Editor's note: HLN caught up with award-winning film and TV producer Gale Anne Hurd at the annual BlogHer conference in Chicago, where Hurd was a keynote speaker. Hurd is currently the executive producer of “The Walking Dead” and has produced films such as “The Terminator,” “Incredible Hulk,” “Armageddon,” and “Aliens,” among many others. She is on Twitter.
HLN: In your keynote speech at BlogHer '13, you say women are often faced with having to choose between being liked and being respected in the workplace. Why do you think these two things are mutually exclusive?
Gale Anne Hurd: Socioculturally, women are expected to be nurturing caregivers — and only expected to be these things. They’re all very positive attributes; however, in the workplace, there are difficult things that one needs to do. You might need to let someone go or give someone a performance review and say they’re not up to par. From my experience, neither gender likes to hear that from a woman. That perception has not changed as much as we thought it would.
HLN: How did you decide to focus on being respected in your industry?
Hurd: When I was in high school, I was liked. People always said how nice I was, and I always volunteered to do anything that no one else wanted to do. And the shocking thing is that I wasn’t appreciated for doing that — I wasn’t respected. At some point, you’re done doing that. You’re doing what needs to be done, but you’re not getting credit for it or moving up. So ultimately, I had to make a choice: I could no longer be a nice person who got more work no one wanted to do. When I went to work for Roger [Corman], I had a champion who said, “Gale, I need you to tell someone that we’re letting them go,” or “I need you to renegotiate with a vendor.” So he empowered me to do things that at the end of the day I was successful at and garnered respect. But I wouldn’t say those people thought I was the nicest person.
HLN: What do the different choices look like for someone who wants to be liked vs. respected?
Hurd: A person who wants to be liked never says no. If there was a low-level task that someone needed to perform, the person who wants to be nice would volunteer to take that. The person who wants to be respected would say, “I get that it needs to be done, but I prefer to do this.” The person who wants to be respected is very proactive in asserting him or herself. That garners respect only if you perform well — it doesn’t if you don’t — and after that, you get more responsibility, and then you get to delegate to other people and get even more respect and you’re in charge.
HLN: Why do you think it’s difficult for women to be assertive, speak out for themselves, or take credit for their work?
Hurd: I think we want to be liked. I think that we don’t want the spotlight to shine on us. We like being a part of a team, as opposed to being in charge of a team. We are eager to credit teamwork for certain results as opposed to taking credit for things ourselves, even if we performed most of the work or had the vision.
HLN: How do we make that OK for women?
Hurd: First of all, we have to be willing to make ourselves a bit uncomfortable and realize that men have been doing it all along. When I started out, there were very few people in the industry who ran departments and had people reporting to them who were women.
HLN: How do you deal with negative feedback?
Hurd: You have to accept that in a position of responsibility — where you’re the one delegating — there are people who are going to be uncomfortable with that. If everyone started in the same place and someone is met with success, they’re often going to be the one who is no longer part of the gang. Anyone in a management position is going to face that. You just have to have confidence in your ability and realize it’s not a competition to be liked or to be the most likeable person in the organization.
HLN: You joke that you don’t have a work-life balance. Is that a personal choice or do you think that’s the reality for women who want to achieve a certain level of success?
Hurd: My industry is unique in that the films and TV series that I produced don’t shoot in Los Angeles, so I can’t be home. Luckily, when my daughter was growing up, I’d be away on business from time to time, but I mostly shot in L.A., so I could be home every night. She’s now in college, but the truth is almost every show I’ve done now shoots in Georgia, New York, Toronto or other places in the world. It’s impossible to have work-life balance when you’re never home.
HLN: What’s your advice for women who do want to achieve work-life balance?
Hurd: I think it’s a tradeoff. Most careers aren’t 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 40 hours a week. If that’s what you’re striving for, you have to take work home, you do work on weekends. And if that’s not what you’re cut out to do, then running a corporation, being a film producer, or being a top executive may not be the right course. Freelance work, where you can set your own hours, is probably a better career path for you. Everyone can define their own ideas of what their career goals are and what they are willing to give up, if necessary, in order to achieve them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, and we need to respect each other’s choices.