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Why you shouldn't take career advice from Robin Wright

Watching the credits roll on the last few seasons of House of Cards, one might be forgiven for thinking that Robin Wright has morphed into the character of Claire Underwood, channeling her inner Claire to get the credit she deserves.

The producer credit.

The director credit.

The executive producer credit.

And, as of last week, a pay hike equal to that of on-screen husband and co-star, Kevin Spacey.

“You do have to shame and guilt them into (equal pay),“ Wright said in a live interview hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation. “I was looking at stats and Claire Underwood’s character was more popular than Frank’s for a period of time. So I capitalized on it. I was like you better pay me or I’m gonna go public.” And pay they did, raising her salary from $420K to $500K an episode to match Spacey’s.

The move came right out of her character’s playbook. In the parallel universe of House of Cards (Season 4), Claire points out to Frank that her approval ratings are higher than his and threatens to derail his presidential bid by divorcing him if he doesn’t make her his running mate. “I can be part of your campaign or I can end it,” she tells him with characteristic efficiency. It doesn’t take a spoiler alert to figure out what happens next.

Just as Leo DiCaprio slept in animal carcasses and ate raw bison liver to play a fur trapper, as Charlize Theron gained 30 pounds to play a serial killer, and as Hilary Swank lived as a man for a month to play a female to male trans, Wright, who is also involved in scripting and wardrobing, inhabits her character to full and spectacular effect.

Which is why, in the Rockefeller interview, when she suggested shame and guilt motivated her employers to do the right thing, she lost me. If playing these cards did the trick, men and women would have been on equal financial footing decades ago.

A far more effective method is to, first, become indispensable to your organization. Then you ask. Then you get. This is how Claire did it. And it’s how Wright did it too. To imply otherwise is to misrepresent the essential strategy behind the maneuver and willfully flub the lesson: shame and guilt aren’t power. Power is power.

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