The star and co-producer of new movie Equity on why the future is female.
It’s been an unusually good month for women who are in the business of shattering glass ceilings. There’s Hillary Clinton, who made history by becoming the first female to be nominated for president by a major political party. And then there was the release of Equity, a Wall Street thriller with three female stars, two female producers, a female writer and a female director. And while some of Equity’s proverbial glass ceilings may have been of the fictional variety, its message was no less poignant.
“A Deloitte research study recently found that two thirds of millennial women will leave the workforce by 2020, in large part because they’re not being considered for leadership positions,” says Equity co-star and co-producer Alysia Reiner (you may know her as “Fig” from Orange is the New Black). “I memorized that phrase because it just felt so poignant to me that even millennial women weren’t having success getting to the next level.” Reiner and her now co-star and business partner Sarah Megan Thomas discussed this, began to brainstorm, and the idea for Equity was born.
“I like to say that we had the vision for the movie and then we came up with our production company [Broad Street Pictures],” says Reiner. “So it’s like we got pregnant and then we got married.” The duo began developing their movie concept and realized they were in a position to enact some real change. “We said, ‘wait, what if we could create a company with a mandate to hire women in front of and behind the camera?’” recalls Reiner. “And pay them more too!” pipes in Reiner’s seven-year-old daughter Livia Basche, who sometimes joins Reiner on set for her shoots. “Of course, if a man does more work than a woman, then you should pay the man more, but if a woman is working very hard on the same job as the man, why should the man make more than the woman?” asks Basche. A reasonable question.
And when it came to Reiner’s goal of wiping out stereotypes and challenging the status quo as it pertains to women across industries, Wall Street felt as fitting a place as any to start. “Previous Wall Street movies have taken a very misogynistic view of women,” says Reiner. So, they interviewed hundreds of men and women in the industry to get an honest picture of the conditions. “These companies claim that they want to keep and support women in the workforce, but I wanted to know if they actually put their money where their mouth is,” she explains.
The stories Reiner heard ran the gamut from overt sexism (men walking into women’s offices and demanding to know if they were pregnant) to more subtle double standards. “One woman told us about how she was mentoring a younger woman at her company, who was very talented but wasn’t getting the promotion she deserved,” recalls Reiner. “It was because she didn’t look the part.” So, the mentor gave the woman a loan for $100,000 with the instructions to go buy the clothes, the shoes and the purses to fit in and pay her back when she received her promotion. Sure enough, the promotion came within a year and she was able to pay back the loan. “That story really stayed with me,” says Reiner. “That women not only have to have the skills, but they have to look a certain way to make it in this world.”
In Equity, the female characters grapple with some of these real-life issues, from deciding when (if at all) to have kids, to fighting for that big promotion, to maintaining some semblance of a work-life balance. And Reiner will be the first to admit that it’s no easier in real life. “Sometimes I’m selfish and I bring Livia with me to work, because I love spending time with her,” says Reiner. But mostly she makes a point of turning off her phone and trying to be totally present when the family is together at the dinner table each night. “Mommy tries to work while I have school, so that we’re both working at the same time,” explains her daughter. “And then she makes sure that when I’m free, she can have some free time too!”
So what can we do to support women today and pave the way for the next generation (including Livia who hopes to become a botanist and volcanologist)? “Effie Brown, a producer that I really admire, gave a speech at Sundance where she talked about the three most important things,” says Reiner. “Hire, invest and mentor.” Hire more women, invest in female entrepreneurs, and if you don’t have the money or the ability to do either of those things, give your time to mentoring a woman, explains Reiner. “Men and women can give advice and help women but also spend time making calls for them and really vouching for them,” says Reiner. “It might be the most valuable resource of all. And it doesn’t cost a thing.”