Even Superstars Aren’t Safe from the Gender Pay Gap: An Open Letter to Jennifer Lawrence

Photo courtesy of Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV, via Flickr Creative Commons

October 16, 2015

 

Dear Jennifer,

When you wrote about your experience with the gender pay gap earlier this week, you added that you “aren’t exactly relatable.” Sure, you have an Oscar and a few other awards under your belt. But when it comes to the gender pay gap, your problems are all too relatable.

The gender pay gap hurts women from all walks of life, to the tune of more than $500,000 average over the course of a career. You may be the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, but even you aren’t immune. You experienced this gap firsthand when you found out your American Hustle co-stars were paid more than you were.

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At AAUW, we’ve been on the front lines of the fight for equal pay since 1913. Our members were in the Oval Office when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 into law, and more than 50 years later, we continue to lead the push for fair pay.

Here are just a few points that we think you totally nailed when it comes to women, salary negotiation, and fair pay.

Workplace gender stereotypes play into why women don’t negotiate as often as men.

“I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ … Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.”

Negotiating a salary can make a real difference in earnings, and men are more likely than women to negotiate their salaries. One reason? Fear of the very kind of sexist blowback you described. Sexist labels like “difficult,” “spoiled,” “bossy,” and “bitchy” are commonly used to attack women, especially when it comes to women in leadership and positions of power. To make matters worse, like you said, men who take charge — the Christian Bales and Bradley Coopers of the world — are often “commended for being fierce and tactical.” It’s unfair, but the story doesn’t have to end there.

Our Start Smart and Work Smart salary negotiation workshops teach participants that in order to develop negotiation skills and confidence, they need to recognize and confront these sexist barriers. We teach women confidence-building skills to enter their negotiations objectively, armed with data and sound reasoning. That way, women can overcome the societal pressure to, in your words, “find the ‘adorable’ way” to make their voices heard and advocate for what they deserve. It should be plain and simple for women to get the paychecks they deserve; that’s why we’ll even be providing free Work Smart salary negotiation workshops to half of Boston’s working women by 2020.

But negotiation isn’t the only factor in the pay gap, and the responsibility of closing the gap shouldn’t rest only on women.

It’s important that women feel empowered to negotiate for equal pay, but the real onus is on employers and policy makers.

“When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. … I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!”

Whether you avoid taking action to negotiate your salary or unsuccessfully attempt to negotiate, the gender pay gap is not your fault! We hope you overcome your guilt and instead put the blame where it better belongs — on employers like Sony, and on the social pressure not to “scare” or “offend” those in power.
Salary negotiation, after all, is just one part of the equation when it comes to the fight for fair pay. Employers and policy makers play a critical role in the fight for fair pay. At the national level, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the long-overdue update to the Equal Pay Act, would provide employees with vital protections from retaliation if they ask about employers’ wage practices. At the state level, there have been a number of recent legislative developments, including California’s landmark equal pay law, that bring promise. (Though states have a very long way to go.) The gender pay gap is a multifaceted problem in need of a multifaceted solution.

Bottom line: Every woman deserves equal pay.

If the rate of change continues at the same pace as it has in the past decade, it will take more than a century for the gender pay gap to close. Women can’t wait that long. Just like you, we’re over being adorable. It’s important to remember, no matter the job (or in your case, awesome movie gig), that it’s your right to ask for and receive a fair and equitable salary. We’ll never close the gender wage gap if we don’t demand fair and just treatment from our employers, lawmakers, and leaders. If that makes us “spoiled” or “bratty,” then fine.


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Renee Davidson By:   |   October 16, 2015

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