Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment in Partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation, featuring Kristen Marston
Welcome back to our interview series, ‘Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment’ in partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation. For our third installment, we spoke to Kristen Marston, culture and entertainment advocacy director at Color of Change. Marston has dedicated her career to creating positive change within the entertainment industry by developing culturally-informed media for companies like Netflix, Disney, Amazon, HBO Max, MTV, NBC and more, and has advised on over 100 major film and television projects to tell powerful stories that create long-lasting social change.
What first drew you to the entertainment industry (and eventually to becoming a narrative strategist and impact advisor) and how was the climate for women when you first started working?
One of my memories from childhood is of a boy in my third grade class who announced that he didn’t like me because he didn’t like Black people in general and because “Black people are in gangs.” This experience, amongst others gave me an acute awareness of how the media impacts perceptions of specific groups from a young age. I often wondered how things would have been different if the children around me had seen affirming and positive images about my community on television. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I quickly learned how much work still needed to be done to make this a reality and to create a safer world for women and communities of color and I wanted to be a part of that change.
As a woman, what is the biggest hurdle you have faced in becoming successful in your industry, and/or what are some of the key issues that women face in your profession?
When you start out in the entertainment industry, there are many spaces where you are taught to be seen and not heard. As women, these messages are reinforced on deeper societal levels. As I grew in my career, learning to speak up and use my voice was the most difficult, but powerful thing I could do for myself and my trajectory.
What is the best piece of advice a female peer or superior gave you, specifically relating to being a female in your profession?
The best advice I ever received from a female colleague was that, “you know what you know.” This encouraged me to never let anyone make me question my contributions or my value.
As a woman working in your industry, are there benefits to having a female supervisor or mentor?
Studies and surveys have continued to reaffirm that women are less likely to be fast-tracked in the workplace and are underpaid compared to their male counterparts amongst other inequities. Having someone who has encountered the same or similar barriers and who is willing to advocate for your growth and advancement and share insights and learnings can be invaluable.
Have you personally helped to drive positive change for women in your industry or have you seen others do so?
I believe that one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is create a space where your employees feel seen, heard, and respected. I currently manage a team of women and do my best to create an environment where they can show up as they are and as their full selves and where they have the autonomy to explore leaning into their own unique leadership styles. As much as I hope they learn from me, I learn from them too.
What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in an entry-level role in your industry?
As cliche as it sounds – be yourself. You don’t want to work for anyone who doesn’t see you in your full humanity or value your contributions, potential, and unique experiences. Being authentic will also help you to find your professional community and they will be the ones who will advocate for you, champion you, and support you as you navigate the ins and the outs of the industry.
Earlier this year, TIME’S UP released a Guide to Working in Entertainment with practical ways entertainment professionals can advocate for themselves and their safety. How would you advise someone who is struggling to report harassment or discrimination?
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which is housed at and administered by the National Women’s Law Center, can help connect individuals with attorneys who will conduct a first consultation for free. For select cases, the Fund can also help with paying for attorney’s fees and helping with public relations assistance. The Guide to Working in Entertainment is also an excellent resource and lays out tools for reporting sexual misconduct and harassment as well as information about knowing your rights.
What are some positive changes you’ve seen take place, since the #MeToo movement gained traction and TIME’S UP was launched to combat workplace sexual misconduct and harassment in the entertainment industry?
TIME’S UP and the #MeToo movement have bolstered a global conversation around creating a future where harassment, assault, and discrimination at work is no longer tolerated and where there is more space for women to come forward and share our stories and experiences. One of the most powerful things I’ve seen as a result of this is the uptick in conversation around believing women who decide to come forward.
What do you think is still missing in the entertainment industry regarding representation, equity, safety and accountability?
One of the largest ways we see systemic racism play out, not only in the entertainment industry, but nationwide, is the pay gap, a symbol of the deeply entrenched sexism and racism in the United States. Women of color are harmed the most by the pay gap – Black women lose close to a million dollars over the course of their career. Industry leaders and policymakers must take action to fight the systemic drivers of pay inequity.
What further changes do you hope to see in your profession in the future?
The history of racism and sexism in Hollywood is long and unforgivable: excluding talent, silencing voices, derailing careers and using both the economic and cultural power of the industry to reinforce harmful practices. The entertainment industry has a long way to go, but there has never been a greater opportunity for breaking patterns and truly changing Hollywood’s trajectory. The understanding of Hollywood’s impact on society has never been more widespread, and the demand for addressing systemic racism has never been stronger.