Carrie Gracie’s new book outlines her equal pay battle and the importance of the support of other women – and men.
Everyone has a choice in the battle for equal pay and transparency is a key element, according to a new book by former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie.
Gracie famously resigned from her post after finding out that she was not being paid the same as other comparable male editors – in fact she says the North America editor was paid almost double what she earned. This was despite taking the job on the basis that she would be paid equally and despite the dangers associated with reporting in China.
Her book Equal recounts how she and BBC Women – a collection of female employees at the BBC – confronted senior management over equal pay and, after exhausting the internal grievance process, giving evidence to Parliament and gaining widespread coverage for equal pay issues, won a statement from her bosses that, if not directly admitting hers was an equal pay case, satisfied her that that was implicit.
The BBC seemed to fight her every step of the way, refusing to see the issue as an equal pay claim because it was not deliberate. However, by not refusing to admit the problem and by obfuscating it dug itself a deeper hole.
For Gracie equal pay is still a huge issue, despite legislation on it and on gender pay audits. She says the latter are not detailed enough to show discrepancies of pay within pay bands which could be due to unequal pay.
The book details clearly how mentally punishing the fight for equal pay is and outlines the pain of resigning from a job Gracie loved. At one point, Gracie says the process felt like “an assault on my sanity”. The excuses given for unequal pay by the BBC included that Gracie worked ‘part time’ because she did not spend the whole year in China and that she was in ‘growth and development’, despite having worked as a journalist for many years.
In the early pages Gracie outlines her shock at finding out about the pay discrepancy and her growing anger. She recounts statements from her boss before the pay issue came up which, in the light of what followed, portentous. He said: “It’s always a joy to see you. You deliver so much and ask so little.”
For Gracie the issue is not just about her own case. It is a systemic issue and she is all too aware that many, many other women, often on much lower wages, are missing out on pay. As Jane Garvey, presenter of Women’s Hour says: “If it’s happening to us, it’s happening to you.”
During the one-year process of attempting to claim equal pay Gracie gets not only support from numerous women and men, but also hears from women who have had their own equal pay battles.
She donates the back pay she wins to help women on low pay take up equal pay cases.
The book itself is part reportage of the case and part advice manual for other women, for men and for employers.
For women, there is lots of useful counsel, such as the importance of researching pay benchmarks before taking a job, taking notes of pay negotiations, taking notes throughout grievance procedures and, most importantly, getting the backing of other women. The solidarity of BBC Women was crucial to Gracie’s case and clearly kept her going.
She adds that the grievance process, including the appeal, is not worth it unless you have a reliable employer, you are planning a strategic exit, it is a stepping stone to tribunal action or you have more women supporting you.
For employers, she argues that listening to your employees and to constructive criticism is vital, as is pay transparency. “Women can’t correct what they can’t see,” she says. Gracie calls on women to ask what colleagues are paid and says one of the most powerful things a man can do is to tell women what they are paid. She adds that many are fearful of getting into trouble for breaking pay secrecy clauses, but says these are unenforceable in law.
She adds that men can support women by being open, empathetic and showing solidarity, whether backing colleagues’ equal pay fights or just performing small acts of kindness to someone going through an equal pay fight. The latter is something any colleague can do, she says. “There will never be gender equality in the workplace until men care about it as much as women,” she writes.
The book is fuelled by reasoned anger. At one point, Gracie says BBC Women are the true voice of the BBC. “By caring about the truth and taking risks to tell it, we were more BBC than they [the managers] were, in command of the moral high ground for this brief moment in which that ground mattered,” she writes.
For many women the process that Gracie goes through will be horribly familiar, including the attempts to undermine those calling out unfair treatment and to silence them. At one point female journalists who have expressed support for Gracie are not allowed to interview her on equal pay, leaving male journalists, such as John Humphrys, to do it. That is not impartiality, she says. “It almost looked as if only carefully vetted men could present news about equal pay for women,” she writes.
What comes across most strongly is that the process of arguing for equal pay is long and arduous and intensely personal. “I think employers often hope women will give up in horror at how personal this becomes,” she says at one point. The most remarkable thing about Gracie’s case is that she didn’t and that other women – and men – came out in support.
*Equal by Carrie Gracie is published by Virago, price £13.29.