“I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early,” she said.
That is the line that jumped off the screen in Jennifer Lawrence‘s cracking essay in Lena Dunham’s Lenny.
When she discovered she was being paid less than her male co-stars, she didn’t blame Sony Pictures for the discrepancy, she blamed herself.
At the point I thought game, set, match to Sony. To everyone who has been selling — or benefiting from — the notion that the pay gap is the fault and responsibility of women.
That it’s explained by women’s deficient negotiations skills and their depleted confidence. That it would be solved if women were a little more forthright in asking for more money.
Aside from being incorrect, this serves as a brilliant decoy. So long as women are being told and believing that they’re paid less because they didn’t ask for more, management are off the hook. Why would a company take action when they can simply peddle the line that it’s a mess of women’s own making? They wouldn’t and most don’t.
Game. Set. Match.
As prolific as the argument that women just need to ask for more is, it’s false. Hannah Riley-Bowes, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of the Women and Power program, says women are far less likely to negotiate more money than men are, but it doesn’t explain the pay gap.
“Researchers have examined the why and the answer has more to do with how women are treated when they negotiate than it has to do with their general confidence or skills at negotiation,” Riley-Bowes writes.
Studies from Harvard Business Review & Carnegie Melon show that women who do ask for more money are punished for it. They get demoted. They’re sidelined. They lose their jobs.
It’s called a “gender blowback” or “backlash” and is essentially a penalty for acting outside the scope of expectations.
Lots of women, Jennifer Lawrence included, are reluctant to push on the issue of pay for fear of seeming difficult or pushy. Their fears are absolutely spot on.
As Riley-Bowes writes:
“The results of this research are important to understand before one criticizes a woman — or a woman criticizes herself — for being reluctant to negotiate for more pay. Their reticence is based on an accurate read of the social environment. Women get a nervous feeling about negotiating for higher pay because they are intuiting — correctly — that self-advocating for higher pay would present a socially difficult situation for them — more so than for men.”
The truth is women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to negotiating pay.
As she pointed out, Jennifer Lawrence is obviously in a unique position: she’s earning millions of dollars and doesn’t need any more money. But when she said she’s not particularly relatable she couldn’t be further from the truth. Her experience — if not the zeros at the end of her paycheques — is entirely relatable.