Charlize Theron Versus the Gender Pay Gap

Actors Chris Hemsworth (L) and Charlize Theron speak onstage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California.
Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron onstage at the Oscars last year. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What did perfect goddess Charlize Theron do when she found out that talking meat chunk Chris Hemsworth was making $10 million more than her, courtesy of the Sony hack? She got hers, “Page Six” reports.

There’s a lesson for all of us in there. Being transparent about pay and earnings might be uncomfortable. But it benefits all workers, especially those who tend to get discriminated against, including women.

As the Sony hack demonstrated in stark relief, women tend to make less than their male counterparts — a phenomenon that wonks call the “gender pay gap.” For instance, in American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams got paid less than Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. Sony’s Columbia Pictures division has a pair of co-presidents. Surprise, surprise: The man makes nearly a million dollars more than the woman for the same damn job.

The same trend shows up in a variety of industries, for low-wage jobs and for high-wage jobs and from contract gigs all the way up to the c-suite. In one study, men made more than women in 264 out of 265 occupations, with “butlers, valets, house sitters and shoe shiners” being the only category where women out-earned men.

Granted, much of the overall gender pay gap can be explained by the fact that women tend to choose lower-paid professions than men, and the fact that they tend to work fewer hours than men do. Taking time off to have children and care for family members also figures in. But so does discrimination. That means that the gender pay gap is not really 77 cents to the dollar, as often as that phrase comes up. But it is a significant amount – probably about 9 cents.

Opacity about how much people are making helps to perpetuate the gap. There’s the example of Charlize Theron. There is also the example of Lilly Ledbetter — the namesake of the first bill that President Obama signed into law — who only found out she was making thousands of dollars a year less than the men with her job at Goodyear two decades into her tenure there, when someone passed her an anonymous note.

The government and a small handful of businesses, Buffer and Whole Foods among them, are transparent about employees’ earnings, helping to ensure equal pay for equal work. And the Obama administration has done what it can to promote pay transparency, including banning federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay, and requiring them to submit pay information broken down by race and sex to the Department of Labor.

But at the vast majority of businesses, salary negotiations happen in private. And many businesses discourage workers from discussing what they make, in part to make workers less efficient negotiators. In one survey, 60 percent of workers at private businesses said, “the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment.”

That should end. Businesses should be more transparent with their employees, perhaps by issuing companywide pay guidelines broken down by tenure and education level. And employees should be more transparent with one another.

Sure, asking your co-workers how much they make violates all kinds of social taboos. But there is a little life-hack that lets you glean some salary intel without making anyone feel uncomfortable. Ask a variety of colleagues how much they think you should be making. It is an especially good trick to use when you’re switching jobs. Just ask a few future colleagues how much money to request.

And if you find out you’re getting shafted? Make like Charlize. 

Charlize Theron Versus the Gender Pay Gap