The BBC pay row signifies a much deeper problem: an economy that operates on gender and race disparitiesby Maya Goodfellow / January 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
A new year brings with it the same old problems: Carrie Gracie’s public resignation as the BBC’s China editor has reignited the conversation around equal pay and the gender pay gap.
Amid the messages of support, there flowed the predictable responses: “she gets paid enough,” some claimed; others suggested her job isn’t the equivalent to those of her male counterparts.
While these voices could somewhat sidetrack the debate—and the strange situation of Carrie being the subject of a new story while also presenting BBC 4’s flagship political programme, Today, prompted bemused discussion—one particular message in her statement shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Many of the women affected are not highly paid ‘stars,’” Gracie wrote, “but hard-working producers on modest salaries. Often women from ethnic minorities suffer wider pay gaps than the rest.” This is no revelation to women, and in particular women of colour—but one that is consistently disregarded. (Over two hundred women at the BBC have made pay complaints.)
The BBC pay scandal hit the headlines last year when it emerged men working for the broadcaster earned an average of 9.3 per cent more than women. A list of how much “top stars” were paid surfaced, including a rundown of the most highly paid people at the BBC where you had to get through seven men before a woman’s name appeared.
The argument rapidly split into two lanes. One was dominated by arch-sceptics of the organisation, who used this as an opportunity to lay into BBC. The other was populated by people pointing out about why women celebrities should get paid the same absurdly high salaries as their male equivalents.
This is a kind of corporate feminism: the same that claims more women in positions of power, regardless of their thinking, will mean trickle-down equality. The problem is, it doesn’t work. It just neatly folds structural criticisms into the status quo by pretending to deal with the issue at hand.
As Carrie’s statement attests, the BBC pay row signifies a much deeper problem: an economy that operates on gender and race disparities. Naysayers still claim we’ve equal pay for equal work—by this logic women, ethnic minority men, and particularly ethnic minority women just happen to be in less well-paid roles.
The pay gap between white women and white men is 13.9 per cent. For black women it’s 19.6 per cent and for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, 26.2 per cent per cent.
Research from the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede trust founds low-income black and Asian women have been hit the hardest by austerity; by 2020 they will have lost nearly double the amount of money poor white men have.
This isn’t by chance: the economy is racialised and gendered, as well as classed. Yet while there’s a whole wealth of stats showing how gender, race and class intersect with economic inequality globally there’s rarely any meaningful action to match. (Theresa May’s government simply added domestic evidence to with the “race audit”, an empty gesture in their supposed effort to deal with society’s “burning injustices”). Because that would mean thinking about how the global economy operates by exploiting women and people of colour.
As Carrie Gracie wrote, “I believe I am very well paid already.” Rather than squabbling over whether women should get paid the same millions as their male counterparts, it would be better to ask why Chris Evans is paid £2.2 million to merely do his job. Only then can we begin to focus on how a grotesquely unequal world economy works by exploiting women cast out to the margins.