When Grey’s Anatomy announced recently that two of its longtime stars, Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew, would be leaving the show, some speculated that the departures were due to costar Ellen Pompeo’s massive pay raise. The actress was quick to shut down the sexist notion, however, and now she’s offering her perspective on her castmates’ exits.

“I mean, I’m not involved in these kind of decisions. However, there’s a few problems that you encounter doing a show for 14 seasons,” Pompeo, who plays the series’ title character and protagonist, Meredith Grey, told Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show. “One of them is the writers have a really hard time creatively thinking up new stories for all these characters. I think we have 16 regular cast members, and I think it’s always sad when we lose people for whatever reason. Whether they want to go or don’t want to go, it doesn’t make it any easier.”

When Capshaw and Drew’s departures were announced, Grey’s showrunner Krista Vernoff confirmed that the decision was entirely creative, and had nothing to do with Pompeo’s salary or the “old, broken, patriarchal notion that women must be pitted against each other.” Deadline was the first to report the Grey’s cast change, referencing Pompeo’s $575,000 per-episode payday in the same article. The publication has since updated their story to clarify that they intended no connection between the two.

Pompeo has emerged as a strong voice for equality in recent months, having opened up in January about her contract negotiations. The actress told DeGeneres that since speaking out on the matter, many women have come to her with stories of their own.

“The women who have approached me from all walks of life since this article came out, I’ve really been shocked and so moved about how so many women just run up to me and want to share their stories, because I think as women sometimes we’re afraid to ask,” she said. “We’re afraid to be vocal, we’re taught not to be. I think it’s really important to encourage each other, to encourage other women to stand up and be strong. We will be ok and we have each other’s backs.”

Are you encouraged when you hear powerful women speak out on issues of inequality? Let us know @BritandCo.

(photo via ABC/Bob D’Amico)