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BBC pay gap: why women are paid less

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Calendar August 21, 2017

In July 2017 the BBC released information regarding the salaries of all of the stars earning £150,000 or over. The figures showed a 10% gender pay gap between male and female radio presenters, actors and tv hosts, with two thirds of the top 96 earners being male (64 in total). BBC radio 2 breakfast presenter Chris Evans tops the list, earning between £2.2 million and £2.25 million over the last year. However, the highest earning female, Strictly presenter Claudia Winkleman, earned less than half of this amount (falling into the £400,000 – £450,000 bracket). The One Show’s Matt Baker ranked in the £450,000 – £499,999 bracket, while female co-presenter Alex Jones earned a salary of £400,000 – £449,999. Similarly, Casualty star Derek Thompson received between £350,000 and £400,000, whilst his female co-star Amanda Mealing received between £250,000 and £300,000[1]. The gender pay gap present within the salaries of the BBC stars is less than the average national gender pay gap, which currently resides at 18.1% (2016 figure)

The Equal Pay Act (1970) prohibits women working in the same or very similar jobs (measured by skill level, effort and other similar factors) as men to earn less money than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap, however, is calculated by taking an average of the salaries earned by all employees. For example, it is possible for a company to pay male and female counterparts equally. However, an average pay gap may still exist because more men are employed in higher-paying executive jobs. The Equal Pay Act aims to tackle discrimination directly within rates of pay and other areas of employment. The Equality Act was created in 2010. Although many of the anti-discrimination laws contained within the Equality Act (from here onwards, “the Act”) already existed prior to its formation, the Act aimed to envelop all of these to simplify and strengthen the laws. The Act ensures employers treat all employees equally and consistently regardless if they have a protected characteristic, and judges candidates for work based purely on their ability and skill set. It also applies to discrimination in wider society as well as the workplace.

If these laws are in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace, why does this pay gap exist? There are several factors that might contribute to this. Women are far more likely to work part time than men, and part time workers on the whole earn less than full time workers. Although many companies may favour male and female candidates equally, women may be less inclined to apply to these high-ranking managerial positions because of potential negative stigma attached to a woman in these positions in the workplace. Arguably, women are more likely to be employed in lower paid administrative roles. However, it is likely that traditional attitudes towards sex cause (potentially even unknown) discrimination within recruitment. An employer may be reluctant to promote a woman to a high position within a company for fears she may have children and go on maternity leave. This is a case of discrimination, and forbidden under the Act.

It is important to recognise two different types of discrimination: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination is when an employer treats an employee differently (less favourably) purely based on the attributes of the individual that do not affect their ability to work. Indirect discrimination is when a policy or requirement applies equally to everyone, but may affect a certain group of individuals with a protected characteristic in a negative way. An example of indirect sex discriminationmight include an employer requiring their employees to work full time on inflexible hours. Considering many women have childcare responsibilities, they are less likely to be successful for this position even if they are perfectly qualified.

When faced with the issue of the gender pay gap, it is possible to ask in what ways this can be overcome. An obvious response would be to raise the wages women are paid. However, if there is still a considerably larger number of women working in “less skilled” positions, this is unlikely to tackle the issue in the long term. A more effective way would be to encourage women to apply for higher paying executive and managerial roles, or to apply for promotions in companies for which they already work. Encouraging young women in school and university to consider a wide range of careers, including those traditionally mainly occupied by men, changes the attitudes of younger people towards women in the workplace. The government is also taking steps to tackle the gender pay gap, including offering equal parental leave to both mother and father. Larger companies are required to publish their gender pay gap to encourage transparency and positive change. Positive discrimination is still classed as discrimination under the Act. However, positive action is encouraged in workplaces. This focuses on providing extra encouragement towards one sex (that has faced lack of equal opportunity in the past), without discriminating against the other.

Although the gender pay gap within the BBC is less than the national, it still shows the lack of gender diversity in such a major British corporation. Upon release of the figures, BBC director Tony Hall has pledged to close the gender pay gap by 2020. It is important to recognise the disparity between men and women in the workplace that currently exists within society in order to tackle attitudes of employers and individuals towards women in the workplace.

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