There’s a lack of fictional women in top jobs across film and television, especially given the fact less than 30% of the speaking parts in Hollywood blockbusters are given to women.
But over the years a selection of films have positioned strong career women on our screens.
We take a look at six of them, and find six things their leading characters can teach us.
- Erin Brockovich (2000)
With three kids to feed and bills to pay, single mum Erin Brockovich hassles her lawyer until he gives her an admin position with his firm. She deals with plenty of condescending detractors who underestimate her abilities based on her physical appearance, but always remains headstrong and committed. When she uncovers evidence a big corporate is contaminating water and threatening the health of the town’s residents, Brockovich single-handedly takes on the power company, and then (spoiler alert) wins a landmark lawsuit.
It all seems pretty Hollywood, but the true story is just as impressive. The real Erin Brockovich went on to become a household name as a justice advocate and environmental activist.
Career Lesson: Be persistent. There’ll be plenty of people who will be happy to tell you ‘no’, and question your vision. If you’re confident and passionate about your work, success will follow (and Julia Roberts might play you in the film).
- The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
She’s book smart and aced her university course, but now she’s in the real world trying to get a foot in the door (any door will do), so Andie (Anne Hathaway) takes a job as an assistant with the ‘Devil’ at a publication she sees as a stepping-stone to her dream job. Andie’s lack of interest comes through in her professionalism, scoffing at her colleagues because she sees their conversation – and work – as beneath her.
It’s only when her boss, the ruthless Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), turns the tables to reveal that Andie is in fact missing the bigger picture that she slowly lightens up, attempts to learn the ropes and adopt a professional approach.
Career lesson: Lose the ego, especially if it’s your first job. Despite what you think you don’t actually know everything. Every job can teach you something, even if it’s figuring out exactly what you don’t want to do.
- Working Girl (1988)
A revolutionary – at the time when perms were all the rage – story about the success of career women, Working Girl sees Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) put in the hours at her secretarial job in order to secure a promotion. However, as Tess starts to climb the ranks of the company she begins to realise her boss is exploiting her ideas and selling them as her own. Despite the obstacles, and the number of people who doubt her, Tess keeps going until she gets what she wants.
Career Lesson: Embrace the challenge and break the rules.
“I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up,” says Tess.
And there’s also this: “You wanna be taken seriously, you need serious hair.”
- Baby Boom (1987)
When career woman J.C Wiatt (Diane Keaton) takes on sole responsibility of a relative’s child, her formerly one-track minded life gets turned upside down with her job is one of the first things to go. Relocating to the country, her entrepreneurial skills come in handy and Wiatt comes up with an idea for a successful baby-food business. On her way to making it work, Wiatt has a momentary meltdown where she realises just how hard it is to be career-focused and a mother at the same time.
Career Lesson: Sometimes everything is going terribly and you just need to scream. While the meltdowns will come and go, if your employers aren’t offering you the support and flexibility you need to juggle all your responsibilities, then it might be time to move on.
- Legally Blonde (2001)
Talk about leaning in. On the surface Elle Woods seems like the epitome of a young and clueless self-involved woman. And despite her career path being determined by love (we’ll excuse this as a necessity in Hollywood film making), she secures a place at Harvard, stands up to her detractors and builds a successful career for herself.
Career lesson: Don’t knock people down on your way to the top. Some people don’t necessarily look the part of success, but you never know who might end up being your boss one day.
- Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion (1997)
They’re creative, feisty and resourceful but it’s not character traits that’ll impress their graduating class. In an effort to rewrite history, Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michelle (Lisa Kudrow) fabricate a story and sell themselves as successful businesswomen to former classmates at their ten-year high school reunion.
While the story ends happily ever after for our heroines, a momentary comeuppance at their reunion underpins an important lesson for working women. Don’t attempt to lie about your experience to sell yourself for a job.
Career Lesson: Don’t sell yourself as someone you’re not. Not on your CV, or at a networking event, or in the office. Somewhere down the track, your lies will catch up with you and someone will know who really invented post-its. If you don’t have the experience for a job – train yourself, learn online, take a short course. Success will always feel better when it’s authentic.
Is there a film or a character that has inspired your career? Let us know in the comments below.