There have been a number of stories over the last year about the gender pay gap. Whether it’s in hollywood, business or the BBC, there is a universal disparity between men and women’s wage packets. Better people than I have debated, discussed and dissected this issue at length, so I don’t want to go over old ground and talk about why women in comparable roles are being paid less than men because I really don’t have anything new to add to the debate.However, the recent scandal around the BBC wages has led me to ask myself two questions, which I do think are worthy of discussion here:
1. Why is there a gender role gap?
Arguably, Chris Evans deserves to be the highest earner at the BBC because he hosts their flagship breakfast radio programme with over 9 million listeners. And he really does (in my opinion) do a great job-right now there is no one else I’d rather wake up to, or who can get me through the painful transition from bed to work. Graham Norton is the chat-show king (whether on radio or screen) and has done what only Sir Terry has previously accomplished and made Eurovision into a palatable piece of entertainment. All the men on the list are at the top of the tree – hosting the most popular radio shows, reporting on the most important news and being the face of some of the BBCs flagship dramas. Arguably, they deserve to be where they are in the pay scale because of the job they do and the way they do it. So the question is, why are there no women in these positions? Claudia Winkleman is arguably the most prominent female presenter at the BBC right now and this is reflected in her being the highest female earner. But she is still only a co-host on Strictly and at Radio 2 she is confined to Sunday evenings (when we’re all watching a male lead in Poldark or simply not listening to the radio because who does on a Sunday evening)? Vanessa Feltz who makes an appearance on the list can mainly be heard on the radio when Jeremy Vine is on holiday (because who listens to the radio before 7am when her regular show is on)? There is a direct correlation between the more prestigious/prime-time a role is and the likelihood of finding a female in it. So the further question is why is this? I’m not going to propose an answer – but ask you (along with myself) to consider this – why do we prefer to see men hosting Friday night chat-shows or breakfast radio? Why do we prefer men to comment on the news for us? Why do we prefer male stand up comedians? Because I’m 99% certain that we all carry around some underlying and sub-conscious gender bias and it’s about time we bring it out of hiding and into the light. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box.
2. Why is there an industry pay gap?
I’m sure that hosting a radio show that over 9 million people listening to is fairly daunting. I’m sure that waking up hideously early so that you can be on our air waves whilst the rest of us wake up has it’s draw-backs. I’m sure there are stresses that come with a Radio 2 DJ job. But it’s hardly life and death. No stock markets are going to crash, diseases misdiagnosed or people dying in a war zone because you pressed the wrong button on the sound desk or tripped over your words live on air. I have friends who pour their lives out for the wellbeing of other people under immense pressure, strain and stress and for fractional pay compared to our friends at the BBC. Even the leader of our country doesn’t get paid as highly as some of these ‘stars’. It’s incredible the way that footballers, film and TV actors and pop-stars get paid a phenomenal amount of money and doctors, charity workers, medical researchers, social workers, emergency services and teachers etc get paid so very little by comparison. I really do love to be entertained, and also believe in the value of the arts and culture (and, begrudgingly, sport) for our society. But do they really make a higher and more valuable contribution to our wellbeing and communities than people working in other sectors? To put it into perspective, Chris Evans’ annual salary could pay for 24 top-pay surgeons, or 62 mid-ranking police officers a year.
Our culture’s fascination and idolisation with celebrity enables this pay discrepancy between sectors and industries to continue. When we value one human being over another because of their public status and because the media has chosen (this week at least) to elevate them above others, we have lost our way. I was recently listening to a talk by someone who runs Spice Credits, a time-banking scheme that is making its way across the UK. And he said something that I loved: ‘We believe that everyone’s time is equally valuable’. This means that whether the person volunteering an hour of their time is offering legal advice or litter picking, they are rewarded in the same way-hour for hour.
I think this statement can help us unpick both of these questions-it’s about valuing someone and the contribution they make. Whether male or female, entertainer or health worker, can we devise an economy where all are equally valued? Can we devise an economy where work ethic is valued over work product? I’m not sure, and I’m never going to be influencing policy on these matters, but if I ever have influence over any ‘economy’-whether a micro business or a community group you’re welcome to challenge me on where I’m placing value.