all that. I did it very well.

The thing is, I had to learn the hard way that the game is much more complicated and difficult when a woman plays it.

After some time of me questioning myself and of me being angry with myself, I decided I had to figure out a new game — a way to level the playing field for me and other women like me, and I would take a camera with me.

Studies show women and girls in the U.S. are backing off from their career ambitions. 

This documentary project has taught me about a phenomenon called a “chipping away” — a slow peeling of a woman’s pioneering attitude, confidence and ambition. It begins early in life and continues on into adulthood.

When I started to realize I was experiencing the effects of “chipping away” I was past college and a couple of years into my career.

In the film we show that this phenomenon is strong when a girl is about to enter her teens, and re-emerging with a vengeance when she ventures out into the world on her own.  The result is a feeling of helplessness and disappointment that can lead many women to a breaking point.

I reached my breaking point early in my career. And, this isn’t the 1980’s. It’s becoming the norm here in the U.S. — today.

A recent Bain & Company survey revealed after two years of employment women lose their aspiration and confidence. What happens in those two years? What happens to women after two years?

This same survey showed women who have more experience at their jobs also have doubts about whether they can handle the path ahead. They feel alone, see few relatable women as examples, and don’t seem to know where to turn to for advice.

This report, and many others like it, show that many experienced career women opt out of their ambitions and, in turn, make other plans for their life.


Kat Cole_Web

On camera with Kat Cole, Group President of Focus Brands

What’s in your arsenal that can help me? How can we get past gender-related biases, setbacks and obstacles?

I’ve been traveling the U.S. since 2013; interviewing women and men in various industries. I’ve also interviewed parents and mentors of young girls who are just now deciding on career goals.

I wanted to know what skills or tricks already exist that can help women (and men who want to support women) deal with workplace issues unique to women.

I feel my biggest lesson learned is how massively important men are in the career advancement of women.

Studies have shown that unconscious biases lead to issues of gender inequality. Women certainly didn’t ask for this — and are just as guilty of having biases as men are, but women and men both need to be empowered to deal with unconscious biases. The first step is to be aware that it is happening. The next step: know what to do about it.

I am determined to give the young women coming behind me more of a fighting chance.

How can we help the women who are entering the workforce in the next few years? What needs to happen for the next generation to be better prepared?

Pioneers in Skirts is a film that takes an honest look at solutions for the obstacles and setbacks women who dare to dream big run into. When complete, I want people to watch the film and be prepared and have the guidance they seek. I want this film to help elevate others, and start conversations that are meaningful and productive.

I want Pioneers in Skirts to share a legacy for people, communities, and companies to continue to build on.

My journey is ongoing


On camera with entrepreneur Brad Feld

When my producer and I began researching for this film we wanted to better understand the work environment that twenty-somethings (like me) were experiencing. Why are we in a career battle that we had thought didn’t exist…especially after all the progress working women have made?

I personally needed to stop feeling alone and confused. I needed to start dreaming big again.

Pioneers in Skirts is a film about solutions, change, and empowerment. It’s not acceptable for strong, educated young women to just ‘figure it out,’ generation after generation. It’s not acceptable for experienced professional women to suddenly lose all the energy they had when they started out.

I now see the steps that need to be made in order to stop the “chipping away”. As I make this film, I am actively putting the lessons I have learned into play too — with some pretty interesting results.

I am dreaming big again, and I’m certainly not feeling confused anymore.

What’s my end-game? To be viewed as the talented filmmaker that I am, and not as a woman-filmmaker who got lucky.