Oprah Winfrey is a longtime champion of equal pay — even when doing so could have cost the star her job as TV’s most iconic daytime talk show host.
In TIME Firsts, the 63-year-old opens up about fighting to close the wage gap for female staffers working on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
“I built this show around myself and the producers. We were young women in our 30s trying to figure it out and find our own way,” Winfrey says. “I was making a lot of money, and my producers were still getting the same salary. I went to my boss at the time and I said, ‘Everybody needs a raise.’ And he said, ‘Why?’ ”
She continued: “He actually said to me, ‘They’re only girls. They’re a bunch of girls. What do they need more money for?’ I go, ‘Well, either they’re gonna get raises, or I’m gonna sit down. I will not work unless they get paid.’ And so they did.”
The show ran for 25 seasons from 1986 to 2011 and remains one of the highest-rated talk programs in TV history.
Now, Winfrey is speaking about her humble beginnings, revealing that she never felt comfortable in her own skin during her time as a news anchor.
“There were no black people on a billboard, on television or in the media. You’re looking to find yourself,” she says. “I was a news anchor woman. … I always felt like I had a pretend voice when I went on the air.”
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“I would interview people who had been through disasters in their life, and I would feel terrible for them, and I would empathize, and then I would get written up by my bosses,” she says.
She says starting The Oprah Winfrey Show finally “freed” her.
“I went only from what was in my heart,” Winfrey says. “It was the most authentic thing for me. It was like coming home.”