Since the BBC was forced to reveal the full cavernous extent of the pay gap between its male and female stars last week, women up and down the country have been casting suspicious glances at the man on the next desk.
‘Is he being paid more than me?’ we have been wondering.
Based on my years of observing women’s progress — or lack of it — in the City and at leading UK companies, the answer is yes, he probably is. And no, he probably doesn’t deserve it.
By lifting the lid on pay, the BBC has done working women a huge service, albeit unwillingly. The Corporation was forced by the Government to disclose the names and pay of everyone earning more than £150,000 under the new royal charter which guarantees it will receive the licence fee for another 11 years.
Ruth Sunderland, Chief City Correspondent for the Daily Mail, explores the reality of the gender pay gap for women across the country – and concludes that we are woefully underpaid
Had the broadcaster not been forced to tell all, its female staff would have remained in ignorance, just as working women across Britain are still largely in the dark about how their pay compares with that of their male colleagues.
But new laws mean that within the next year, all employers with more than 250 staff will have to publish information on their gender pay gap. And when they do, put your tin hats on, chaps, because all hell is going to break loose.
The figures that have emerged under this legislation so far are shocking. At Virgin Money — a bank with a female boss who is a stalwart campaigner for women at work — men earn 36 per cent more than women on average. Asset manager Schroders owned up to a ‘male premium’ of 31 per cent, the same as High Street bank TSB.
While these new laws are a step in the right direction, they don’t go anywhere near far enough. Companies need only give details of the average disparity between male and female earnings, so it’s still impossible for an individual woman to tell if she is being cheated.
The only way to end the blight on women’s working lives is to force other employers to reveal exactly who is paid what.
Contrary to popular belief, unfair pay for women is not a feminist issue. It is plain theft.
As Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), puts it: ‘Unequal pay is illegal. Women and men should be paid the same for doing the same job.’
And many women won’t put up with it any longer. Thousands working in Asda are currently pursuing Britain’s biggest private sector equal pay claim against the supermarket giant after an employment tribunal ruled that the women, who work in shop-floor roles, can compare themselves with better-paid jobs in warehouses, mainly performed by men. Asda disputes the claims.
The women claim they are being paid less despite doing work of equivalent value. If Asda loses, it could be forced to give pay rises to thousands of female staff and make backdated payments as far as 2002, at an estimated cost of £100 million.
Similarly, Tracy Myers, a former employee at Network Rail, was awarded a £75,000 payout by an employment tribunal last year. She claimed the pay gap between herself and a male colleague reached as much as 37 per cent.
Ruth Sunderland, Chief City Correspondent for the Daily Mail, explores the reality of the gender pay gap for women across the country
In some instances there might be a valid reason for a woman earning less than a man — such as working fewer hours, having lower qualifications, performing worse or being less talented. Then again, there might not.
Look at Newsnight presenter and polyglot Emily Maitlis. As her agent pointed out, it is ‘madness’ that the Cambridge-educated presenter, who speaks four languages, is paid vastly less than co-presenter Evan Davis for doing the same job.
I don’t think the BBC bosses, or those at other firms, set out deliberately to discriminate. Most of it is unconscious.
Sometimes this pay inequality stems from the misguided view that women aren’t breadwinners so their salaries are mere ‘pin money’ to spend on fripperies.
Look at Newsnight presenter and polyglot Emily Maitlis. As her agent pointed out, it is ‘madness’ that the Cambridge-educated presenter, who speaks four languages, is paid vastly less than co-presenter Evan Davis for doing the same job
One senior City woman I spoke to tells how, when she complained to her boss about her paltry pay rise, she was met with derision.
‘He said: “Well, you’re already very well paid and you don’t need a lot of money because you don’t have a family to support. You don’t even have children; you must have money coming out of your ears.”
‘It was said slightly as a joke but I think it actually was what he felt at some level. I did need the money — my husband had just been made redundant and I was helping my elderly mother and supporting a nephew through education.
‘But none of that is the point: I should have been paid on merit, not according to speculation about my circumstances.’
Some firms have rigid grades that determine pay scales, but in lots of places it’s a subjective judgment. So because men still, by and large, pull the levers of power, they decide who is worth what.
I didn’t really think about it but if you had asked me, I would have assumed I was therefore paid more than them. But then I got together with my husband and we found I was still being paid less than the men, even after my promotion. When I complained to a senior — male — executive, he said: “Oh, we wondered how long it would take you to find that out.”
Quelle surprise! They tend to think what we women do is less valuable than their contribution.
They get away with it partly thanks to the British taboo around discussing financial matters.
Such is the secrecy surrounding salaries that one fortysomething woman working in the media only found out she was being paid less than her male peers when she married one of them.
‘Four of us were hired at the same time, doing the same job,’ she said. ‘Three were men, then there was me. I was the first to be promoted and received a small pay rise.
‘I didn’t really think about it but if you had asked me, I would have assumed I was therefore paid more than them. But then I got together with my husband and we found I was still being paid less than the men, even after my promotion. When I complained to a senior — male — executive, he said: “Oh, we wondered how long it would take you to find that out.” ’
It is this culture of secrecy that allows pay inequality to persist. It’s considered bad form for men to talk about their salary, but for women it is beyond the pale.
We are not supposed to be angry about being ripped off at work because it’s not ladylike and makes us look bitter and humourless.
Well, here’s the news. Losing tens of thousands of pounds purely because you have the wrong set of chromosomes isn’t amusing.
Losing tens of thousands of pounds purely because you have the wrong set of chromosomes isn’t amusing
It’s no laughing matter that, 42 years since the Equal Pay Act came in, the average woman with a full-time job still earns only about 86p for every male £1.
Ladies: put another way, this means that from about November 10 until the end of the year, you’ll be working for nothing.
How would men react if they were asked to work seven weeks a year for no pay? Would they chuckle sportingly and knuckle down? No, I don’t think so either.
The usual reason put forward for the pay gap is that women earn less because most of us take time out to have children, choosing to put family ahead of our careers.
But the gap can’t all be explained away by the motherhood factor.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies found there is a 10 per cent pay gap between the sexes even before women have their first child.
Whether or not we have children, we are seen as having a lower value than men: our workplace currency is debased. And even when a female boss reaches the top, her rewards are likely to lag.
It’s no laughing matter that, 42 years since the Equal Pay Act came in, the average woman with a full-time job still earns only about 86p for every male £1
One woman who runs a publishing company in the South-East discovered by chance that she was being paid just £1,000 more than her male deputy.
‘I was livid,’ she says. ‘He was useless and I worked three times as hard as he did. I had only kept him on because they wouldn’t let me sack him.’
Incredibly, even the six women to have smashed the glass ceiling to become chief executives of a FTSE 100 company face pay inequality.
Their average pay and bonus package was just under £2.6 million last year. Not bad, except that the average male CEO got around £4.5 million.
But the real victims of the great pay robbery are not female CEOs or telly presenters but ordinary women farther down the scale.
It doesn’t just hurt them, it hurts men, too. What decent man is content to see his wife, mother, sister or daughter being short-changed all her life?
And if women were paid properly, it would take some of the financial strain off male breadwinners because more money would be coming into the family coffers.
Mums might be able to work shorter hours and spend more time with their kids. And we would be able to save more for retirement, as one cruel twist is that low pay means a low pension.
Barbara Judge, chairman of the Institute of Directors, says the way to bridge the pay gap is to encourage girls to aim for higher status and higher-paid roles.
‘When we ask girls what they want to be when they grow up, we need to teach them to say: “I want to be the boss, I want to be the CEO, I want to be the chairman.” We must start early by encouraging girls into subjects like sciences and maths, to bring an end to the idea that there are “girl jobs” and “boy jobs”.’
So long as the pay gap persists, women are being disrespected and devalued. The only way it will change is to end the culture of silence surrounding pay. Speak up, ladies. You’re worth it.
AND HERE’S WHAT THE MEN THINK: TAKE A DEEP BREATH…
‘Few blokes are much fussed about the gender pay gap, but they are not foolhardy enough to say so in public’
Few blokes are much fussed about the gender pay gap, but they are not foolhardy enough to say so in public. Just look at what happened when TV actor Tom Chambers suggested men need to earn more than women so they can support their families. Goat enters minefield. Ka-boom!
The reason we are sanguine about this alleged unfairness to women is that we have long seen it work the other way.
A quarter of a century ago, I was a newspaper executive involved in hiring reporters. Time and again I was instructed by senior figures to hire women — even when there were men who would have done the job better — because there was a politically correct desire at the top of the business to have a more even gender balance. Political pressure has forced similar practices on FTSE 100 firms recently. Tokenism is rampant.
Look at the all-women shortlists in politics, too. Some call it positive discrimination. I’m more inclined to see it as patronising egalitarianism. How can women who benefit from such favouritism ever feel they were really the best candidate for the role? Meritocracy is undermined.
Emily Maitlis is a sparky figure with a ready wit, but she surely understands that, in part, she has prospered as a TV presenter because she is a photogenic woman. Something similar could be said of my friend Tim Willcox.
He is a top reporter but also a good-looking lad, much drooled over by female viewers. Is it sexist or lookist to say so? No. It’s a fact of broadcasting life. Get over it.
Did you notice Maitlis attacked her BBC bosses while fronting a corporate awards evening? Was she paid for that? If so, why did the organisers choose her rather than, say, the less glamorous BBC reporter Norman Smith?
If BBC women feel cheesed off, they should go and work elsewhere. Only then could they claim they were truly underpaid.
Meanwhile, BBC suits should scythe the pay of some of those absurdly overpaid men. Call their bluff. I bet they would do the job for half the money. Let the pay gap be equalised that way.
This row has been used by the Left to obscure the real scandal: that a sanctimonious public Corporation has been paying some of its most egalitarian figures heinously capitalist sums. ‘Left-winger’ Gary Lineker has been outed as a greedy swine.
‘Within a relationship, surely it’s whatever works best for the couple themselves’
Holby City actor Tom Chambers is being chased by an angry online mob for his comments on the gender pay gap at the BBC.
‘Men’s salaries aren’t just for them,’ he said. ‘They’re for their wives and children, too.’
Although he’s right to say men’s pay is shared with their families, his mistake was not stating that women’s is, too.
For most couples, the balance can go either way, depending on their stage in life. Now our children are at university, my wife and I both work. I’m a freelance writer, but she has a proper, salaried job. And thank God she does. For freelancers, it’s either feast or famine.
One month, I’ll earn far more than my wife; the next, far less.
But for many years, my life was more like Tom’s. My wife gave up her career as a theatrical agent to focus on our children. She’d returned to work three months after our son was born, but her heart really wasn’t in it.
When he was a year old, the childminder phoned to say our son had taken his first steps.
My wife burst into tears and vowed never to miss such a moment again. And that’s the thing seldom acknowledged.
When some women return from maternity leave, their priorities have changed. Corporate life cannot compare to what they now see as the most important job in the world.
In advertising, huge efforts are made for women to combine careers with motherhood. Great strides have also been made to overcome gender-based discrimination. Agencies are often encouraged to hire women over men. Whether this is right or wrong is a moot point — as by discriminating in favour of one sort of person you discriminate against another.
Within a relationship, surely it’s whatever works best for the couple themselves. How Tom Chambers and his wife divide their responsibilities is their business, not ours. And this is why he should have kept silent.