Last summer’s wage revelations, which only occurred after the government forced the BBC to disclose the earnings of those with salaries over £150,000, uncovered a glaring gender pay gap where only 1 of the 10 top paid presenters was female. More specifically for Gracie though, her undervaluing was laid bare as it became clear that Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, and North American editor, Jon Sopel, earned 50% more than she did. Bearing in mind that Gracie has suffered from personal security threats, been targeted by the Chinese secret police and even spent time in prison while reporting, the lack of parity is inexcusable.
Although we can all agreed that the BBC needs to rein in its spending, money is not the central issue here. By courageously thrusting her head above the parapet, Gracie is joining a fight that has lasted for the best part of two centuries; currently the UK gender pay gap is 9.4% for full-time workers, or 18.1% for all staff.
Yet, the response of some has put into question how seriously the escalation of the pay row is being taken. John Humphries, a fellow presenter and the station’s fifth highest earner, mocked Gracie in a leaked off-air conversation and later brushed off backlash by claiming his scathing comments were just “silly banter”. Maybe Humphries wouldn’t be laughing if he had to pay £1200 to take an equal pay claim to a tribunal. Maybe Humphries wouldn’t find it funny if a lack of parity meant his pension was severely affected, leading to a lifetime of inequality. Maybe Humphries wouldn’t demote a topic of such gravity to “silly banter” if he realised the pay gap only gives you the options of either shutting up and putting up or risking your entire career. Workplace discrimination is a sadly familiar reality for women all across the country; there is no room for jokes and wisecracks on this one.
Despite the bleak present state of affairs, it seems as though there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. So far, six male BBC presenters have agreed to pay cuts (Humphries himself being one of them) and top TV writers are apparently circulating an anonymous spreadsheet to crowdsource information about their salaries. This aside, it must be said that the announcement of the former is suspiciously timely – the BBC are set to appear in front of a select committee regarding the pay dispute next week – and voluntary pay cuts will not solve such a complex and profound institutional issue.
Nevertheless, as the challenges for each international editor vary enormously, the solution may not be as cut and dry as to equate the same job title with the same wage. What we can be certain on however is that foreign correspondents of Carrie Gracie’s calibre are very rare. After working for the BBC for 30 years, she has produced many conscientious and insightful reports in an environment often hostile to the world media.
As women lose out by sacrificing their jobs, society loses out by throwing away the skills of such talented women.
(Image courtesy of Huffington Post UK)