The gender pay gap. That stubborn, persistent, and downright insulting gulf that still exists between men and women performing the same work. It’s been in the news a lot lately, and for good reason: in the age of skyrocketing student debt, high costs of living, and wages that have barely budged in 20 years, working women today are fed up with being paid less than their male counterparts for reason other than a blatant gender bias.
This gap is a cavern in the sexist entertainment industry.
Along with the data, endless books and think pieces float around the internet trying to explain (or justify) the existence of the gender pay gap. Women spend less time at work because of their responsibilities at home (this is a blatant lie). Women choose lower paying fields (pay gaps exist within nearly every field).
One popular theory is that women have a confidence gap. And while studies show that women who do feel confident enough to ask for raises still don’t get them, this one seems to have struck a nerve with many working women, including myself. For me personally, it’s not so much the fear that I don’t deserve to be paid more, it’s a separate – though related – factor: an aversion to the very concept of greed.
As an artist living in working in Los Angeles, I’m extremely aware of how hard everyone in my industry is struggling and hustling in such a difficult and expensive city. I’m also extremely aware of the widening gap between the super-wealthy and the working poor, along with the shrinking middle class. Looking at those who have found a great deal of financial success in the entertainment industry, I often wonder if it’s not an issue of women (in executive levels) being underpaid, but rather that men are overpaid.
Shonda Rhimes recently revealed the massive salary she will receive through her new contract at Netflix: a base salary of $150,000,000, with additional incentives that could push that to a much higher figure. Netflix also signed a much larger – no surprise there – $300,000,000 deal with Ryan Murphy.
Personally, I’ve noticed I don’t want to appear greedy for two reasons: because I want to be liked (and as a woman, being liked is contingent upon being agreeable) and because I absolutely hate the notion that anyone in this industry is pulling in that kind of money while below-the-line crew are expected to work 16-hour shifts for $150/day (or for free). I’m well aware that others in the industry make less money than I do and asking to climb the financial ladder in my career makes me feel guilty, almost as if I’m leaving them behind.
Working in worlds of art and non-profit, I’ve worked with so many women who care more about the fruits of their labor than the size of their paycheck; in general, women are more likely to go into low-paying but fulfilling professions such as teaching, non-profit work, or home health care. And there seems to be a notion that those who do fulfilling work must sacrifice a living wage in order to do so.
But, here’s the thing: there’s often a fundamental flaw in understanding on the part of all workers, not just women, of just how much money these companies make. The excuse that a company “can’t afford” to pay its workers a living wage is almost always a blatant lie. There are exceptions, sure – tiny production companies, small family-owned businesses, and most non-profits really are restricted in terms of what they can offer in salary. But these are the exception, not the rule.
So, what do we do?
Here are a few tips and ideas I have come around to in my internal battle of profession worth:
- Evaluate your job. If you work for a big company that has a CEO making in the hundreds of millions, never, for one second, hesitate to ask for a raise. They have the money to pay you what you need to be paid.
- Document the results of your work. Write down every accomplishment, no matter how small, and read it to yourself every day. It will boost your confidence and be a tool for making your case to HR.
- If asked to provide an expected salary range when applying for a new job, make sure your lowest number is their highest number.
- If you’re freelancing it, branding and referrals are of the utmost importance. Make your website awesome and never shrug off a compliment on what you do. Any time you’re comfortable asking a client to do so, have them send the compliment via email or some way it’s documented. Also consider sending out a satisfaction survey and use the results on your website.
- Always, always, always advocate for the value of female-driven work. Teaching, for example, is a female-dominated and low-paying field, but it can certainly be argued that teaching is the least appreciated sector of government work because it is female-dominated. Do not tolerate teachers being paid less than garbage men, park rangers, or meter readers.
- Most importantly, remember that financial stability does not mean you are abandoning your art or your values. There are hundreds of ways for you to pay it forward, and you’re not doing anyone any favors by holding yourself back. If you’re ever in a position to hire someone, go to bat for them. You can offer them a more competitive salary if you have the discretionary funds to do so.