Following the leaked off-air conversation between John Humphry and Jon Sopel, debates are once again raging over the gender pay gap within the UK. Talking about Carrie Gracie, who resigned after finding she was being paid almost half the amount of her male contemporaries, Humphrys stated, “oh dear god, she’s actually suggested you should lose money”.
Gracie, whose original letter put an emphasis on parity rather than pay rises, is not the first woman to stand up for this issue. Similarly claiming that the problem lie not in money but in being shown equal appreciation for hard work, Natalie Portman wrote, “we get paid a lot, so it’s hard to complain, but the disparity is crazy.”
In fact those who get paid more are actually more likely to complain about any existing pay gap between themselves and their male colleagues, with Emma Stone, 2017’s highest paid actress writing, “in my career so far, I’ve needed my male costars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them. And that’s something they do because they feel it is right and fair.”
Equal pay for equal work is a reasonable argument for everybody, however the question lies in whether those who are used to a certain salary will be willing and even should survive on less.
Anne Sammon, a Gender Pay Specialist, says that expecting male employees to lose part of their salary, due to long standing inequality, could be putting your company at risk legally. She writes “usually when employees are found to have a significant gender pay gap, they are advised to level up instead of levelling down. Levelling down on pay is very difficult to achieve”, however companies often don’t have large reserves of cash in order to bring half of their staff up to a higher salary bracket.
The BBC is one of those companies. Committed to narrowing the gap by 2020, a full 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed, it’s not clear where the public service broadcaster will attain the additional funds needed.
One resolution suggested is that the BBC swerve legal proceedings by asking employees to resign and be rehired on a lower pay. However whilst the majority of men agree women should be paid the same, most are reluctant to budge on their own paycheck, with actor Liam Neeson stating, “we started it so we have to be part of the solution. Pay cut? No no no no no. That’s going too far. There has to be parity.”
Elaine Aarons, Employment Partner at Withers, suggests that despite this, “the BBC’s top male stars may feel social pressure to be seen to acknowledge the huge gap in gender pay, for if they resist by suggesting they are being discriminated against, they are likely to be regarded as a laughing stock.”
However allowing the public to hold half of our employees under duress to lose money, does not create a good company culture, fostering resentment and bitterness between colleagues, and for those of us working away from the public eye solves nothing.
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