By Lynette Rice
September 21, 2018 at 03:20 PM EDT

In late 2017, Ellen Pompeo signed a new, $20 million-plus annual deal that would not only keep her on Grey’s Anatomy through season 16 but make her the highest-paid actress in dramatic television. But for every woman who gave her a much-deserved “you go girl” on the street, Pompeo was also blamed for the departures of Sarah Drew and Jessica Capshaw at the end of season 14. During a recent photo shoot, EW asked Pompeo about her contract renegotiation and what kind of response she got from other women.

“Women approached me on the street in tears — crying — and it is really interesting how as women we are really not used to, or accustomed to being forceful and asking for what we want, or asking for what we deserve, or speaking up, or speaking our mind. It’s been a very interesting ride, the whole topic of standing up for yourself and what it takes to get yourself emotionally to the place where you’re comfortable doing that. Of course, it was a challenging thing to do right, because I’m in a very specific situation. Like I had said in the past, I had very quantifiable numbers that I could derive my number from.

“Not everybody has the blessing to be able to do that. You don’t know how your work impacts your workplace. It’s hard to quantify what you do in your workplace and how does that result in numbers. In my instance, I’m very fortunate where I actually do get to see how my presence directly impacts the money that the show makes. So I was in a pretty unique position to be able to speak on it. I’m glad I did and I’m really glad that it was received in the way that it was received, but we still have a really long way to go with respect to women supporting women. I think it’s still more rare to have women support women when you’re on top. I think it’s very easy for women to support women when there’s a victim situation. In my experience, I see that women are really quick to rush to other women’s aid when they’re down, when they’re a victim.

“When there’s a victim situation and other women can come in like, ‘Let me help you,’ they can be empowered because they’re helping someone who’s down. It’s still more challenging to get women to support you when you’re actually on top and doing fantastic.”

EW is celebrating #7DaysofGreys! For more from Pompeo and season 15 of Grey’s Anatomy, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now, or buy one of our six collector’s issues here.

James White for EW