Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment in Partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation, featuring Louise Godbold
Welcome back to our interview series, ‘Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment,’ in partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation. For our sixth installment, we spoke to Louise Godbold, Executive Director of Echo, a nonprofit that specializes in trauma training. Godbold has worked as an actress in Hollywood and a commercials producer in Europe, and for the last 20 years, in social programs. Louise has conducted trauma training for sexual assault survivors and changemakers in the entertainment industry and has given TV and press interviews internationally on the topic of trauma and resilience.
What first drew you to the entertainment industry and how was the climate for women when you first started working?
I was born into the entertainment industry! My father and grandfather, uncle, aunt, all worked in the industry. We would spend the school holidays wherever my father was on location. Growing up on set meant that I always felt comfortable among film production people. I couldn’t imagine wanting any other life. I remember our parish priest being hugely entertained when he asked me at age 7 what I wanted to be when I grew up and I answered “a nun or an actress.”
Navigating the world as a woman was so treacherous in the era when I came of age (the ‘80s) that the film industry didn’t seem any worse than the sexual assault, gross indecency and routine misogyny I had already endured. In some ways, it was safer. As long as you batted away the propositions, dodged the awkward kisses and pressed your back against the wall when the bottom pinchers walked the corridors, there was safety in numbers and in the tight-knit community that was the British film industry.
Until Harvey. But even after that encounter, we were all so habituated to sexual impropriety, it didn’t occur to me to protest about the way women were treated. It was part of the landscape; Water flows downhill, men will indulge your ambitions as long as they can reduce you to a sexual object… and women in power will attack up-and-coming young women. The internalized oppression I witnessed from these powerful women was far worse than the sleazy behavior of men because it was more vicious and more lethal. Unless we examine our internalized models of leadership and figure out new ways to wield power, I fear that “the oppressed will become the oppressor.” And that is no less true for women.
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?
I am no longer in the entertainment industry. I run a nonprofit — Echo — and I would say my greatest personal hurdle is becoming comfortable asking donors for money. In terms of key issues, just as in the entertainment industry, we still see our male counterparts paid more for the same job and treated as if they are more competent, better able to handle larger organizations and initiatives or more expert when they speak.
When I was in production, I noticed that the issue for women was not so much getting in the door, but what happened after that. Whereas the young men starting out as runners could soon expect a job in post-production or as a production coordinator, young women were expected to stay assistants until they could claw their way into a better job, most likely taking out the female competition on the way.
What is the best piece of advice a female peer or superior gave you, specifically relating to being a female in your profession?
I wish I could say I had mentor figures when I was a young woman in the industry. There were women who were kind and who advocated for me when I was being paid minimum wage and my boss was earning tens of thousands per day, but no one ever took me aside and gave me advice. It was gladiator school. The more sympathetic women might cheer for you, but no one was going to jump into the pit to save you.
As a woman working in your industry, are there benefits to having a female supervisor or mentor?
At the very minimum, having a female supervisor meant I was less likely to get hit on by my boss (although that is not always the case). I would say any benefit will really depend on the woman mentor/leader and how she exercises power. You cannot generalize and believe that “female” = supportive, generous and fair. I have had great male bosses and terrible female bosses. The real problem is that if we operate under a belief system that there is a scarcity of positions for women and that we have to be tougher and more ruthless than the men to get them, women will necessarily be in survival mode and will fight, flee, freeze and appease (the four survival responses) in order to stay alive. The same is true for men; if the workplace is toxic, they will go into survival mode to protect themselves. What you have then—for any gender or gender expression—is a big old soup of fear where no one can be their best selves and where creativity and productivity inevitably suffer.
That’s why I believe we need to change from “power-over” to “power-with” workplace culture, and reward leaders who get the best from their teams and not the jerks who no one wants to work with. It is critical that we recognize how fear-based thinking and conditioning have permeated our ideas of leadership and workplace culture and how this fear is the real root of abuses of power. It’s not the Harveys of this world that are the problem, it is the world that allows for the Harveys. I believe we need to train producers, directors, studio executives, all leaders, in alternatives to fear-based strategies so that we collectively can produce great work and yet “do no harm.” (That is the name of the Trauma and Toxic Workplace training we offer.)
Have you personally helped to drive positive change for women in your industry or have you seen others do so?
Every woman who stepped forward about abuses in the industry, from the Cosby and Fox News survivors onwards — including the very first Weinstein survivors — revolutionized our thinking and changed social norms. Male sexual abuse and harassment was so normalized it was like a minefield we had learned to pick our way through. I will be forever grateful to those brave women and every woman who has come forward since.
At Echo, we teach about trauma and resilience so that survivors can understand they are not broken or defective and begin to find safety and recovery. We teach professionals how to be trauma and survivor-informed so that we can ensure survivors are (at minimum) not further traumatized and (optimally) have the space to step into their power and voice. Recently, I have started a new training for organizations — Trauma and Toxic Workplace Culture — so that all of us can begin to operate from a place of empathy, cooperation, creativity, and intellect rather than fear.
I believe that educating survivors and those who support them brings positive change, for women in particular. Women are twice as likely to experience post-traumatic stress, twice as likely to experience sexual assault, four times as likely to experience sexual harassment at work and are more likely to be dismissed when seeking treatment for physical and psychological pain. We are still very much living in a male-dominated world. Our mission at Echo is to bring greater understanding and compassion to our common human response to ongoing or insurmountable threats (aka “trauma”). However, my personal mission is to make sure that women, in particular, get this knowledge and can advocate for what they need from a place of strength.
What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in an entry-level role in your industry?
If I were to give advice to my 20-year-old self, I would say study trauma. Learn how trauma trips you up in your thinking and your ability to act in your own self-defense. Learn how to regulate your emotions and ask for what you need. Learn to set limits. Learn to coolly and clearly point out inappropriate behavior. You don’t have to be sweet. You don’t have to apologize. Above all, you don’t have to feel shame. If someone has behaved inappropriately, you have the moral high ground. Use it.
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?
Don’t suffer alone. Talk to trusted friends and colleagues. Not only will this give you a community of support but it can also sometimes lead to discovering other victims. (Sadly, we are taken much more seriously when there are multiple victims.) Voices in Action provides an anonymous reporting platform for just this — linking victims.
If you do report, make sure you have some good supports to get you through what can be a harrowing investigation and possibly whispers at work or public scrutiny.
Learn about trauma. You’ll need to otherwise you’ll think you’re going crazy. There are so many things we can do to help regulate our nervous system so that the trauma does not live on in our bodies. We need to identify patterns of thinking to make sure we don’t get stuck in fear-driven responses. Both physical and mental, these trauma responses kept us alive when under threat, but longer-term don’t serve us.
Hold your head up high. Ignore trolls and other ignorant people (even the well-meaning ones). This is about someone else’s misdeeds. You are not at fault. We are honored to welcome you to the ranks of the silence breakers.
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?
Sexual harassment and assault are no longer misleadingly minimized as “seduction” or “making a pass” or any of the old language that normalized male aggression, especially in situations like the workplace where women often fear reprisals and retaliation.
We have drawn a line in the sand and said this behavior is not acceptable. It was never acceptable. The difference is that now powerful men know they will be held accountable.
What do you think is still missing in the entertainment industry regarding representation, equity, safety and accountability?
We have a long way to go.
First come declarations of zero tolerance of sexual harassment and assault, racism and other forms of discrimination.
Then, we make clear the behaviors we expect in the workplace and draw up codes of conduct, policies, mandate training, etc. to enforce them. We devise punishments for those who transgress. We create reporting structures and identify allies to make reporting easier. We create diversity and inclusion initiatives and examine our hiring practices.
Next, we offer bystander training, implicit bias training and training in respect.
But all of this only touches the surface. Unless we understand how trauma and conditioned fear manifest in “power-over” toxic workplace culture, we will always be half a step behind, looking to reveal, punish and stamp out behavior that is buried so deep in the neurons of our colleagues and in organizational practices as to be invisible… yet felt in the harms experienced almost daily by every one of us.
What further changes do you hope to see in your profession in the future?
I want to see more organizations in the entertainment industry go through the Do No Harm: Trauma and Toxic Workplace Culture workshop. Once people become aware of how trauma influences our relationships and organizational culture, they can begin to develop a different way of relating to the world. As Gabor Mate says “Decisions are driven by unconscious dynamics that we’ve inherited or developed as a response to childhood trauma. In so-far-as we’re not conscious we’re not free.” (From the film “The Wisdom of Trauma.”)
The Do No Harm training is important not just for leadership but also for entry-level and mid-management because 1) workplace culture is not only created by the people at the top, it is all of us, 2) leadership may need reminders to remain accountable and 3) better to start practicing skills now rather than waiting for a leadership role.