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The Real Lesson Women Should Learn From Michelle Williams Is How To Negotiate Pay


Mark Wahlberg got paid 1,000 times more than Michelle Williams for the reshoots of “All the Money in the World” — that’s undoubtedly a sensational headline. Can anyone name a better example to demonstrate the gender pay gap?

The Washington Post says such a gender pay gap is a sad Hollywood tradition. CNN calls this the last straw, and says Hollywood needs a new system to ensure male and female stars are paid equally. However, as is so often the case, these and other outlets were so eager to find anything to support their preconceived political views that they missed what’s happening.

It’s About Abiding by the Contracts

Mark Wahlberg was the highest-paid leading man in Hollywood in 2017, earning $68 million pretax in that 12-month period. Sources told both People magazine and that Wahlberg took a significant pay cut to be in “All the Money in the World,” because this film was aiming to be a great contender for the Academy award. Wahlberg, the former rapper-turned-movie star, wouldn’t mind adding an Oscar to his collection. In exchange for Wahlberg’s pay cut, his agent, Ari Emanuel, negotiated a contract that didn’t cover reshoots and also gave Wahlberg the power to have a say in the film’s casting decisions.

After the alleged sexual harassment scandals of another leading man of the movie, Kevin Spacey, surfaced, director Ridley Scott decided to replace Spacey with Christopher Plummer and chose to reshoot every scene with Spacey in it. Wahlberg reportedly didn’t approve of the casting choice of Plummer. So Wahlberg and his agent used the leverage of his contract to renegotiate his pay for the reshoots. Thus, Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for the reshoots.

Michelle Williams’ contract did require her to do reshoots. Although the reshoots turned out to be much more substantial (it lasted 10 days), neither Williams nor her agent attempted to renegotiate her contract for additional pay. Williams was paid about $80 per Diem reshoot rate, which added up to $800 for 10 days.

Therefore, the drastic discrepancy in pay between Wahlberg and Williams during the reshoots has nothing to do with a gender pay gap. They are both well known stars and mature adults who signed contracts and fulfilled their contractual obligations. The only difference was his agent did something when the situation changed, but her agent didn’t. So the truth is not as juicy as the gender pay gap narrative supporters might like. But in the end, even Mark Wahlberg, who played many macho roles in many films, bowed to social pressure and outrage. He announced he would donate his $1.5 million reshooting fee, which he rightfully earned, to the #Timesup legal defense fund in Michelle Williams’ name.

I have no interest in defending Hollywood, a superficial industry with many problems. The Harvey Weinstein scandal brought to light that women often haven’t been treated fairly, kindly or equally in the workplace. But in this particular instance, the pay gap of Wahlberg vs. Williams shouldn’t be served up as a rallying cry for gender pay equality. Making men get less pay or shaming men to donate their pay will never result in women getting paid more. The right lesson worth learning for women everywhere is that we should manage our careers differently and take a different approach to salary negotiations if we want to see better pay.

Don’t Blame Others Because You’re Not Assertive

Women should learn to manage their career like a business, which means all the rules that apply to a business are applicable to our careers too. A business can’t survive if its customers don’t see the true value of its product or service. Similarly, our career will be in a stagnant mode if clients or employers underestimate the value we can bring. But truth be told, we women are often the first ones to underestimate our own value.

Too often, too many women, including myself, are uncomfortable talking about money, especially when it comes to our own self-worth. We want to be “liked.” We worry that bargaining back and forth may jeopardize the relationship we are trying to build, or cost us the opportunity we crave. No women wants to be labeled a difficult “b-tch”. Even some of the most successful women today share these concerns.

Jennifer Lawrence, the third highest-paid actress in Hollywood in 2017, who made $24 million, wrote in an essay after she found out her male co-stars were paid a lot more than her: “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”

“But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight,” she added. “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.'”

Just like Lawrence, many of us are also driven by the desire to appear cooperative, easy going and likeable, so when the subject of how much we should get paid for our efforts comes up, we often end up in one of these places:

  • We accept the first offer we get, feeling grateful for the opportunity, but hoping our hard work will get us noticed and we will eventually get paid what we deserve.
  • Or we negotiate one or two rounds and then quickly give up because we decide the number we were offered is good enough, even though we had a wrong reference point.

Here’s a wake up call for women. The big pay day you are waiting for doesn’t automatically show up in your life just because you’ve worked hard. If you underestimate your own value, you have no one else to blame except you. So own your own choices and their consequences.

Understand Anchoring Bias Before Your Next Negotiation

Before you negotiate your next paycheck, here’s a concept you need to take to heart — anchoring bias.

Anchoring bias is a psychological term that has been adopted to explain how individuals make financial decisions. When we formulate financial decisions or make predictions, we usually start with a reference point. What we often don’t realize is that the first price or number we choose becomes an anchor that has enormous influence on the final outcome.

Here are a few examples of anchoring bias from Psychology Today:

  • The awards from lawsuits are influenced by the plaintiff’s initial demand — the plaintiff gets more if he or she requested more.
  • In real estate, people are unconsciously influenced by arbitrary posted prices.
  • In online auctions, the price bids are anchored by the non-binding “buy-now price.”

Similarly, when it comes to compensation negotiations, the first number you offer will greatly influence the final number you get. The person who asks for more usually gets paid more. So if you want to get paid more, don’t be afraid to make your first offer a high number if you believe you are worth it. You don’t have to act like a jerk. Just ask nicely, but firmly and confidently.

Manage Your Career Like a Business

Keep in mind that your first offer, or your anchor point, should be realistic. Like a business, you need to know your customer/employer: what do they need most? What problems are they trying to solve? Like a business, you need to know your industry and define your own value proposition with supporting material: What unique value can you bring to the table? What unique skills and experiences do you have that ensure you are the right person? What direction is the industry you are in going? Are your skill sets growing with the industry trends or are you falling behind?

Also, like a business, you need to know your competition: Who are your competitors and what price points and value do they offer? What are your strengths and weaknesses, compared to your competitors? The answers to all these questions will not only help you to find the right anchoring point to make your first offer in your negotiation, but also help you to make a compelling case throughout the negotiation process.

It’s time for modern feminism to stop infantilizing women. Pink vagina hats and street protests that blame the men or the system will not increase women’s pay. The lesson we should learn from Michelle Williams is that we need to start managing our career like a business. Do your homework, and don’t be afraid to ask for your true value.