Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos says the uproar over Claire Foy’s salary for The Crown prompted a review by the streaming giant of talent salaries across its original and third-party series as well as a couple of adjustments.
Appearing at the Makers Conference in Dana Point, CA, Sarandos noted that Netflix licensed the show (from Sony Pictures Television) and thus did not set Foy’s salary, which was revealed last year to be significantly lower than that of co-star Matt Smith. Even so, he said the public conversation about the pay gap — prompted initially by Deadline’s Peter White last March — did have a practical impact on Netflix’s business.
“It’s really a complicated thing when you’re breaking new talent in a new show,” Sarandos told moderator Willow Bay, dean of USC’s Annenberg School. “The show turned out to be an enormous show for Netflix and it was an incredible launching pad for Claire Foy’s career. I can’t comment on her salary, I wasn’t in charge of it. But there was a disparity. What it did for us is, it had us go back and look at all of our productions and all of our productions that were being run by third parties, to make sure none of those disparities existed.”
Bay asked Sarandos if Netflix as a result now sets specific guidelines for its own executive teams as well as its business partners.
“We do,” he said. Although, “it’s in practice, it isn’t a plaque we hang on the wall. It’s something that we do every day. I think that the Claire/Matt issue, as complicated as it is, pointed to a bigger problem throughout the industry. We were able to find a couple of other ones we were able to adjust.” He didn’t identify any of the shows or talent for whom those revisions were made.
Pay equity has also come into play in the executive ranks at Netflix, Sarandos added, though he argued that the company’s unique policy of complete transparency around compensation at the VP level and above provides a counter-balance.
He recounted an experience of hiring a female direct report, choosing her over three male candidates. During the process, he discovered her salary history was significantly lower than theirs, meaning his ultimate offer was also lower than their level. Once the female executive, whom he did not identify, had been aboard for three months and was performing like a “real rock star,” Sarandos said he called her into his office to address her compensation.
“It’s an incredibly unfair position you’re in just based on your previous history, how your salary got to be this number,” he recalled telling the executive. “If I was in the market, hiring someone, I would pay this [male equivalent] number, so I’m going to pay you that now.”
Netflix has thus far declined to take the 4% challenge issued by TimesUp at Sundance as an incentive for hiring more female directors, Sarandos acknowledged. He noted the company released nine female-directed titles in 2018, among them Bird Box and Private Life.
Reflecting on the reasoning behind not taking the challenge, he offered advice to industry colleagues. “Commit yourself to a state of constant improvement,” he urged them. “You can’t say, ‘We’re going to affect the metric’ and then wake up one morning and realize you’re not there and bring in a bunch of bodies to make the metric work. You have to hire senior executives who you trust, who look like the world, and let them make decisions.”