UNION, NJ - Women from all walks of life joined together to hear Candace Straight give an insider’s view on the making of the recently released movie, Equity, and learn from her years of experience as a businesswoman, leader, and entrepreneur on Wednesday, October 19. The meeting, held at Maplecrest Ford Lincoln of Union, was a collaboration between Mustang Sally’s Now, B.I.G. Millburn-Short Hills, and the United Way of Northern New Jersey.

“I found the talk informative. I was feverishly writing everything down. Meetings like this are a good start to building relationships and networking for women,” said Kareen Campbell, president of the NJ Chapter of National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement.

Straight is an inspiring and entertaining speaker who kept the audience captive with stories of her career on Wall Street, which started in 1969, a time of blatant gender inequality. “They didn’t allow women in the credit training because they didn’t want to subject us to the hazards of traveling. Merrill Lynch wanted to make me a secretary and I replied no thank you,” shared Straight, who was appointed to Rutgers’ Board of Governors in 2011. She stuck to her goals and started her career in investment banking at Bankers Trust.

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Her focus and determination led to a pioneering career, which was one of several charted in Melissa S. Fisher’s 2012 book, Wall Street Women. So naturally, when she was approached by actors/writers Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas about a movie script focusing on the struggles of women in the finance world, she threw her support behind it.

It’s no secret that both Hollywood and Wall Street are still male dominated. For instance, in 2013, only 15 percent of film leads were female and strong female roles are lacking in general. In banking, women make up 60 percent of the employees worldwide—and yet only 19 percent make it to leadership roles and only 2 percent become CEOs. So how do you change the statistics? One way is increasing awareness.

“This is the first time that a Wall Street movie featured women behind and in front of the camera,” Straight said. “As someone who worked hard on trying to break the glass ceiling, the script resonated with my experiences.” In fact, 80 percent of the money raised for Equity ultimately came from current and former Wall Street women, according to Straight.

The movie gives new meaning to the term chick flick. It stars Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Reiner, and Thomas as powerful financiers who are upfront about their ambition and love of money. The movie also boasts an all-female creative team: director, Meera Menon; production company, Broad Street Pictures (co-founded by Reiner and Thomas) and screenwriter Amy Fox. Fox talked extensively to women in the industry and used much of that material to write the script. For instance, there’s a key scene in which a main character is caught pouring her martini down the sink in an effort to her hide pregnancy as long as possible for fear of losing a bonus and promotion.

Commercial Success with an Important Message

The timing for the movie was perfect. Before the premier at the Sundance Film Festival, Sony Pictures bought the rights to the film and as Reiner had hoped, the film was released in July 2016, an election year with the first ever woman running for president. Straight announced even more good news at the meeting, “If you were wondering about the ending, which was left open ended, now you can get more. Equity has been picked up by ABC with a pilot in the works.”

While the women behind the movie wanted to send a message about the changes necessary in society and business, they wanted to make sure the movie was also a success. This isn’t just another Indie film, which reaches a handful of people. Sally Glick, a partner at Sobel & Co. accounting firm, talked a little about the underlying messages in the movie. “Women need to sponsor women in addition to mentoring. Accounting firms have done better than investment banking, but this is an ongoing effort to support women in moving up in companies.” Straight also mentions that incorporating men as part of the solution will be necessary.

“We were so excited to have Candy Straight speak at our meeting. We established Mustang Sally’s Now to reach women in a relevant way. We started out helping women increase their knowledge and comfort level in negotiating and understanding cars, but we have since broadened our scope. We have had female athletes and businesswomen speak about empowering women to feel confident and comfortable in various aspects of their life,” says Jen Miller, head of Mustang Sally’s Now: Driving Women’s Leadership.

Caroline Gosselin, Realtor and CEO of The Gosselin Group and a co-sponsor for the program, added, "As a woman in business, I've learned over the years that women who support one another end up getting further and are happier doing it. Organizations like B.I.G, like the chapter that I lead in Short Hills, helps empower us to face a business world that's not always friendly. My take away from the event is that women have been having to overcome adversity and inequity in the business world for decades and we should not let up the fight!" 

B.I.G. (Believe, Inspire, Grow) is a national women’s empowerment organization with local chapters. They are dedicated to helping members align professional goals with family, health and wellness, and home for success in career and life.

Equity is playing at the Rutgers Cinema, Livingston Campus, Piscataway on November 7 at 7:30 p.m.