Wonder Woman and the Power of Leverage

The Hollywood superhero blockbuster has a lesson for all workers: perform now, cash in later.

Hollywood loves sequels, and based on the way Wonder Woman is performing at the box office, there will most likely be a return to Themyscira in the not-too-distant future.

And if there is one, star Gal Gadot is going to get paid. Why? Because she not only has the increasing momentum of the equal pay movement on her side, but also because she has all the leverage.

Korn Ferry research shows that, generally speaking, first time job talent is paid at a lower percentile, and that the more leverage you can build for yourself the more compensation you can get further down the line. In Hollywood vernacular that means that a performer’s salary increases in proportion to their recognition as a known quantity. Or, as a “source with knowledge of the contract negotiations” told CNN, "First time actors and actresses in a franchise are accorded appropriate salaries that are then ultimately based on the success of the franchise.”

Heading into the fourth weekend since its release, Wonder Woman has thus far grossed more than $600 million worldwide, making it the sixth highest-grossing film globally this year, according to data from boxofficemojo.com. It likely will surpass the box office returns of the 2013’s Man of Steel, which brought Superman back to the big screen.  Not too shabby for a supposedly unproven superhero franchise with a female lead.

Gadot reportedly signed on to play Wonder Woman over three films in the DC Comics franchise for a reported $300,000. That’s a far cry from the reported $15 million Ben Affleck is collecting to play Batman over a series of films. But now that Gadot has shown that female superheroes are a legitimate box office draw, she can pull a Robert Downey Jr, who famously parlayed his $500,000 initial payday for 2008’s Iron Man into $50 million for his appearance in 2012’a first Avengers film.

While headlines proclaim women typically earn 20% less than men, Korn Ferry Hay Group research shows that male-female pay disparity isn’t as simple as commonly portrayed. Tapping into its database of more than 20 million salaries at 25,000 organizations in 100 nations, the firm found that the gap is remarkably small—as low as 2.7 percent in France, for instance, or 1.4 percent in Australia—across the globe for like positions. The disparities the research found can be pegged to women still not getting access to the highest-paying jobs. The fact that Wonder Woman is the rare exception to the rule of male-dominated superhero franchises underscores this point.

In many countries, men and women doing the same job, in the same function and company, get paid almost exactly the same, the firm finds. Even so, since Gadot hasn’t signed on for the inevitable Wonder Woman sequel, she now has an advantage in negotiating a bigger payday for herself.

It’s a lesson everyone, male or female, can take: perform now and cash in later.