Octavia Spencer & Jessica Chastain: Black & White women allies at work

Octavia Spencer Women & Work Copyright: Women Breaking Barriers" Panel video- Sundance 2018

I’ve blogged and chatted on social media about being the only Black Woman in the Office and at work. I truly believe we’re seeing a shift for black people being recognised for who we are and where we are in Western society.

There are so many things I still plan to write about us black women at work. Our networks and the allies we have at work is something striking me right now. As I write blogs about black women at work, taking and finding our place and being treated as equals continue to be important points.

When I heard that Jessica Chastain had helped to negotiate a higher salary for Octavia Spencer for the comedy they were going to star in together, this struck me.


Octavia told the story like this (in January 2018), excerpt from BBC article:They were discussing the film, produced by Chastain, when Spencer revealed she is paid less as a woman of colour. “Octavia – we’re going to get you paid on this film,” Chastain told her. She then fixed it so that both women would earn the same. Spencer said of Chastain: “She’s walking the walk.”


It made me think about ‘making allies at work’, especially with the white women who can help us make progress in our career progress and connections.

Do we need to rely on white women?

I wouldn’t answer this question with a ‘yes’. I am a firm believer in a black woman’s ability to achieve everything she wants to and to rise no matter what. But we know that being at work and sometimes the office environment can be a difficult place to navigate.

Octavia should never had been in this position in the first place; she should have been earning her salary at the same level given to a Jessica. I suspect black women have been underpaid not only in Hollywood, but in the Western world for years. Being underrepresented and under paid is not new for us.

When you think about how jobs aren’t always advertised or people find out about new opportunities by having lunch with the right people. This is where we need to be looking at the connections and allies us black women can build.

Moving forward at work

But this story made me think more about the ways that us black women can build our paths at work. Who can help us as we build our paths or support us in moving forward at work? When it comes to our pay, promotions, being mentored and sometime navigating the workplace, I believe these relationships can sometimes help us to move forward and seize the rewards that we deserve.

Strong networks and connections making work allies

In the last few years and especially during any difficult times I’ve realised the importance of making strong connections and networks. I’m not talking about only speaking to people when you want something or using people. I mean finding that ‘common ground’, ideas on projects or exchanging thoughts and ideas. Having that cup of coffee before a project appears – all ways to connect with those allies in the workplace.

There is no place for misplaced gratitude

So I’m not writing this to tell you to act like you have to ‘bow and scrape’ and act like you are less than good enough. I often think that as a people we have spent so long being ‘grateful to white people’, as they often sit in positions of power, that we are tired of it. But I know from my own experience that the white women who have supported me at work, through studying for my marketing qualification or being promoted, were truly on my side. Having them as allies made a big difference for me at stages of my career.

So tell me (in the comments below), have you made allies with white women at work or do you feel up ‘against them’? Has it affected your progress?

If you didn’t see the article the first time, read it on the BBC News website

Watch Octavia telling her story at the Women Breaking Barriers Panel Sundance event – (at 19:31) about her relationship with Jessica and having her salary increased on this film.



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