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Gary Oliver: Unequal pay? That’s showbiz


Until discovering that a certain Laura Perrins was to appear on the Jeremy Vine show, I was oblivious to the second Friday of November having been declared Equal Pay Day. How remiss not to have already marked on the calendar such a momentous event; until my shameful oversight became apparent, November 10 seemed most significant for having been the date, in 1969, of the first broadcast of Sesame Street. And in 2017, the anniversary also saw the appearance of some equally absurd characters; unfortunately, not only are the Fawcett Society and the Women’s Equality Party much less endearing than Big Bird and friends, they are nowhere near as educational.

Yes, it was time for the feminist crusaders again to ‘raise awareness’ of the so-called gender pay gap. The WEP fought this year’s campaign by urging women to set their Out of Office reply to the following message: ‘Out of Office. For the rest of the year. Not really, I’m just making a point. Today is effectively the last day women in the UK are paid to work. Because of the gender pay gap the average woman is working for free until the end of the year. So, if women aren’t getting paid, why should they work? That’s why I’ve switched on my Out of Office.’

Women able to participate in this workplace wheeze obviously did not include those sisters who spend their working day cleaning, serving school meals, operating a checkout or performing other lower-class tasks that are away from a keyboard and Twitter account; but of course, the concerns of everyday women in often mundane jobs are seldom in the thoughts of these resolutely middle-class gender warriors. That aside, the ongoing attempt to speciously promote a generalised statistical disparity, one that is the product of myriad factors, as evidence that females are being systematically and illegally cheated by the horrid patriarchy, has become infantile; and urging women to broadcast such an asinine message was particularly puerile. One hopes that any self-respecting employer responded to #OutofOffice with #GetAnotherJob.

During her radio joust with Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, Laura rightly excoriated the society for its annual ‘propaganda campaign’ which ‘patronises women for making life choices of which you disapprove’. That even now, many small-c conservative women still willingly prioritise their family life over career advancement or maximising earnings, is of course anathema to the worldview of the Fawcett Society and the Women’s Equality Party.

Smethers seemingly wants government to ensure that all employees are able to know their colleagues’ pay – a scenario that not only would guarantee workplace strife but, as Laura observed, impose a level of ‘state meddling in business’ which could only cost jobs. Incidentally, although Smethers sheepishly admitted on air that the stats from Northern Ireland show women in the province out-earning men, she nevertheless described this as a ‘negative pay gap’. Which raises the question: when a successful woman wins a workplace promotion, does the Fawcett Society define the achievement as a negative demotion?

In the words of the Institute of Economic Affairs: ‘The Equal Pay Day campaign is fundamentally misleading, and fails to prove any gender pay gap between men and women in similar roles.’ As the IEA pointed out, rather than use median pay figures, which statistically are much more representative of a trend, the Fawcett Society averages the available data on earnings, thereby maximising the impact of a very small number of extreme differentials. And for exceptional pay, look no further than the BBC.

Inevitably, Equal Pay Day reinvigorated the monstrous regiment of #BBCwoman. Somewhat confusingly, BBC 6 Music had chosen the same day for its Wear a Band T-shirt day, and at first it appeared that Eddy Grant’s largely forgotten Sixties group The Equals had been much more popular than anyone realised. But alas, no: the plethora of shirts and improvised signs bearing the symbol = were in fact being displayed as a plea for equality by privileged BBC women, many of whom are already paid vast sums extorted from the public but who continue to protest that they are receiving a raw deal.

All the usual suspects were conspicuous, including Fiona Bruce, Mishal Husain, Victoria Derbyshire, Kirsty Wark and Jo Whiley – a quintet who, from the pay list published in the BBC annual report earlier this year, currently hit the licence payer for more than a million a year – plus a host of others likely to prompt the public reaction: who? Interestingly, prominent agitator Jane Garvey, presenter of the ultra-PC Woman’s Hour, tweeted: ‘New scientific research I’ve just invented says only well-endowed men can support closing the gender pay gap.’ Oo-er, Jane! And do you wish to personally check men’s credentials . . . or does a retort in kind make you ‘uncomfortable’? And were, say, a male MP to give you a similarly suggestive response, might it now justify loss of cabinet office and even suspension from the party?

Months after issuing to the Director-General an open letter which railed that ‘women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work’, the corporation sisterhood continues to display an astounding lack of self-awareness and speaks for no one but itself. No doubt there was widespread shock at the earnings of a small number of men; nevertheless, there is certainly no public appetite for yet more of the licence fee being diverted to further remunerate leading BBC women who already inhabit a different stratosphere from those who fund their pay.

This continued complaint by media personalities of there being different pay for allegedly the same work is the language of the superannuated bureaucrat. Television and radio presenters are, whether they like it or not, in showbusiness. And in showbiz, the normal rules do not apply: earnings are however much the ‘talent’ or their agent is able to negotiate without being shown the door. So to the BBC women who willingly agreed deals which they now decry for being discriminatory, the range of solutions is: improve your future bargaining skills; change your ‘people’, or find another broadcaster willing to pay what you believe to be your worth.

The earlier BBC pay list confirmed that certain women already enjoy far better deals than might have been expected – most notably Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz. Indeed, Feltz admitted that had she been asked to sign the open letter she would almost certainly have declined, taking the commonsense view that ‘there are all different reasons why people get paid different amounts’. Amid the gnashing of female teeth which accompanied publication of the pay list, it appeared to go unnoticed that, for example, Lauren Laverne – a entirely competent radio presenter but on niche station 6 Music – inexplicably out-earns Ken Bruce, her morning competitor on Radio 2, who in that time slot hosts Europe’s most listened-to show.

Evidently, therefore, some women employed by the BBC have been much shrewder than others, thus the ongoing hollow grievance of other complainants elicits little sympathy. The Telegraph illustrated its report on Equal Pay Day with an image from the US TV series Mad Men, which stylishly depicted the workplace sexism rampant during the early 1960s. To misquote one of the show’s best-known exchanges: What do BBC women want? Who cares!

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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