The showrunner of Issa Rae’s hit HBO show, Prentice Penny, tells Moneyish how this season gets women to dictate their personal and professional lives.
“Insecure” is teaching women to get what they want.
The third season of Issa Rae’s HBO hit kicked off last week with the leading lady’s on-screen BFF Molly (Yvonne Orji) returning from vacation recharged, and ready to set relationship boundaries and dictate her own terms at work. Last season, Molly learned she was being paid less than her white, male colleagues in her law firm, and her request for a raise was denied. But she’s entered this season having just negotiated a lucrative contract at a new, all-black law firm — and we’ll see more focus on her workplace going forward, Orji recently told Deadline.
Showrunner and executive producer Prentice Penny told Moneyish that it was important to him and Rae that Molly take this empowering turn.
“Molly had such a negative experience in the (previous) firm, and she believed it had her best interests at heart, like a lot of people of color believe in their careers,” he said. “They think, ‘If I do good work, this thing will work out. And if I try hard enough at this, everything will be good.”
But the reality for many women, especially women of color, is that hard work doesn’t fully pay off. On average, women earn 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, and black women make just 63 cents for every dollar, according to the National Women’s Law Center. More than four in 10 working women (42%) say that they’ve been discriminated against at work because of their gender. So it’s not surprising that most women (68%) have simply accepted the salary they were offered and did not negotiate, compared to men (52%), according to a Glassdoor survey.
“I think salary and benefits negotiations are difficult for most women, regardless of race or ethnicity,” social and political commentator, Lola Adesioye, told Moneyish. “Studies show that women typically negotiate less, if at all, than men do, and often lose out on significant amounts of pay as a result. I think this is partly to do with gender stereotypes as pertains to women, money and ambition.”
And such salary and benefits negotiations are even harder for black women.
“Black women deal with the intersectionality of stereotypes,” said Adesioye. “We deal with: 1., the gender norms and prejudices against women in terms of career success, ambition, and money; and 2., racial stereotyping about black women as being too aggressive, too pushy, too demanding and, actually, overly (and perhaps, undeservedly) confident.”
And she has a point. Women of color are 19% less likely to have their employer give them a pay raise they asked for than are white men.
This is why Penny said that it is essential for “Insecure” and other shows to portray these stark realities on TV. “It’s important to show that black women struggle with this and often have to think, ‘If I make this move, how will this be perceived, and how will it make me look?’” he said. “I do think that sometimes when black women on network shows are portrayed, they seem to have everything together, and seem to have everything together all the time. We try to show (our) characters having to wrestle with the choices they make, and their identities in this world, in a way network shows aren’t allowed to do.”
Adesioye agreed. “‘Insecure’ is great at providing insightful portrayals of topics which are actually taking place in the day-to-day lives of women and minorities today,” she said. “It’s very useful for people to be able to see what a successful negotiation looks like, as well as the different and sometimes conflicting emotions, beliefs, attitudes and values that come into play. It’s very important for people to see how that works, and to be able to use that as a model for ourselves.”
For example, in the second season of the show, lead character Issa (Rae) got a demotion at her non-profit community outreach job for not speaking up to a racist principal. She didn’t speak up because she feared her status at work would be affected, but that lead to her being short on rent, moving out and sleeping on her ex’s couch.
And viewers can expect to see these themes of empowerment and struggling to set boundaries through the rest of the third season, as well. Issa will struggle with her lower position at work, and will have to negotiate how to handle her often misguided and prejudiced coworkers.
“Issa’s point on the first two seasons has been about finding her passions in her relationship and career-wise,” Penny said. “So one of the things she definitely tries to do moving forward is to take control and take hold of the people coming into her life.”
And Penny wants women to take a page from Molly’s book this season. “I think she would tell people that, ‘If you don’t negotiate for yourself, they gon’ negotiate for you. And if you don’t dictate for yourself, they’ll dictate for you,’” he said. “A big thing that happened for her last season was that she was feeling like she undervalued her worth and she played ball at the firm. It’s all about knowing your worth.”
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