BBC gender pay gap should spur all women
The skewing of rewards goes well beyond the British broadcaster. Its rich list is a moment to demand changes in workplaces everywhere
The BBC’s gender pay gap – revealed in an unprecedented list of top earners published by the British public service broadcaster last Wednesday – is not so much a single chasm as a series of geological faultlines. The most egregious discrepancy is that top rates of pay are skewed towards men by two-thirds, and that on-air talent is doing remarkably similar jobs for very different rewards.
The broader difficulty it raises is the gap around who gets to do what in the first place. All media organisations have pay differentials and most need to look at them more rigorously; they all should feel the heat over the way they remunerate and promote women.
The BBC is in a particular category, however. As it has come under increased pressure to justify its funding, its defence has been that it is the purveyor of journalistic values at a time when they are threatened by disruption to the economic model of quality journalism and a more divided public mood. As a regular contributor to the BBC, I would argue that these are vital characteristics.
Some of the more jaw-dropping amounts in the BBC’s rich list do, though, open up glaring questions about the balance between the broadcaster’s desire to be a purveyor of public service values and the amount of effort (and dosh) that goes into preserving and rewarding its marketable assets. Yes, that is the result of a desire to preserve its reach, alongside a public service remit. But the consequence of a negotiating culture seemingly unwilling to say no to big-money demands, or to watch stars walk away, is a weighting of rewards that look like the private sector splashing shareholders’ cash.
The broader point, which the BBC has been reprehensibly slow to act upon, is that the skewing of rewards is symbolic of broader challenges of who gets to do what, and how easy or not it is for them to progress. The major presenters, from Chris Evans to Graham Norton, are predominantly male. Even British national treasures such as Clare Balding receive far less remuneration than the golden boots of Gary Lineker.
Let’s not look only at the top ranks. Further down the scale, chaps on radio and TV still get the lion’s share of explaining how the world works. A fellow female broadcaster tells me that female managers are as prone to lionising men in these roles as any male suit, and I think she has a point.
The BBC’s intellectual spadework is still done mainly by men of a similar outlook and type. Director general Tony Hall should get on with changing that, but distortions will persist until broadcasters think more adventurously about what women are capable of.
If Hall, director of news James Harding and the alpha males at the top want to do something about this, now is the time. Too many redoubts in TV and radio reflect an unambitious view of what women are suited to. Broadcasters tend to veer from one diversity challenge to the next. Rightly, there is an overdue focus on ethnic representation – no presenter from a minority background figures in the top end of the pay scale. But these concerns must not be excuses, in which the unspoken message is: “Done the women thing, got to do the minorities one now.”
What holds women back most in broadcasting is, in my experience, a lack of reliable support for them to do more. Finding the doors into many roles is still as mysterious as locating platform 9¾ at King’s Cross station.
Wherever in the workplace, this is not the time for women to shut up about unequal chances. I suspect many will feel galvanised by the lifting of the BBC pay veil. And if their bosses start with the excuses, they can now come armed with the rich list – and a pair of elbows.