High profile examples from Hollywood are currently at the forefront in raising awareness of the issue of gender pay disparity. The leaking of the hacked Sony emails in December last year included the revelation that while the male stars of Oscar-winning movie American Hustle (namely Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper & Jeremy Renner) were contracted to receive 9% of the movie revenues, the female leads, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, received 7%. Deniers of gender pay disparity often cite differences in experience and qualifications as explanations of salary differences but this is a clear example of where that is not the case. Jennifer Lawrence came to American Hustle after carrying the hugely successful opener of the Hunger Games franchise and with an Oscar and a Golden Globe gracing her mantle for Silver Linings Playbook (as well as nominations for Winter’s Bone). Amy Adams’ resume contained 4 Oscar and 4 Golden Globe nominations. This is more nominations than Bale, Cooper and Renner held between them. Ultimately, all four main leads were nominated for both Oscars and Globes for their work in American Hustle but it was Lawrence and Adams that took home the Golden Globes.
The exposure of this particular disparity has led to other Hollywood leading ladies weighing in to further publicize the problem. Meryl Streep and Patricia Arquette have both made high-profile speeches highlighting pay inequalities, and Charlize Theron is the latest, this week stating in a magazine interview that she had to ask for a pay rise to ensure that she was receiving the same salary as her male counterpart, Chris Hemsworth, in the upcoming The Huntsman. But why should it be that women have to ask rather than just being able to rely on producers to pay equal salaries for equal work?
The answer to that lies in the persistance of attitudes that would seem at home in the 1950s, highlighted just last week with the immediate success of a newly-launched Tumblr blog called “Shit People Say to Women Directors” http://shitpeoplesaytowomendirectors.tumblr.com. Here, film industry workers anonymously contribute stories of their own experiences and encounters with sexism. One entry states:
“I was the only woman among the animators at one of the biggest media companies in the world. When I told my boss I should be paid the same as my 18 other male co-workers, I thought he was going to apologize for the “mistake”, instead he told me to get a rich boyfriend.”
The blog entries paint a picture of an industry which still believes that, in spite of 50% of cinemagoers being female, that there is no economic value in “women’s movies”, that women do not have the technical capabilities and experience to make movies, and that a woman’s place on a film crew is as eye-candy or a sexual object for male crew and executives.
A quick look on the Internet and in the media at recent commentary on this topic will reveal a surprising amount claiming that this is merely a Hollywood problem, not representative of other industries and workplaces. This is often combined with the well-versed claims that pay disparity doesn’t exist once you take into account women’s part-time hours, maternity leave and their career and educational choices. What these oversimplifications do not take into account is that there are cases of equally qualified men and women doing the same job for different salaries (not just Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale). Neither do they contribute to the discussion about which jobs our society value over others and that the jobs traditionally considered “female” roles, such as elderly care, early education and nursing, tend to have lower average salaries than jobs requiring similar levels of education in traditionally “male” sectors.
Outside of Hollywood, awareness is also currently being raised by projects such as “Less than 100%”, a not-for-profit pop-up shop in Pittsburgh selling locally produced goods, in which women only pay 76% of the retail price to reflect their lower income. http://lessthan100.org. Internationally, The World Economic Forum has produced a 400 page document entitled The Global Gender Gap Report 2014, which ranks countries’ gender equality in terms of economic, educational, health and political opportunities.
So other than Theron’s suggestion that women have to forcefully ask for parity, are there any other solutions being offered? There has been the introduction in some countries of legislation requiring salary transparency and this is certainly a start. Within business, last week Marc Benioff’s company Salesforce made headlines with his announcement that he was reviewing the records for his 16,000 employees to ensure gender pay parity. On Twitter, Benioff gave credit for the idea to two of his female executives, Leyla Seka and Cindy Robbins, who requested the review. He has also initiated a ‘Women Surge’ programme, searching out high-potential female employees, doing so after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. http://www.businessinsider.com.au/leyla-seka-inspired-benioff-on-equal-pay-2015-4.
This is a debate which needs to be kept open and not swept aside. Awareness of the issue needs to be raised with examples from all walks of life, not just Hollywood; perhaps through blogs similar to “Shit People Say to Women Directors”. And until employers and legislators are shamed into action and parity is achieved, it would appear that women need to follow the example of Theron, Seka and Robbins and keep on asking.
Global Gender Gap Report 2014
May 8th 2015