Journalist Carrie Gracie, the former China editor for the BBC, held a talk at Newcastle University on Wednesday 16th October. Held in the Boiler Shop and organised by Newcastle University’s Civic Journalism Lab, the talk focused on Carrie’s own fight for equal pay, as well as the wider epidemic of gender discrimination in the workplace. Karen Ross, Professor of Gender and Media at Newcastle University, said this was the “biggest audience at a Boiler House event I’ve seen”.
Carrie started the talk lamenting how, 50 years after equal pay became enshrined into UK law, there are still so many instances of unequal pay.
Since 2017, business with over 250 employees have had to declare their gender pay gaps, meaning there are now official reports for 2018 and 2019. The most recent report showed the median pay gap was 11.9%, higher than the 2018 figure of 11.8%.
A third of such differences can be explained by factors such as education, time spent out of work for having and raising children, and the fact that men are more likely to hold senior positions. However, the other 2/3rds are unexplained.
Currently, unequal pay, for the same job, is not measured in our economy; a question Carrie thinks needs to be addressed by economists, policy makers and employers.
Carrie pointed out that if you are being unequally paid, then it is not just that each pay check is going to be less, but that your pension and your retirement will be affected too. Currently in the UK, women earn 40% less pension than men.
The most recent report showed the median pay gap was 11.9%, higher than the 2018 figure of 11.8%
Following the publication of BBC pay in 2017, Carrie discovered she was being paid significantly less than her male counterparts, with the male Editor of North America, Jon Sopel, being paid nearly double. At the news, she described feeling “resistant, avoidant, numb”.
The crisis of pay worsened as BBC management ignored the issue, until months later, Carrie decided to take it to the public. At which point the government and the media got involved. During the yearlong struggle, BBC just kept raising their offer rather than equalising pay; but Carrie knew she would feel guilty for not holding her employer to account.
Following the release of the pay difference, in the January and February of 2018, female BBC workers were called a “winging victim cult”, according to Carrie. This she says is one of the reasons why standing up is a difficult decision for women to make.
For the large part, the public and her employees reacted positively to her case. However, she admitted being disappointed with the reaction from some men, referring to the John Humphrey’s ‘hot mic’ moment in which an off-air joke over equal pay between himself and Jon Sopel was leaked.
The only way women can make a change is to take such issues to court, to build a case and fight for equality
Ultimately, she won nearly £400,000 from the BBC, all of which she donated to the Equal Pay Advice Service and the Fawcett Society; fearful to think that some women could not fight for themselves like she did.
But she warned that the fight does not end there. Women must be aware of their own self-worth; citing how the BBC justified her lower salary because she was still “in development”, an unacceptable thing to hear at age 55.
She says that people also must be vigilant; they must talk about money and be aware if they’re getting paid the same.
Carrie concluded by saying that men are still the most powerful members of society. But that they need to make sure they push history forward and realise this is not just an issue between women and their employers.
The talk comes in line with Carrie’s release of her book in 2020, Equal: A story of women, men and money, which documents her struggle for equal pay.
Joe Holloran, the Courier Film editor, commented “what is clear from Mrs. Gracie’s talk is that there is much work to be done on the issue of equal pay, and that progress will only happen when men in positions of influence wake up and stand with their female colleagues”.
The final question of the session came from a Taiwanese audience member, seeking Carrie’s advice after her boss had explained she gets paid less because woman are too emotional. Carrie ended the session replying that the only way women can make a change is to take such issues to court, to build a case and fight for equality.
Last modified: 27th October 2019