The recent disclosures of the gender pay gap at the BBC have led to a not surprising thread of commentary that all of the people are involved are massively overpaid. However true that might be, it is still an irrelevant argument. Like the similar refrain that women in Hollywood who are paid less than their male co-stars shouldn’t complain because they’re earning more than most of us could ever dream of , it is deflecting from the issue. Which is that there is a pay gap in all industries when it comes to male and female salaries, that such a gap is morally indefensible, and that by earning less for the same work women are effectively subsidising their male colleagues.
Various reasons have been given for the existence of this pay gap which include:
- It has been ongoing for many years
- Women have to expect that they will return to the workplace at a lower salary if they’ve taken time off to have a baby
- Length of service has an impact
- It’s the women’s fault for not negotiating better salaries
- The jobs aren’t ‘exactly’ equal
- Companies can’t afford to redress the balance
That the problem has been in existence for many years isn’t in question; the lack of a resolution, however, most certainly is. The approach of many businesses has been to try to keep salaries confidential so that nobody knows exactly what someone else is being paid. Employees are complicit in this – many of us seem prepared to share our most intimate moments on social media, but almost everyone’s salary remains a closely guarded secret. However this makes it difficult for women to know if they’re being discriminated against and if so by how much. It was interesting that so many of the BBC women were really shocked to realise how much of a gap there was between their salaries and the men who were doing the same job. Yet without the forced disclosures they would always have suspected a gap but never learned how enormous it ws. The BBC, like many other organisations, was happy to allow women to subsidise men in their careers and would have allowed this subsidisation to have gone unchecked forever.
The justification that women should expect a lower salary after returning from having a child is ridiculous. Of course if a woman decides to accept a lower paying role, or elects to work fewer hours, her final salary will be impacted. But taking a year out, particularly in today’s environment when it is easy to keep in touch with what is going on in any industry, does not mean that your salary should be adversely impacted for the rest of your career. However employers, on the behalf of mothers, seem to have taken the view that the company will no longer be their highest priority and that they are therefore justified in paying them less. This is nonsense You are supposed to be paid for the job you’re doing and how well you do it. Whilst the duration of your career certainly adds to the experience for which you’re being paid, there comes a point when years on the clock make no difference whatsoever to your ability to do the job. Over the course of a thirty or forty year career, a couple of short breaks shouldn’t condemn you to a lifetime of inferior pay.
Blaming women for not being good enough negotiators is almost Trumpian in its deflection. It should be the job of the employer to offer a salary commensurate with everyone else in the organisation, not to force the potential employee to second guess what her male colleagues must be earning.The concept of paying as little as you can get away with says a lot about the culture of an organisation and none of it is positive.
Deflecting by saying that the jobs aren’t equal is a favoured way of blurring the lines between women and men’s pay. But that’s all it is. Unless she is demonstrably working fewer hours, the majority of women in business are doing comparable jobs to their male colleagues. But that supposition that somehow men deserve more or are more valuable still underpins many organisations.
The final argument, that companies can’t afford to address the balance, is as breathtakingly disgraceful as the argument that companies can’t afford to pay the minimum wage. If your company can only operate by discriminating against some of its employees, it doesn’t deserve to be in business at all. It will be interesting to see if any of the male presenters working at the BBC will accept lower salaries in order to keep the organisation’s finances within accepted parameters.
Finally, to deal with the argument thread that well-paid women shouldn’t be complaining it is important to say that if women who have a voice and who are, indeed, well paid, don’t speak out, then what chance is there for improvement in prospects for women at the bottom of the ladder who don’t have a voice? We all must have these discussions, to speak out about inequality and to improve things for our young women starting out on their careers.
All of the men in positions of power have women in their lives. Do they really think that their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters should be subsidising their careers by accepting a lower salary themselves? Do they think that they deserve to be treated less favourably than male colleagues? Because this is what the gender pay gap says. You are a woman. You are worth less. Part of what we should be paying you is actually going to pay a man more.
And that is a sad message to be sending to half of the workforce.