This is a powerful lesson about being underpaid from ‘Hawaii Five-O’ stars

What do you do if you find out you’re being underpaid?

That’s the question ‘Hawaii Five-O’ actors Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim faced when they realized they had been reportedly underpaid for the last seven years on their show.

Yes, seven years.

Although both Asian-American actors were main characters alongside white co-stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, they were being paid significantly less.

They negotiated for more, but CBS wouldn’t pay all the actors equally. Unable to reach pay equity with their co-stars, Park and Kim chose to make a principled stand, exiting the show ahead of its eighth season.

Although Park has not made any public statements about her exit, Kim elaborated on his decision on Wednesday.

“As an Asian-American actor, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find opportunities at all, let alone play a well-developed, three-dimensional character like Chin Ho. I will miss him sincerely,” Kim wrote on his Facebook. “Though transitions can be difficult, I encourage us all to look beyond the disappointment of this moment to the bigger picture. The path to equality is rarely easy.”

A MESSAGE TO MY FANS ABOUT HAWAII 5-0Sorry for the delay in hearing from me, but like you I’m sure, my July 4th…

Posted by Daniel Dae Kim on Wednesday, July 5, 2017

CBS also came forward with their side of the contract negotiations. “Daniel and Grace have been important and valued members of Hawaii Five-0 for seven seasons,” CBS said in a statement on Wednesday. “We did not want to lose them and tried very hard to keep them with offers for large and significant salary increases.”

Significant, yes, but still not equal to their non-Asian co-stars. Their final salary offers were reportedly 10-15% lower than what O’Loughlin and Caan earned, according to Variety.

“Hawaii Five-O” showrunner Peter Lenkov echoed CBS’ defense in a Twitter post, saying that the salary offers were “extremely generous” and that the actors had received “unprecedented raises.” The careful wording is what matters here: big raises, but not enough to equalize the salaries.

Although CBS did not mention race as a factor in its decision, TV industry critics said that the pay dispute speaks to wider racial inequality in Hollywood.

Equal pay often leads to equal screen time and equally nuanced roles. U.S. Representative Grace Meng, D-NY, made a direct link to the actors’ races and their salaries in her statement on the issue. “I am disturbed to hear reports that ‘Hawaii Five-O’ stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park were not offered equal pay to their colleagues on the TV series,” she said. “The entertainment industry continues to struggle with accurately portraying Asian American stories and including diverse characters. Not paying artists fairly further increases these problems by putting up barriers for Asian American performers to break through in the industry.”

Overall, Park and Kim faced a difficult decision we all face at different points in our careers: is this job moving me forward in my skills or financially?

When the answer is no, the best move for your career is to walk away.