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Shonda Rhimes rewrites the glass ceiling metaphor in empowering speech

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As she is prone to do, Shonda Rhimes once again turned an acceptance speech into a platform to discuss the current state of Hollywood for people who aren’t white men. This time around the event was The Hollywood Reporter’s 23rd annual Women In Entertainment Breakfast and the prize was the Sherry Lansing Leadership award, which recognizes women who are leaders in their industry. But rather than take the time to reflect on her own successes, which include Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder, Rhimes instead acknowledged the women who have come before her.

And while that sentiment could sound trite, with her characteristic sense of humor and poetic way with words Rhimes crafted an eye-opening speech about women in Hollywood. Instead of describing how difficult it was to break through the “glass ceiling” as a black woman, Rhimes argued, “Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was merely a matter of running on the path created by every other woman’s footprints.” Those women did the hard part, she said, while she merely had to pick a target and step through.


Rhimes also traced the experience of being a woman in Hollywood through 50 years of history. She saluted the room full of female executives with “the game-changing ability to say yes or no to something,” and noted that 15 years ago there would have been only a few women with that power and a room full of female junior executives and assistants gritting their teeth. 30 years ago—when Rhimes added she would have been serving breakfast rather than attending the event—there would have been a thousand female secretaries and merely two powerful women. 50 years ago a room full of women would only have gathered to speak about babies or charity work. “From then to now we’ve made such an incredible leap,” Rhimes reminded the room.

In a world that generally socializes women to compete with one another, Rhimes’ celebration of female solidarity is inspiring, empowering, and much needed. Rhimes has posted the full speech on Medium, and video of her speech is below.