Pay Me What You Owe Me “Insecure’s” Yvonne Orji Talks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

We all need a best friend like Molly (Yvonne Orji), Insecure’s resident tell-it-like-is-but-don’t-tell-me-about-myself homegirl. She’s an elite attorney who’s caught in the classic mid-to-late 20’s struggle: Her love life is in shambles; she has unhealed traumas that she’s finally tapped a therapist to work through; and she’s discovered that she’s making significantly less than Travis (David Hull), her white, male co-worker. In the show’s “Hella Great” episode, Molly is accidentally given Travis’s check, and realizes that he’s bringing in far more coins than she is.

The racial wage gap is taking center stage on Insecure just in time for Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day of the year when Black women earn as much as white men did the year before. Since the HBO drama’s tackling of such a big issue, Bitch spoke with Yvonne Orji, the actress who plays Molly, about how her beloved character will handle such a common issue, and how women, especially women of color, can advocate for their worth in the workplace.

I absolutely love Insecure. Molly is complicated, layered, and very dynamic, something we’ve seen a few times on TV, but not nearly enough. What drew you to the character?

When I read the script, I said, “Oh, this character is definitely for me!” I loved what [show creator] Issa [Rae] did with [The Misadventures of] Awkward Black Girl, I loved the vision she has, and I loved the world she was creating. When I read the pilot script, I was like, “Yes, yes, yes, how do I sign up?” It’s a role that so many people can identify with. We’ve all been Molly in some way, shape, or form. We’ve all been doing well in life and work, and not so much in love. If you think about any woman in 2017, at some point in her life, she’s been that.

Yvonne Orji as Molly in Insecure

One thing I love about Molly is that although her personal life is in shambles, she’s excelling in her career. Do you think she’ll ever get to a point where her life is more balanced?

What’s funny is this season we show Molly being topsy-turvy on both ends because at least she had work to fall back on. Work was the thing she was killing it at, and now, in the first episode, we see that there’s trouble in paradise. She founds out she’s not making as much as her Caucasian male counterpart, even though they’ve been [at the law firm] the same amount of time and Molly puts in more effort and hours, but he’s making significantly more. That’s really going to challenge her this season. It’s going to challenge her to figure out how to deal. Again, if relationships weren’t going well, work was going well. Now, her relationships aren’t going well and work is causing her issues, so you’re seeing Molly at the most imbalanced we’ve seen her. The beauty of the show is that really unearths everybody’s insecurities, and sees how they either move through those insecurities or rise up above them, and that’s what we’re going to be watching Molly attempt to do this season.

So far, Molly has been very bold about so many things, whether it’s confronting the summer associate about “code-switching” or asking her white coworker about his salary. Will Molly be bold in how she addresses this wage gap issue?

Molly will definitely be strategic and systematic. She knows what it’s like to be one of very few Black people in the workplace, and her boldness can’t be outright. She can’t say, “You need to pay me more” because that won’t get her a good response, but she’s going to be very Molly about the whole situation. Okay, I have to put on this face, my work will speak for itself, I am going to show them who I am, and she’s going to be very diplomatic about it. That’s the first route she’s going to take, but I think she’s going to be challenged.

This season, Molly learns she’s making far less than her white coworker. What were your thoughts when you first read the script and realized Insecure was going to tackle the wage gap?

I thought it was so apropo because I remember, on so many levels, the tweets that were going around about being a woman at work and a Black woman at work. This was what we go through all the time, so I felt like this would be a really good entry way, not just for being a Black woman at work, but just being a woman at work. We know the gender wage gap is 77 cents to every $1. We know that. Yes, even in a high-class, high profession where you have to have multiple degrees to be in the workplace, it’s still not fair. That’s what we’re highlighting, and I’m so proud that we’re doing it in a way that’s not like an after school special.

Normalizing it helps people see how often this happens, and how terrible it is for everybody involved. For us, what we always like to do on the show is throw up a topic. Last season, our topic was would you date a guy who you knew previously had an encounter with another guy, and how do you feel about that. This year, we tackle a lot of different topics, from gentrification to the wage gap, and it’s always about throwing it up, and letting people figure out where they fall in the mix.

Yvonne Orji as Molly in Insecure

As you know, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is July 31. Why is it so important to see a character on TV who’s battling this, just as so many other women, especially women of color, are?

It puts a very relatable face to the issue. I also think it allows the conversation to be had. What TV is able to do is entertain, educate, and expose, and I think we’re doing a little bit of everything. In episode one, you see Molly being so upset because she doesn’t want to work twice as hard, and get paid half as much. Molly’s put in work. She has student loans to pay back, just like the next person. She’s dedicated, she stays late, and she’s seeing how her coworker feels about her boss leaving to go to the Chicago office. She left because she doesn’t feel valued, and he wouldn’t even give her the credit she deserves for being a hard worker.

I love that Molly’s coworker is the same age as her, so you see how the seeds are sown into the next generation. That’s how you grow up to become a partner one day and have those same feelings, and then he’s going to have a son who’s the same way. You see the cycle. It’s not like he’s an 84-year-old man who’s stuck in his ways, and he’s not caring about gender biases or equal pay. Molly is not even 30, so this guy is not even 30, and wow, this is how he feels. And he’s not even equipped to understand his biases. That’s crazy.

Equal pay is still a big issue, especially in Hollywood. Why should Black women should be invested and speaking up about pay equity?

I think everybody—men, women, college students—should be speaking up about this issue. It doesn’t just affect one person. It affects your mom. If you’re a guy, and you think it doesn’t affect you because you’re a guy, yeah, but your wife is probably bringing home less money. She could be bringing home more money, which affects your family and what tax bracket you’re in. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

Everyone should be invested. It’s not just a Black woman’s issue. It’s not just a woman’s issue. It’s a crisis. It’s human issue across the board. It’s also, why? Why wouldn’t you pay somebody who’s working what they deserve? Why? There’s an actress friend of mine who says that whenever she gets an offer, she doubles it. She knows that’s doubling it falls right in the ballpark of what she deserves and should be getting. That’s so crazy that you have to automatically assume that you’re being shortchanged by half. Everybody isn’t able to speak up like that or take that risk, but why can’t they give me what I deserve out of the gate?

Molly, Issa, Tiffany, and Kelli on Insecure

How can we advocate for ourselves in the workplace to make sure we’re receiving what we’re worth?

Yes, your work should speak for itself, and should be recognized, but I also think that you should advocate for yourself. Women aren’t the best at advocating for ourselves, but anytime you’re working on a project, and you know you’re killing it or your contributions impacted the outcome, you’ve gotta keep notes and records of that, so when there is talk about a raise or a promotion, you have the facts. It’s not just built on emotions. You have facts. Like hey, this is what I’ve done to impact the bottom line. It may sound like you’re tooting your own horn, but if you don’t do it, who will?

We’re at a time now where you can’t rely on someone else for our livelihood. I know it’s a sore topic and you don’t want to rock the boat, but you have to. You have to build that muscle up because if you don’t, you’ll build a resentment toward your workplace. You’re not going to be able to put your best foot forward because you’re angry or annoyed or feel devalued. What good is that? And instead of you leaving on a good note, you’re leaving because everyone thinks your attitude went sour. What happened is that I wasn’t getting paid enough, but that’s not the narrative they put out.

Rather than letting it get to that point, you have to have candid conversations with your boss or supervisor. If they’re not receptive, figure out the strategy to have your voice be heard. Perhaps it’s connecting with other women and standing in the gap together, demanding that we all get raises because we’re all crushing it. United we stand in whatever makes sense in your workplace.

Molly and Issa on Insecure

I love that you spoke about leaning on other people in the workplace to advocate and support you. Even though Molly and Issa don’t work together, they lean on each other quite a bit. Will Molly be leaning on Issa for advice on how to handle the wage gap?

Yeah, Molly’s leaning on everyone. She’s leaning on her therapist. She’s gonna lean on Issa. What’s beautiful is that we find that she has a male co-worker who’s going to help champion this issue for her, which is refreshing. It helps the narrative that it’s not just a woman’s issue. I love that part of the storyline shows that it’s a man who’s invested in Molly enough to help her get through this moment. I think that’s going to be beautiful to see, and will encourage other men in the offices and the workplace to really rally behind women.

Overall, what do you want Black women, on this equal pay day, to learn from Molly?

All women should learn to speak up for themselves, and believe that they’re worth more. I’m worth more, I want to seek out more, and I’m going to demand more. Whether or not you’re an “angry Black woman” about it, the narrative can become that if you approach it in any way outside of the politically correct way some environments require. Be completely smart, not emotional about it, and based on the facts, say this is what I deserve—and this is what I’m demanding. You know if you’ve been putting in the work. You know when you’ve been putting in the work and doing the absolute best, you should demand what you deserve.

Be willing to stand in your truth. Be willing to say listen, if I don’t get this, I’m going to have to make a decision. You’re going to have to decide what that decision is for you: Do you stay? Do you leave? Do you shop your services around? What are the consequences of not getting what you deserve? Everyone should have that fully in their grasp when they do go to have the conversation.

by Evette Dionne
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Evette Dionne is Bitch Media’s editor-in-chief. She’s all about Beyoncé, Black women, and dope TV shows and books. You can follow her on Twitter.

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