Ellen Pompeo Was 'Completely Shocked' by Backlash from Women Over 'Grey's Anatomy' Paycheck

"Women need to support each other, not attack each other," says the star, who makes $20 million a year

Ellen Pompeo’s role as Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy for more than 13 years has helped her become one of the highest-paid actresses on TV. Yet, when it was revealed earlier this year that Pompeo negotiated for an annual paycheck of $20 million, she faced backlash and blame — a response that completely blew her away.

“Women are not used to talking about their salaries,” the actress and mother of three, 48, told PEOPLE at the Marie Claire Power Trip, a women’s empowerment conference.

“Ballplayers, CEOs, any man in tech, they can brag about what they’re worth,” she continued. “But it’s not polite for women to do that. We’re supposed to be shy. That is just ridiculous. We need to brag more. Men have no problem celebrating what they make.”

Timing didn’t help: When her salary became public, two actresses from the show, Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew, did not have their contracts renewed. Fans inferred that Pompeo’s salary was to blame.

“So much of the backlash came from women,” she said. “So many women on social media wrote to me and said, ‘They got fired so you could get a raise.’”

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That hurt Pompeo. “I’m not surprised by anything that men say, but for women to blame me? I was completely shocked,” she said. “We need to stick together and support each other, not attack each other. We can’t compete against each other and compare ourselves to one another. It’s not productive, and it’s not good for our mental health.”

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If anything, the backlash from discussing her salary publicly has only empowered her to discuss it more. Now, it’s her goal to empower other women to speak up, and demand what they’re worth.

“As women, I think the first thought that goes through our mind [when discussing salary] is, ‘Am I going to seem difficult if I ask for this number? Are they going to think I’m crazy? Am I going to be hysterical?’ I don’t think men do that,” she said on a panel later that day to the group of 200 female entrepreneurs and businesswomen at the Marie Claire Power Trip.

“I had a very real number to derive my number from so it’s not like I just pulled it out of thin air,” she said.

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The only way to bring all women up is by supporting each other, she said: “We need to share with each other everything we know. There’s more power in numbers than there is if we’re all just keep it to ourselves and not sharing.”

More than anything, Pompeo wants to set an example for young women. The actress brought her 9-year-old daughter Stella (with husband Chris Ivery) to the women’s empowerment conference so she could be inspired by the success of the women in attendance.

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Her ultimate advice for her daughter and women everywhere? “Don’t take any s— from anybody,” said Pompeo.

“Don’t let any man tell you who you are, where to go, where to stand, who to be or what you should be thinking, saying or doing,” she said. “You do what you want to do. You tell them what you want to do and you go after it and do it and don’t let anyone get in your way, ever.”

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