Erika Alexander on Why the Pay Gap Isn’t a Women’s Issue — It’s an Everybody Issue

Erika Alexander

If you had access to a television in the ‘90s, chances are, you’re very familiar with Erika Alexander. As Maxine Shaw on Living Single and Pam Tucker on The Cosby Show, the actress won over the hearts of Americans nationwide, comfortably securing the title of “TV Icon” while paving the way for a future filled with more inclusive storytelling.

Since then, the actress-writer-producer-entrepreneur hasn’t slowed down one bit. She has appeared in countless films (most recently, Jordan Peele’s Get Out) and TV shows (InsecureQueen Sugar, and Bosch, just to name a few). She’s co-created and co-written a graphic novel, Concrete Park. Currently, she’s working on a script for “an untitled horror/thriller film.” And she’s doing it all while running her multi-platform media company, Color Farm.

Co-founded with Google exec Ben Arnon last year, Color Farm Media is dedicated to diversifying the worlds of film, TV, digital content, and tech. Rather than sit idly by waiting for these industries to play catch-up, the company actively seeks out a diverse range of voices in order to lift them up and give them the platform they deserve. Their goal? To change the “face” of media, and to make media at large more reflective of the world we’re actually living in.

The Riveter recently asked Alexander a few questions about Color Farm; her thoughts on how we talk about gender and racial pay gaps; and the most important thing she’s had to unlearn over the years.

What led you and Ben to create Color Farm?

Ben and I created Color Farm to bring greater equity, inclusion, and diversity to media. We believe that media shapes culture and society, and storytellers have the ability to make a huge impact. I was discovered at the age of 14 in a basement theater called Freedom in Philadelphia. I auditioned for a movie role along with nearly a thousand other girls and I was chosen. The next thing I knew, I had an entire career I had never even contemplated before. But for most of those other girls, they didn’t get another shot. We launched Color Farm as the Motown of film, TV, and tech with a mantra, “We are looking for you.” We value the underrepresented, undervalued, overlooked, strong, powerful voices out there, and Color Farm is looking for them.

Gender and racial pay gaps are present in every economic sector in the U.S. (and world). How is Color Farm and the work you’re doing addressing that, implicitly or explicitly?

Color Farm never needed to formally announce that we adhere to the inclusion rider or the 4% Pledge. These initiatives are inherently baked into the DNA and the fabric of what we are building. Along with the content we produce in an inclusive manner, we are also thinking about new data paradigms that will more effectively measure impact over popularity and will highlight the strengths among women and black and brown people, so that no company’s analytical formula can claim that we do not add just as much, or more, value as the next person.

The New Majority (underrepresented, marginalized communities) is a powerful gravitational force that is reshaping our current universe.

Why do you think the gender pay gap is framed as “a women’s issue”?

Sexism and ignorance. The gender pay gap is an everybody issue. Calling it a “women’s issue” is the systemic way men have historically pushed the issue aside, and that is “their” issue.

What does the future of Color Farm look like?

At Color Farm we want to change the “face” of media—film, television, news, and tech. It won’t be easy, because these industries have very strong muscle memory. But the New Majority (underrepresented, marginalized communities) is a powerful gravitational force that is reshaping our current universe. So, the future of Color Farm looks like the inside of a human kaleidoscope—many different colors, shapes, and sizes that create an endless number of possibilities. That’s what happens when you use all the crayons in the coloring box. That’s what happens when you’re not afraid of different opinions, different voices, different races. The world we live in now is seen mostly in black and white. Color Farm Media will help us pull off the cataracts and correct the distortion. Finally, we’ll get to see and experience the world as it is.

What is something you’ve have had to unlearn?

I’ve had to stop myself from anticipating that bad news follows good news. I’ve also had to stop rehearsing negative scenarios that create potential complications so I can protect myself from possible failures. It’s a habit I developed from the disappointment of childhood and living in emotional poverty. My hypocritical father, and his punishing nature, seemed to always follow a successful moment. I live on that edge. I’m preparing myself for the “no.” However, I’ve started to rehearse how to prepare myself for the “yes.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

All illustrations are by Brianna Ellis-Mitchell, an illustrator based in LA. You can follow her on Instagram @brnnmtchll.