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The unsurprising, yet still shocking, BBC pay revelations of elite employees’ salaries give voice and substance to a pay gap that we know exists, but to date has lacked a concrete sense of reality. Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicates a UK pay gap at 19.2% for full- and part-time workers, with women earning an average of 80 pence for every £1 earned by a man. The BBC’s publication of a top list of earners with household names we can all relate to renders discrimination tangible and familiar.
Making individual TV and broadcast celebrities’ annual salaries visible connects the UK license-paying population to a clearly discriminatory hierarchy of pay. The highest earning woman, Claudia Winkelman’s, substantial annual salary of £499,000 is a quarter of the highest earning man, Chris Evans, whose pay packet is reckoned at a staggering £2.25 million in 2016, and reported by the Guardian as equalling the combined salaries of all of the black and minority ethnic BBC high-earners.
However, research examining gender in the media by Lancaster and Roehampton Universities that I have recently been involved in, has shown that tying inequalities to individuals can actually let organisations off the hook when it comes to addressing gender inequality.
In publishing individual salaries, organisations can unwittingly reinforce a gender binary that pits men against women. The focus then shifts to ‘him versus her’, (like Evans versus Winkleman), rather than tackling systemic practices that perpetuate a traditional norm where men are seen as the natural inhabitants of elite positions and worthy of greater reward.
While putting a face to discrimination makes unfairness personal and provides a clear point of connection, if we are to push forward real change it is important to look beyond individuals. We need instead to address a legacy of pay systems built on informal often invisible networks and hidden negotiations that reproduce and sustain inequality.
Government legislation requires UK companies employing more than 250 people to publish salaries and bonuses for all staff by 2018. The delay of this legislation, originally planned for 2017, presents the BBC, with their advance listing of elite earners, a golden opportunity to make a positive ethical stand that other organisations can follow.
Director General Tony Hall needs to put the public money where his mouth is and tackle the formal and informal practices that have allowed such inequalities to flourish .
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