Gender pay gap strikes again. This time at the BBC by Elizabeth Renzetti

Jul 22, 2017

Source: Globe and Mail

As a red mist of rage settles over the BBC’s headquarters, it’s worth looking at what’s valued by the world’s largest public broadcaster. Not just who – we know who, now that we’ve seen the salary figures – but what kind of coverage merits major cash.

When the BBC was forced to unveil salaries for its on-air talent this week, it was infuriating, though not surprising, to see that the top seven earners were men, and that men made up two-thirds of the 96 names on the list. The top two earners? Chris Evans, a DJ and former host of the car show Top Gear, and Gary Lineker, a former soccer star and analyst on the show Match of the Day. So, sports and cars. That’s what’s important. Good to know. The BBC revealed ranges of salaries: Mr. Evans is listed around £2.2-million ($3.6-million) and Mr. Lineker around £1.7-million.

How about news? Isn’t news important? Well, as a matter of fact it is. If you happen to be a man reading or reporting the news. Huw Edwards, a newscaster, and John Humphrys, a veteran radio host, are both in the top 10. Mr. Humphrys, hilariously, insisted that he wasn’t quite sure how he ended up being paid so much, saying: “I at no stage went to the BBC and said ‘I demand more money because I’m absolutely bloody brilliant.’ ” In other words, the wage fairies must have sneaked into his house at night, many times (he currently earns around £600,000). Too bad some of the women at the BBC didn’t remember to put out cookies for the wage fairies.

The highest paid woman on the list, at number eight, is Claudia Winkleman, who hosts the shows Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Sewing Bee. The only other woman in the top 10, Alex Jones, hosts a lifestyle show. This is where women are valued, then. Meanwhile, the presenter of the BBC’s flagship Newsnight program, Emily Maitlis, didn’t even make the list’s £150,000 cutoff, though her male co-host did. Ms. Maitlis was able to laugh through gritted teeth, telling a British tech conference this week, “You’re an industry doing so well, soon you’ll be able to afford a BBC man.”

Laugh, or you’d cry. I imagine there are a lot of snapped wine-glass stems across Britain as the country’s top female talent gets together to plot its revenge. There are reports that they will join forces to launch a lawsuit against their employer. Jane Garvey, host of the popular radio show Woman’s Hour, described herself as “incandescent with rage” and said: “If the BBC thinks we’re not talking to each other, we are.” (Of course, she’s not in the top 100 pay earners; her program has the word “woman” in its title, for goodness sakes.)

Would the numbers be less depressing at the CBC? We have no idea, because it has never released the salaries of on-air talent, except in the vaguest possible way, at the request of a Senate committee.

Even then, the numbers gave no indication of pay by gender. The BBC’s hand was forced when it had to renew its Royal Charter and the government insisted on the disclosures.

What we do know is that the pay gap exists in this country and that it’s worse for women of colour. As Statscan reported in March: “Women earn $0.87 for every dollar earned by men, largely as a result of wage inequality between women and men within occupations.” By other measures, the gap is even wider: According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a university-educated woman working in the private sector in Canada makes 73 cents for every dollar a similarly educated man makes.

This is not merely a problem of women at the top, although when women at the top start talking, it emboldens all women to consider their compensation. The U.S. women’s soccer team negotiated a fairer new contract this April, a year after lodging a complaint about discriminatory practices with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For some reason, their winning wasn’t considered as valuable as the men’s team losing.

In tennis, the Grand Slam tournaments pay equal prize money, but even then, as a New York Times investigation revealed, when smaller tournaments are taken into account, female players only get 80 cents for every male player’s dollar. Serena Williams has been outspoken on the subject, writing in an open letter: “I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work. Nor would you.”

Speaking out and banding together are what women at the top level need to do to highlight pay injustice, for all the people who don’t have that kind of megaphone. It’s uncomfortable, for sure: We are conditioned to be grateful for the crumbs we get.

As the actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote, after a hack of Sony’s e-mails revealed she was being paid substantially less than her male co-stars: “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ … Until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

It’s a difficult conversation, but you know what’s even harder? Living with the knowledge that you’re being fleeced. It’ll be a happy day when the wool’s no longer pulled over our eyes.

© Globe and Mail