I'm a big fan of Robin Wright, the actor who co-stars with Kevin Spacey on House of Cards. I have to admit I don't watch House of Cards, but "The Princess Bride" is one of my all-time favorite movies. Wright plays "Princess Buttercup" in the film.
Now I have a new reason to admire her; Robin Wright recently explained how she negotiated for higher pay in an interview with the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2014, Wright earned $420,000 per episode, while Spacey earned $500,000. She noted the discrepancy and took her case to her employer. She explained why she believed she merited the same pay as Spacey, and her employer decided she was right. She got a massive raise.
From the interview, as reported by Marie Claire:
“I was like, 'I want to be paid the same as Kevin,’” said Wright. "It was the perfect paradigm. There are very few films or TV shows where the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal. And they are in House of Cards.
“I was looking at the statistics and Claire Underwood's character was more popular than [Frank's] for a period of time. So I capitalized on it. I was like, 'You better pay me or I’m going to go public,'” Wright said. “And they did.”
What's interesting about Wright's logic is that she doesn't assume that she and Spacey should be paid equally simply because they are both actors on the same show. She did her research and used her leverage to make the case for her value. She seems to understand that if the show were significantly different — if her part (as "matriarch") and Spacey's part (as "patriarch") were not equal — then her case for equal pay would not have been as strong. Her negotiation was based on what she brought to the show.
This is an empowering story especially because Wright didn't embrace a victim attitude when she learned about the pay discrepancy. She didn't expect that someone else should solve this problem for her, but she first approached her employer directly. This is a great piece of evidence that women can take some steps to close the wage gap by more aggressively negotiating their own compensation.
This isn't to say that wage discrimination never happens or isn't a problem. In some ways, Wright's situation is unique because the world of Hollywood doesn't represent the typical industry. Sadly, sometimes women in various fields do face unfair pay discrepancies with their male colleagues. Employers who refuse to pay women equally for equal work are in the wrong. Not only that, but they are breaking laws that date back to the 1960s: The Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. We don't need additional legal protections; we already have laws that forbid sex-based wage discrimination.
We know that most of the "wage gap" today — the statistic that shows women earn about 78 cents on the dollar compared to what men make — is caused by factors other than discrimination. Women are more likely to choose less lucrative professions, to work fewer hours, and to prefer other forms of compensation besides wages (like benefits). Negotiation also plays a role. I hope this recent news story about Robin Wright will underscore that women today have the freedom to make all kinds of decisions concerning their work, and that they also have the agency to seek change if they are undervalued.