“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.” — Mark Twain
Have you ever sat in a meeting where a woman proposes an idea and is duly ignored? And then ten minutes later, a man makes the same suggestion and is greeted with gasps of admiration, thumps on the back and applause?
Infuriating, isn’t it?
The gender gap in salaries feels like that, only it affects you forever and ever.
Mind the gap
The Telegraph says women in the UK would have to work an extra 9.5 years to earn the same total as a man for the same job. If she started working full-time in 1970 on the national average salary, by now she would have an extra £1.2M (that’s $1.9M).
In November 2014, the Hollywood studio Sony Pictures was infamously cyber-hacked and its closely guarded innards strewn all over the internet. While I don’t wish to promote the crime that took place (by North Korea who objected to Sony film The Interview), what’s been revealed is difficult to ignore:
(1) Of the 17 executives earning more than $1M, only one was a woman: Amy Pascal, the co-chair of the studio. (She was released from her position following the scandal, though with a golden handshake. Her seat was replaced this week by a man.)
(2) For American Hustle, the three male leads plus the male director were given 9 points each, while the two female leads, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence (the previous year’s Academy Award winner, with additional massive Hunger Games stardom) got only 7 points each (“points” meaning percentage of net profits after the film’s release).
(3) Of the co-presidents of Sony’s Columbia Pictures division – that is, two people with the same job title – the man is earning almost a million dollars more than the woman.
The ick factor
Women and money form a ridiculously complex equation.
The expectation of women – and this is applicable everywhere I’ve lived – is that we’re here to make men’s lives easier. Not for nothing do married men live longer than single men, while single women live longer than married women. Changing the status quo so that women are now competing with men for the same jobs – well, I bet that feels threatening.
If fears are disguised as derision then little is derided as much as the Hysterical Female. All those little flecks of dismissal about how it must be that time of the month, how women prefer a catfight over sisterhood, oh that frustrated man-hater. How convenient to imagine the world becoming unhinged with unbridled emotion if women get their way.
A power imbalance is bad enough, but bring money into the equation then things become explosive. Did my marriage end because I earned more? Possibly, with money being some outwardly tangible measure of comparison. Financially successful women seem menacing only when men feel emasculated by it. Further derision follows. She wears the pants in the house. He’s the beta to her alpha. She’s the boss.
I’m proud to be a woman. Of all the boxes I’m placed in – nationality, class, religion – gender is the one with which I feel zero restriction or inadequacy when using to describe myself. I don’t however participate much in gender wars. My close friends and colleagues are evenly divided into both camps. I’ve had great male and female bosses. The infuriating people I’ve dealt with are not categorised by gender.
But this doesn’t mean that women aren’t grossly underpaid, because we are. And we shouldn’t be discouraged to ask for what’s fair (whatever the New Yorker says).
Because getting paid less also plays into something more. It has a drip-drip effect that erodes our confidence. When we get talked over at a meeting and believe what we have to say maybe isn’t all that important. When we doubt our abilities because we don’t get the applause readily bestowed on others. When we hesitate to take a stand because we don’t want to be a bother.
Well, I’m done with tiptoeing so as not to upset the apple cart. I’m done with mollycoddling fragile egos. And I’m done with apologising for doing good work.
Maybe we get paid less because it’s still the norm in many societies to assume men are the main breadwinners and women don’t need as much money. Women’s incomes were traditionally seen to be supplementary, almost decorative. How cute she does something on the side! (Provided her priority is still her family.) The financial reality facing most people now means that dual-income families are a necessity. Single people now also form the largest demographic.
Maybe we get paid less because men have more practice putting themselves out there and getting rejected sometimes in the process, whereas this feels like personal failure to many women.
Men negotiate a higher starting salary, then a better rate of increase with every raise. Maybe we get paid less because we don’t know enough to ask.
One of my key responsibilities in my film life was to negotiate tough deals on behalf of the production. I enjoyed this and considered it one of my strengths. But I fretted – cringed – over negotiating my pay for myself.
Much of my distaste rose from of my upbringing. I was taught to never discuss personal wealth. Asking about others’ was rude, while discussing (or displaying) my own was vulgar.
Given the option, I chose crappy money on a decent film over decent money on a crappy film. I thought I was being noble (a) in my pursuit of art, and (b) by distancing myself from the sleazy money-grabbing and gauche penny-pinching types.
I also worried I’d be viewed as being strident, aggressive or pushy (guess which gender is usually associated with these?). I didn’t want to be seen as being difficult or demanding.
I valiantly thought: “I want my work to speak for itself. They’ll see how committed I am to my job. They will acknowledge what I’m offering.” Like hell they do.
How I got over it
• I’m providing a service that is of value to others and I should be paid justly for it.
• I refuse to believe that a man doing the same job deserves more – just because nobody blinks when he negotiates.
• Stating what I deserve to earn continually reinforces my ability to stand up for myself in countless other ways.
I may never become someone motivated primarily by money, but my attitude about being fairly paid evolved. I stopped selling myself short.
A little background
I started working in film production 20 years ago. Being freelance, I was applying for jobs at a frequency most regular people don’t. I got a lot of practice. Then I became a line producer (imagine a line drawn between the credits you see when the film starts – director, writer, director of photography, stars, etc – and the credits that normally come at the end; I was responsible for the ones that came after the film). This meant I was the one now hiring the bulk of the crew, so I interviewed hundreds of people for various positions. Then I became producer and executive producer, and interviewed even the big cheese.
I believe I was exploited on my early jobs, partly because entry-level positions are highly competitive, but primarily because I didn’t know better. When people think they can get away with offering you little, they do. How much of that was because I’m a woman? Hard to say, and my gut says probably little.
I have no doubt that when I was doing the hiring, some men hated having had to negotiate with me (I was often considerably younger than them too), but that was not my problem. I focused on choosing people I wanted to work with.
As a hirer:
- Given the choice between a genius asshole and a reliable good egg, I choose the latter. Every time.
- I refuse to work with someone who plays the fear card. These are babies who mask their insecurities with temper tantrums, throwing their weight about or pulling rank – just in case anyone doubts their status.
- It’s not enough to be a protective boss with their own department. By not being a team player with the whole company, they encourage their unit to create an us vs them mentality, and their hostility towards others becomes draining.
- Being conscientious is wonderful, but deadlines trump perfection. Always.
- Lack of transparency, especially regarding funds, is unacceptable.
- Lack of ego (at least bluster) is critical. Admitting a screw-up and asking for help is better than trying to cover their tracks and making things worse.
These are applicable to men and women alike, though I’ve experienced more problems with men than women on the above. (Another reason why women shouldn’t be told to emulate men at work.)
From here on, I’m taking gender out of the equation altogether and focusing on negotiating for everyone. For the record: abrasiveness, a negative attitude and whining are off-putting, no matter who’s behind it.
We are all, in one form or another, applying for roles throughout our lives. Whatever we can do to make the negotiating process smoother helps our careers and ourselves.
Next week: What I’ve learnt from being on both sides of the negotiating table. How to prepare for negotiations!
“I’m a man!”
“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
— Some Like It Hot, screenplay by Billy Wilder & IAL Diamond
First published in 1937, Marjorie Hillis wrote an advice book for women on how to live with little money and a lot of flair, called Orchids On Your Budget. In a chapter titled “Can You Afford a Husband?” she asks: “[If] the one you have in mind is, like so many eligible and charming men, a non-money-maker and you still prefer him to a larger apartment or a trip to Europe – why not take him on? It is your affair. (And his; we are assuming that he, though unprofitable, is not unwilling.)”
A middle-class family straining its wallet results in the wife going out to work, upsetting the previous balance of the household. Watch Madhabi Mukherjee in my favourite Satyajit Ray film, Mahanagar (The Big City).
A fun and clever premise where four women code-breakers during WWII can’t disclose their secret war work when their soldier husbands return home. When there’s a local murder in their civilian life, the code-breakers secretly get together to solve it. Watch The Bletchley Circle, an ITV mini-series (two seasons), also shown on PBS.
Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, Emily Watson, gave a moving speech on gender inequality at the United Nations last year for their HeForShe campaign:
I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.
Men, ...[gender] equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my need of his presence as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.
If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.
Watch it here: