Negotiation lessons from The Crown

by | Mar 22, 2018

The Netflix gender pay gap on The Crown

Should teach women some negotiation lessons

The gender pay gap exists because it can. It allows those in hiring positions to bring in talent at a rate which increases their margins and is best for the bottom line of the organisation. Cost saving makes everyone a winner, especially if those on a lower rate put-up and shut-up. Which women have tended to do, until relatively recently. The gender pay gap has been in the news (again)  with the high-profile case of Claire Foy's salary in her leading role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown.

There has been considerable examination of this situation, with some such as Suzanne Lucas a.k.a @TheEvilHRLady saying in a post on the topic:

Why am I okay with Foy earning less? Well, because acting isn’t like accounting. Or HR. Or whatever job it is that you do. Part of the job of an actor is to bring in viewers. When you have a reputation, you’ll bring people in.

Negotiation lessons

Negotiation lessons for Claire Foy

There are several reasons why this situation is rooted in a number of levels of wrong.

The Queen is the lead role

Despite Matt Smith being a great actor, with a strong portfolio, the reason the show is not called Prince Philip is because it's not about him. It was a support role in movie land, just as it is in real life. Within the production it's also considered to be an easier role with less screen time. Now a number of Dr. Who fans might have tuned in because they like Matt Smith, but the vast majority did because they wanted to see a programme about the Queen. Go figure. Foy herself has a stellar acting background on stage and in productions such as Wolf Hall and Upstairs Downstairs, which have won critical acclaim.

The success of the whole show rested on her shoulders and competence. The producers must have believed she could carry both series or they wouldn't have hired her. If Foy had been bad, the show would have bombed, regardless of how great Smith had been. What they were trying to do was get one actor as cheaply as they could.

In any recruitment process it is possible to pay someone in a support function at a higher rate than the senior role. Factors such as the value of their background and expertise, sometimes even for their market reach and network would be taken into account, but that decision frequently comes back to bite the hiring manager in the bum if it becomes public knowledge.

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The agent under performed

Claire ... really change your agent. Even the argument that Matt Smith had a higher profile internationally at the time of hiring is spurious. The fact that Downton Abbey was such a massive success, with a relatively unknown cast outside the UK apart from Maggie Smith, would suggest that there is a wide open market for the genre. People love this stuff. They love the Queen and are less fond of Prince Philip.

There are also a number of ways to counter this argument, which any savvy negotiator would have brought to the table in a corporate world. A case should have been made for stage reviews based on performance which would have been reflected in viewing numbers, critical acclaim or other metrics.  There should have been a definite re-evaluation for Series 1, with an overall completion bonus or profit-sharing based on results.

Not self-advocating

This is another area where women need to up their negotiating games and self-advocate. It's that strong combination of knowing your market and self-belief.

Going forward Claire Foy has learned some good negotiation lessons. And so have we.

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