Taking the plunge to combat bias & sexism at work

For women, burnout comes much sooner than you think.

FACT: Many women face gender bias and sexism at work. If you’re not aware of it, it can be hard to see. Over time, many women become oblivious to how their experiences are slowly changing how they view their self and their capabilities. Soon, burnout can set in. Real soon. This Mom took the plunge to combat it in support of her daughter, and all women.

To businesses who operate internationally, Lea-Ann Woodward-Berst is a consultant with a renowned reputation. In the last decade alone, she deftly maneuvered a Lenovo global marketing campaign to center-stage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, initialized the marketing strategy for Microsoft’s stay-local and remote in-conference training transition, and guided Audubon Environmental through the after-effects of the financial crisis.

Lea-Ann driving a hover craft in St. Petersburg, Russia

In addition to consulting with clients on how to develop their marketing strategies and put them into action, in 2009, Lea-Ann broadened her career when she started producing and marketing documentaries aimed at making positive change in the world. Today, she’s producing and co-writing the feature documentary Pioneers in Skirts.

Pioneers in Skirts is about women with pioneering ambitions confronting and resolving the consequences of gender-related bias in the workplace, and it’s directed by Ashley Maria. Lea-Ann happens to be Ashley’s mother.


“The film isn’t about the lack of opportunities for women – it’s about the path,” Lea-Ann said. “It’s about what happens when an ambitious woman tries to achieve great things in her life. What gets in her way? And why is it that we are seeing more and more women backing off from their career aspirations soon after graduating from college?”

Those questions motivated Lea-Ann to work on the project just as much as her desire to help Ashley achieve great things in her career. “I was shocked to find out the current progress being made for gender equality clearly is not enough, and I wanted to take a stand,” she said. As Lea-Ann dove into the pre-production research, she began to notice a trend: many high school and college women weren’t fully aware of the sexism and bias they would soon face. As soon as two years after college, many women will see their male counterparts given projects over them and assume “it must be something I did…I need to try harder.” That mentality was something Ashley herself struggled with.

A story that needed to be told

“Since this was my daughters’ first feature, and a story she clearly needed to tell, I jumped in to help. But I was naive and expected to drop off when funding came in to hire professional producers, researchers and writers. That never happened. I soon came to realize we had to make it happen on our own.” Lea-Ann said.

When it became clear that the documentary would require a full-time investment from Lea-Ann, she had a difficult choice to make. Stepping away, even though temporarily, from a business like hers to market and produce a film isn’t like taking a sabbatical from a more traditional job. Lea-Ann’s consulting reputation is as much a part of her brand as the quality of her work. She knew that devoting herself fully to the film would be a setback to the business that she fought so hard to establish.

“I knew this was something bigger than me. And I knew I couldn’t let me daughter face this enormous challenge alone.” In 2016, Lea-Ann put her career almost entirely on hold to devote herself to producing, writing and marketing the film, without earning a single penny for her work.

“My Mom has always been there for me…and I have looked up to her my entire life. But, when she joined my crew, I was able to see her in a new light.  She is relentless about learning new things and has no problem taking the reigns of any project. She never ever gives up! My Mom has become a valued producer that every director needs,” shared Ashley.

Ashley on set with Lea-Ann in Raleigh, NC

“Ashley and I are determined to share strategies for women who are just now beginning to feel confused and blame themselves for the setbacks in their careers. Our goal is to show women how to use and grow the power they already have, and men – how to advocate for them,” said Lea-Ann.

“We want to prevent this cycle from continuing on for the next generation, too,” Ashley said. “In the film, we follow a story where mentors try something very creative in order to help teen girls get their confidence and ambition back – and keep it. It’s very enlightening.”

Click to support the film!

Pioneers in Skirts is in its final stages of post-production, and once they get the last bit of funding resolved, Lea-Ann and Ashley already have their next projects lined up.

Ashley is working on her next feature, a narrative project, and Lea-Ann is laying the groundwork for the next stage of her business.

“We’ve interviewed some incredible people as we made the film. They’ve influenced our goals in our careers to be even larger now, so we both are putting forth the steps to accomplish much more,” Lea-Ann said.

With the end of the project in sight, her career calls to her, and she intends to retake it with a vengeance.

To learn more about Pioneers in Skirts, Lea-Ann or Ashley, visit https://www.pioneersinskirts.com/meet-the-team/.

View Stories By Category

Click here to learn how you can host a group screening of the Emmy-nominated movie, Pioneers in Skirts.

Take action against the forces that cause pioneering ambition to plummet.
Personal Steps YOU Can Take

Share This Information