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Negotiating Salary: What We Can Learn from Jennifer Lawrence

Helene Cavalli Blog

'salary' post-it note on keyboard

It seems that Jennifer Lawrence can do it all.

In her film-acting career, Lawrence has earned accolades in romantic comedies, action films and dramatic roles. She has been nominated for, or won, just about every film award possible, including an Academy Award.

It seems there is nothing she can’t do. Well, almost nothing.

Turns out that Lawrence, by her own admission, is bad at negotiating salary. Recently, Lawrence penned a widely circulated essay entitled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” In it, she talked about what she learned via the much-publicized hacking of Sony Corp. servers, how she was paid considerably less than her male co-stars in some of her most successful films.

This included the award-winning American Hustle, a film for which Lawrence herself was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe. It has been revealed that Lawrence and her female co-stars, which included the equally successful Amy Adams, all made less money than their male co-stars.

When she saw the actual numbers, Lawrence, who is currently the highest-earning actress in the world, wrote that it would have been easy for her to “get mad at Sony.” Instead, she said, “I got mad at myself.

“I failed as a negotiator because I gave up too early,” Lawrence wrote. “I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”

The gender gap in Hollywood is a well-established story, but Lawrence’s commentary certainly brings new attention to it given her success and gravitas. In fact, the whole story highlights an issue that is important for all of us: how to negotiate a fair salary.

At some point or another, we’re all going to have to negotiate our salary and benefits. For some of us who’ve done it a few times, this might be old hat; for others, we may never have had to sit down in front of a hiring manager and start what is a delicate and sometimes awkward conversation.

Why are we generally reluctant to speak up for ourselves in salary conversations? Again, Lawrence’s essay serves as a frank examination of the possible reasons for failing at salary negotiation.

She mentions a fear of being seen in the Hollywood establishment as “difficult or spoiled.” She wondered aloud if it was a function of her relatively young age, or an inherent deference that women display when negotiating with male film executives.

Lawrence’s essay serves as an important examination in general of the issue of salary negotiation, and specifically the challenge faced by women. The gender gap on salary and benefits extends well beyond the glittery world of Hollywood actors.

As Lawrence notes, the secret to addressing the problem is pretty simple: you need to learn to speak up for yourself. There is an art to salary negotiation, but it starts with our resolve to bring up the issue when the time is right.

Usually, that time is after you’ve been provided a firm job offer or promotion. At that point, you can begin the conversation about fair remuneration as long as you have defined several important issues.

You will need to know all you can about your employer, including any information from online sites about current salary levels.

You will also need to know what you are worth. Given your experience, skill set and intangibles, what are others being paid? Again, there are many online resources now that can help you define that.

After finding out all you can about how a company compensates its employees, and defining your worth, then you’re ready to negotiate. It’s always good to have a bottom line in mind – the minimum you would accept – before fully committing to a job offer.

Lawrence has admitted that she needs to be better at negotiating her salary. And thanks to the fact that she stumbled on unprecedented information about what her male co-stars are being paid, it seems quite likely that she will drive a much harder bargain for her next film role.

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