Here’s how Oprah Winfrey stood up to her manager who denied women equal pay


Oprah Winfrey cover: The Hollywood Reporter. Photo courtesy of THR.

Oprah Winfrey recalled the moment where she stood up for equal pay at the Oprah show, and her temporary fix was a generous solution.

It takes a lot to say “No” to Oprah Winfrey. At least, it does nowadays. But back when The Oprah Winfrey Show had just gone national, as Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter, it took a lot of convincing to get one manager on board with equal pay for everyone.

Winfrey recalled in the interview that it was one of those moments where she knew she had to step up for marginalized people — specifically the hardworking women on her show.

On that day, Winfrey went up to the manager of Chicago’s ABC-owned television station WLS-TV, telling them that “everyone needs more money” — especially given the show had made it to the national level.

"They said, direct quote, “Why do they need more money? They’re a bunch of girls.” I said, “Well, it’s a bunch of girls who are now doing a national show.” And they said, “They’re in the same room, with the same desks, and the same office, on the same street. They don’t need any more money.”"

In response to the denial, Winfrey decided to take matters into her own hands, offering a generous solution that other bosses have been encouraged to do for their employees, but typically never do. During the first year, she said she gave everyone bonuses out of pocket.

"I had a big dinner and my idea of being creative was to have $10,000 rolled up in toilet paper rolls at the dinner as gifts because I couldn’t get management to pay them. Then I went to management and said, “If you don’t pay them, I’m not going to work.” By the next year, it was like, “I’m not going to keep paying them. I shouldn’t have to pay everybody out of my salary.” That informed me that if I ever get my own business, I’m going to pay people well."

When asked where she developed the confidence to “push back” and ask for what she wants, Winfrey revealed a similar incident caused her to make the change in her life.

Back when she was a Baltimore anchor in the ’70s, she asked for a raise in hopes of matching that of her male co-host’s pay. After the boss evaluated that her lack of owning a home and having children was the reason she didn’t deserve a raise, Winfrey immediately knew she couldn’t continue to be in a job that didn’t value her.

Now, more than 30 years later, Winfrey is the true definition of a Girl Boss and is able to do her own thing. Her television network, OWN, has been up for eight years, O, the Oprah Magazine is still printed monthly, and she recently revealed more information about working with Apple to create a series with Prince Harry on mental health.

To further amplify the voices of marginalized people, Winfrey revealed more to THR about another project for Apple TV+. The project will tell the stories of people who’ve experienced sexual abuse in the workplace, and Winfrey is making sure the documentary will tell more than just the stories of the people in Hollywood. It will include stories of everyday people like “waitresses and factory workers and [nurses]” so, as Winfrey notes, they will feel seen and heard, too.

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Orpah’s new series are currently in development with Apple, and the series with Prince Harry will likely be available to stream in 2020.