In all the coverage about BBC pay, I was interested to read that one of the main problems with pay, according to the review, was “a lack of clarity and openness about the basis for pay decisions”. It was not so much that there was a gender pay gap, but a perception of a gender pay gap because people did not understand the basis for pay decisions. Fixing that would, it seemed to be suggested, fix the whole gender pay delusion. Women just didn’t understand. Silly old women.
The new on-air pay framework will have “clear criteria for how pay reflects skills, experience and audience impact”. Which is all very well – except when you start questioning all this stuff. One of the points Carrie Gracie made when she resigned was that she had extra language skills which some of her better paid male colleagues did not have. Yet she was paid less. What skills get rated more highly? This was the issue at the heart of the Ford equal pay dispute back in the 60’s. It’s at the heart of why female-dominated professions tend in the main to be not as well paid as male dominated ones. Are we no further forward?
When it comes to experience it seems that, for presenters at least, it just means that someone has been doing the job for longer. The problem is that there is a lack of older women in senior jobs generally because of workplace cultures that are often biased against women and at worst are downright hostile to them. As journalist Mary Ann Sieghart says: “Why does nobody make the point that one reason for the BBC gender pay gap of top presenters/corrs is that women get taken off the air almost as soon as their first wrinkle appears, while the men are allowed to go on and on?” Then there is the care gap. Many women’s careers never recover from career breaks to care for kids, for elder relatives and so forth – caring experiences which tend not to be valued, which men still don’t share in enough numbers and which aren’t taken into account in most upward career trajectories. Women are playing with one hand tied behind their backs. I write as someone who used to work at the BBC until I had my first child. I’ve been back since. Most of the men are still there. Most of the women aren’t.
And then we come to audience impact. I’m pretty sure that most people still prefer male presenters because that’s what they have been brought up to expect. Many female journalists, particularly at the moment, are the target of vile comments and constant attempts to undermine them. People still, in the main, listen more to men than to women and rate men more highly. Hopefully that will change, but if we link pay to audience impact what does that actually mean?
It’s not enough to have transparency, but it’s a start. It will open up a discussion about what we value and what we don’t in the world of work and more generally. And maybe it will help us to rethink the whole way we reward people and unpick the basis of those decisions.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.