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- Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer recently discussed her pay negotiation tactics in an interview.
- Spencer has been a vocal advocate of equal pay for women of color in Hollywood.
- She says she never accepts the first offer, knows her worth, and doesn’t entertain much haggling.
Even though she only recently received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Octavia Spencer has had a long and varied career, spanning two decades. She’s played a wide range of roles, from inspirational (“Hidden Figures“), to comical (“Thunderforce“), to down-right scary (“Ma“).
Spencer started out as an intern on a Whoopi Goldberg film as a teen, and later appeared in her first onscreen role alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey in 1996’s “A Time to Kill.” She went on to win the Oscar for best-supporting actress for her role in “The Help” in 2012.
But the Oscar-winning actress says that she still gets “lowballed” on some projects. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Spencer talked about why she thinks this happens and three ways she deals with it in negotiations.
1. Always get more money than what’s offered
Spencer says she starts by never taking the first offer. “I always get a raise,” she said, adding, “You should always get more money than they’re offering you.” Spencer has brought attention before to the pay gap in Hollywood for actresses and actors of color.
In 2018, Spencer discussed working together with Jessica Chastain to get five times their salary on a project they were both working on, after Spencer was lowballed in comparison to Chastain. She said back then, “If we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.”
Her perspective has remained straightforward on the topic: “Women and women of color have always lagged. When they start casting movies, they put all the money on the white male or Black male leads. They come to you when they’ve given out all the dollars and they only have cents.”
2. Knowing your worth can also mean not asking for too much
Though Spencer emphasized knowing your worth, she said you should know how much to ask for. Essentially — if you’re not Denzel Washington, don’t ask for Denzel Washington-money. “It’s not that I’d walk into a situation and say, ‘I need to make what Denzel [Washington] is making.’ I haven’t had the opportunity to create box office the way that Denzel has.”
Executive recruiters for major companies have stated this too — using ‘market research’ numbers when negotiating can show that you don’t understand how salary negotiations work. Instead, it’s best to build a business case for your requested number. In Spencer’s case, she has quite a track record to point to when advocating for pay. “I want the same respect and pay that they’re offering my white counterparts,” she said.
3. Don’t go back and forth a lot when negotiating
Spencer also said that she doesn’t like to spend a lot of time haggling — the other party either gets it or they don’t. While acknowledging that some negotiating is always necessary because, “Nobody’s going to offer you what you’re worth,” she said, “I’m also not that negotiator who’s going to go back and forth. If you can’t come up to my price, there are so many other people that you can go to who probably will accept what you’re offering. I’m not one of them.”
Spencer has a point — a male actor’s pay can jump significantly post-Oscars win, but for women that bump is often lower, and it can be even lower for an Oscar-winning actress of color. Spencer isn’t having any of that. “If you’re offering me the same thing that you would’ve before I received my bona fides, if you will, then it shows that you’re not paying attention — or that you think it’s OK to lowball people.”
If you work in Hollywood and would like to share your story, email Eboni Boykin-Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.