Actress Emma Stone recently made headlines for an unorthodox solution to the wage gap: she asks her male co-stars to take a pay cut in order to have an equitable salary to hers. “And that’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair,” she said.
Stone is not the first actress to speak out about the issue of pay inequality. Jessica Chastain is a frequent speaker on the topic; Kate Winslet has said she thinks it's "vulgar" to talk openly about pay; Jennifer Lawrence has said she avoided asking for equal pay in the past for fear of being seen as "spoiled." But some actions are better than others for creating systemic change, and there's reason to believe Stone's approach is problematic—even by Hollywood standards.
It is noble of Stone’s co-stars to take this cut for her, but the goal should not be to have everyone make less in the name of equality. Usually when we call for equality, we don't mean let's all go down to a lower common denominator, right? One would hope to see women lifted up, not all parties lowered.
According to policy analyst Hadley Manning of the Independent Women's Forum, our general fascination with Hollywood sometimes blinds us to the economic realities average Americans face. "I think the idea of [a male costar] decreasing his salary was really interesting," she added, "but I don't think that's a solution that can really be exported to other industries or the economy more broadly. It's more a symbolic gesture; instead of making 10 million on a movie, they might make 9."
According to Manning, scenarios like these aren't applicable to the broader economy, and neither is the wage gap we see in Hollywood. "Since acting jobs require specific male and female roles; casting directors say ‘we're only looking for men’ or ‘only looking for women’; whereas accounting firms don't say that," Manning pointed out.
According to Manning, the wage gap stats we hear from the Department of Labor don't take into account a multitude of factors, such as industry, experience, or whether time is taken off—factors that have a large impact on pay. Once we account for those variables, Manning says, "the pay gap shrinks to almost nothing. Six cents on the dollar, according to the American Association of University Women; another source I heard says 3 cents on the dollar; and another that attempted to correct the variables, looking at urban childless women, found there was a 10-cent reverse wage gap where women were out-earning their male counterparts."
All this is to say we should pause before asking our male co-workers to decrease their salaries. Even if a wage gap remains after we account for different variables, women are better off negotiating with employers for higher salaries and making counter offers in the early stages of accepting a position. Efforts like these do more to improve workplace culture and change hiring practices for everyone. Men should stand up for their female coworkers, and while Stone has benefitted from that in a unique way, the most just solution would be for her producers, not coworkers, to acknowledge the worth of a woman's work as equal to men's.