Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The BBC gender pay gap furore should serve as a warning to all bosses.

Claudia Winkleman is the BBC’s 
highest paid female star. Photo: PA
Similar statistics are coming for other companies. Don't think people will ignore them just because you don't have Chris Evans on staff.

The BBC pay figures have been released, and the internet is awash with gossip. Chris Evans, it transpires, is the company’s highest-paid male star, with pay between £2,200,00-£2,249,999, while Claudia Winkleman is the highest-paid female, with a salary between £450,000 and £499,999. 

If you notice some discrepancy there, you’re not alone. As commentators across the political and media spectrum have pointed out, the figures show a clear gender pay gap among the BBC’s top talent tier.

I’m not going to discuss whether Claire Balding should make more than Mark Radcliffe, or Lauren Laverne only about half what John Humphreys makes. The gender play split at the BBC becomes notable—if less of a gossip opportunity—when it’s seen as a whole. With only a third of those in the higher pay brackets covered in the report being women, it seems that the BBC has a problem women workers in companies across the country—public and private—will be familiar with: comparatively few of their gender making it to the top.

It’s important to recognise that the BBC isn’t the only company with this problem, not least because, before long, it won’t be the only company forced to reveal it. By April 2018, British businesses with over 250 employees will be forced to reveal their own gender pay gap figures by law. “Snapshot” figures taken on 5th April 2017—or 31st March 2017 for private sector companies—will be made publicly available on a government database. And while it’s easy to argue that the difference between £400,000 and £2m shouldn’t be the focus of the debate—the recipients of those salaries being, compared to the national average, extremely wealthy—company figures which include low-wage staff, who are more likely to be women, will be difficult to dismiss. 

The plans, set out by then Women and Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan, will also force employers to publish their gender pay gap on their company website—surely a prospect any woman who has found herself earning a pittance compared to her male colleagues will relish, especially if her industry’s culture has forced her to keep quiet thus far.

Of course, few companies will be putting the numbers in size 72 font next to their logo. And commentators are surely already lining up excuses about maternity leave or differing roles, as if women have a natural dispensation towards being lower-paid secretaries, and men a natural dispensation towards being highly-paid business administrators.

There are other tired lines that will doubtless be revived, too, including the idea that women are somehow responsible for the gender pay gap because they’re less likely to ask for a raise—a theory debunked by a 2016 study by the University of Warwick which showed that women do ask; they just don’t get.

Some companies may even try to skirt the regulations by setting themselves up as several, smaller organisations each below the 250-employee threshold.

Managers who want to avoid a scene, however, would do well to consider how a pay gap could harm not just their reputation, but the success of their company.

Although the pay gap is narrowing, particularly for younger women, a Fawcett Society report in late 2016 showed that there is still a 13.9 per cent pay gap. And while the gap is only 6.6 per cent in the media—according to research by Glassdoor—women in the industry still report feeling demoralised at the knowledge they make less than their male peers.

Beth,* 27, recounts working at a large media organisation which hired three people, two women and a man, to work in a select area of the company. “We found out a few months in that the man was on £4,000 more than the two women,” she tells me. “We were shocked because it was completely arbitrarily: they were receiving the exact same training and doing the same job. His qualifications were no better.”

“I would say it was very demoralising for the women, even though they did get pay rises after the first 18 months or so.”

“You just feel really undervalued and like the company doesn’t see you as that much of an asset.”

Working to equalise the work place doesn’t just benefit the women in it: it benefits everyone (and, if you need a cash incentive, your own bottom line).

One 2016 study by the McKinsey Global Institute in the US found that full gender equality in the workplace could benefit the American economy to the tune of $4.3 trillion. A Time report explained that the benefits would accrue “if the country took all necessary steps to increase women’s participation in the economy, including hiring more women in high-pay sectors and paying women wages that are equal [to men’s].” 

A more urgent prompt comes in the form of guidelines from the Equality and Human Rights commission, which warns that defending an equal pay claim can cause “loss of reputation,” “damaged employee relations” and “low staff morale”—not to mention the legal fees. It’s not hard to see how the first of those risks, in particular, could affect an organisation whose 2018 figures reveal a gap which their women employees have, in some cases, kept secret for years. Even if none of your staff are as famous as Claudia Winkleman, the media will still be interested.

So CEOs, take note: the deadline for closing the gap to a “respectable” level has passed. But that 2018 press release is going to look a whole lot better if you get your skates on now.
*Names have been changed.


By Stephanie Boland.

Culled from Prospect Magazine.

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