It’s no secret that women are often paid less than their male counterparts—in the US, the median salary for women is 21% lower than the median salary for men, no matter their profession or position.
But when they learn how much more a male colleague makes, some women would rather quit than be severely underpaid.
On Wednesday (Sept. 4), The Washington Post reported that screenwriter Adele Lim is leaving her job on the Crazy Rich Asians sequel due to pay disparity. Sources told the Hollywood Reporter that Lim was offered close to one-tenth of the $800,000 to $1 million salary offered to her male co-screenwriter, Peter Chiarelli.
This isn’t the first time women in entertainment have walked away from jobs that offer them less than their male counterparts.
Public resignations at the very least can help publicize unfair compensation practices. In January 2018, comedian Mo’Nique posted a video on Instagram asking fans to boycott Netflix after the company offered her $500,000 for a comedy special, but offered Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle $20 million each (Mo’Nique has not put out a comedy special since the Netflix offer). Her callout inspired comedian Wanda Sykes to tweet about her similar experience: Netflix offered the Emmy winner less than $250,000 for her comedy special. Sykes then signed a deal with Epix instead; more recently, she signed a deal for a new special with Netflix, noting that she only did so because they were willing to pay her substantially more than what they had initially offered her.
Some underpaid women threaten to leave as a bargaining chip for higher pay, though it doesn’t always work out. In 2017, former E! News host Catt Sadler found out her male co-host, Jason Kennedy, was making double her salary. She tried to negotiate to be paid equally, but E! wouldn’t meet her fee, so she quit. She now works on several projects across many media platforms, is the executive producer of a podcast, and acquires various speaking engagements.
But past examples have shown that quitting in a flash of fury is often not the quickest way towards better pay in Hollywood. Instead, women would be better off seeking powerful allies to advocate on their behalf. In an interview with Out magazine, actress Emma Stone revealed that her male co-stars have taken pay cuts so that she may have parity with them. Michelle Williams was paid $1,000 for reshoots of All the Money in the World while her co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million. The actress Jessica Chastain put the story on Twitter; in the movie Williams made after that one, she was paid the same rate as her male co-stars. Jessica Chastain also helped actress Octavia Spencer earn five times more than what she was originally offered for her role in The Help, which was released in 2011.
Right now, quitting is more of a big statement than an effective way to get equal pay (though Lim’s move takes on additional significance because women of color earn even less than white women overall). And indeed, the cost of walking away from a job altogether is a privilege that not everyone can afford.
Maybe, as more high-profile instances of pay disparity become public, companies will realize that it’s a bad business move to not pay women what they’re worth.
Update: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the scope of Catt Sadler’s current job; she runs a blog in addition to several other projects, as described here.