Jennifer Lawrence is one of the brightest actors of our times. Be it blockbusters like Hunger Games or Oscar-deserving American Hustler and Silver Linings Playbook, she has excelled in almost every character she has performed. However she also showed a very intellectual side of hers when she wrote a very good essay about the prevalent wage gap between male and female actors in Hollywood. In her own style and from her personal experiences she highlights two important issues. First, she could have negotiated a better remuneration. Two, she doesn’t do it because probably whenever women try to be blunt or direct, they are perceived as aggressive and need to face a lot more rejection than their male counterparts.
She is absolutely right in her hypotheses. Various experiments have proven that women tend to assert less power mainly because they fear backlash. In a series of studies Victoria Brescoll from Yale showed that the same assertiveness between men and women is treated differently. While even slight assertiveness from women is seen as ‘being too aggressive’, men actually get away with lot more. Not only that it has also been seen that. It is a harsh reality that somehow across cultures women are expected to be ‘nice’. No wonder, Leigh Thompson’s research finds that a difference of a few thousand US Dollars between a man and a woman’s salary in the first job post-MBA, escalates to almost a million dollar difference a couple of decades down the line.
What’s the remedy? Well, there is no evidence that men negotiate better than women. In fact there is evidence that when women negotiate on behalf of somebody else, they actually negotiate better than their male counterparts. The simple remedy is preparation. Women, when they negotiate, should prepare themselves better and understand the total potential of the deal beforehand. Preparation and simple awareness of total value that could be created, would help any negotiator negotiate more ambitiously.
What can corporates do? Simple answer is soul-searching. Ellen Pao, as an interim CEO of Reddit had banned salary negotiations to avoid unfair salary structures and protect female employees from being punished unfairly. (Also cited here).
However banning negotiations is neither sufficient nor optimal. Corporates should do more soul-searching and create standard negotiation principles across the board which would ensure fairness and equality in salaries across gender, races and social classes.
By the way, Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely right. All she claims is proven by robust research in social science.