I recently finished the groundbreaking article What Women Want in the New Yorker on the recent pay equity scandal at the BBC. Masterfully written by Lauren Collins, a staff writer based in Paris, it details the journey of Carrie Gracie, the former BBC China editor and her journey to demanding equal pay for equal work.
Collins does a phenomenal job tracing the history of the issue, helping to illuminate the path to our present. While the traditional role of the family has played a dominant role in ensuring the status quo for centuries, the advent of world events incited by the patriarchy has helped to sow the seeds for their own downfall.
"The entry of women into traditional male sectors — ironworking, truck driving—during the Second World War led to a push for “equal pay for equal work.” Ironically, the idea gained momentum because of men, who feared that employers would use cheap female labor to undercut their wages after the war.”
Collins is also dexterous at examining the modern landscape of pay parity as seen through various sectors of employment. She challenges the argument that women earn less by seeking employment in less-recognized industries citing that "research has shown that when women saturate a well-compensated field the pay declines, and vice-versa. The wages of ticket agents, for example, dropped forty-three percent between 1950 and 2000, as the job feminized. Computer programmers, meanwhile, made modest wages until men took over much of the profession."
Gracie’s story is particularly unsettling given her background as a highly educated woman with accomplishments up the wazoo. She is also one of the most prominent women employed at the BBC, the public-service broadcaster known for being a beacon of ethics and morality for the world over.
The whole incident came to term when the BBC, under pressure from the government, issued a list of its highest earners last year. It was quickly discovered that only a third of its ninety-six entrants were women whose salaries were remarkably lower than their male counterparts. The list sent shock-waves around the world, made worse by the fact that a number of the broadcasters leading female stars failed to make the cut.
When Gracie came upon the list, she went into a state of denial. Having only accepted her managing role a few years previous, Gracie had done so on the proviso that she enjoy a salary equal to her male counterparts (the list shows that Gracie was paid almost fifty percent less than Jon Sopel — the North American managing editor). When her private protests amounted to nothing more than a pay raise, Gracie went public in January of this year and terminated her Beijing post in protest.
Six months later her call to arms was received with the BBC eating humble pie and honouring their initial promise with years of back pay. Gracie has donated the lump sum — £400,000 — to the Fawcett Society, a charity founded by nineteenth-century suffragettes “with the stipulation that it be used to provide legal assistance to low-paid women and to fund strategic litigation."
Collins leaves us with the following notion from the US-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Postulating on the possibility of achieving genuine pay parity nationwide, the IWPR estimates such a reform would inject $512 billion dollars worth of additional wages and salary income into the economy.
Short of a miracle that gap won’t be closed until 2059.