At Sunday’s Emmy Awards, Williams took home the accolade for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie for her portrayal of Broadway star Gwen Verdon in FX’s Fosse/Verdon. During her acceptance speech, Williams took the opportunity to put a spotlight on equal pay for women in the industry.
“I see this as an acknowledgement of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feel safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they’ll be heard,” she said. The actress went on to describe how when working on this project her needs, including asking for additional dance and voice lessons, were always addressed. “All of these things, they require effort and they cost more money but my bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon,” she explained, adding that FX and Fox 21 Studios paid her equally because “they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work.”
Williams finished her speech by looking forward and advising those in positions of power to listen to the women working for and with them. “The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color — because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart — tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her,” she said. “Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
After leaving the stage, Williams expounded further on the topic in the press room, expressing how difficult it was feeling like she was working hard but not being compensated fairly for it. “It felt like no matter how many accolades I amassed I still couldn’t make that translate into retirement money or something that really felt like longtime security,” she explained. “The discrepancy is so huge that it illustrated a larger point not just for myself, but obviously as I said before, if it’s this difficult for a white woman of privilege in this industry, how difficult it is for women of color across all industries?” She added that while her win on Sunday was a “fairytale ending” for her, there wouldn’t be any satisfaction for her until the larger message is heard.
—Additional reporting by Sydney Bucksbaum