So the BBC Pay Gap has exposed what many of us working in the industry have known for years – that there is institutional sexism and racism seeping through the media industry. Like a stinking turd in the communal toilet, the BBC have been desperately trying to spray air-freshener (in the form of Doctor Who) all over the place in the hope that we would not notice the bad smell. But of course we did.
We have always known, but have never had the numbers to back it up. Previously when discussing pay differences, you are left in this strange parallel universe where although you have anecdotal evidence from colleagues about how much they are on, when looking at the wider picture, there was always someone who says ‘but aren’t you being paranoid. Where is the evidence?’. And of course, without any data, you do feel like you have joined some kind of niche conspiracy society.
Now we have some of the numbers – because well-paid people in independent companies don’t have to declare how much they pay their staff – it makes for predictably depressing reading. Here are a few things that we should be aware of:
It’s not just the BBC, it is industry-wide.
As someone who has worked in the industry for a number of years, I have discovered anecdotally (as production salaries are still hush hush) that my male friends tend to get a rather larger offer/rate than my female ones. This goes from production all the way up to voiceover artists, where one production manager actually boasted at how little the (very well-known) female would be able to command compared to the equally talented male. This valuing of men over women has been festering for years. I love my male white colleagues and there is no doubt they are incredibly talented. But there is a sense among equally talented women that they should settle for less because they should be happy that they have been considered and have been chosen for a role. Of course to say that this is all part of the negotiation is certainly true to an extent. But when your gender cuts your rate before you even start, it is the kind of discrimination that is hard to beat down.
This isn’t just a gender issue
The gender pay gap was the most talked about when the salaries were revealed and was most likely as that affects half the population and is the most obvious to look at. But the shocking amount of BAME on the list and the under-representation of people from comprehensive schools also shows that little has changed in the higher echelons of the BBC. I haven’t worked in-house for a while but in TV generally, there are very few people from diverse backgrounds or from poorer backgrounds – by which I mean not privately educated (so not ‘poor’ and more just an ordinary schooling that most in this country have). It’s not hard to see why many people, who pay the license fee, feel there is a disconnect in the media understanding issues that affect them. Of course, you don’t have to come from the same background to understand an issue – but it helps as a whole if there are people from all walks of life who can inform the news and programming – given that it is beamed to millions of people and has a profound affect of people’s worldview.
The salaries at the top don’t reflect the rest
There wasn’t a week that went by when we were told we were going to have to make the same programme for less money because the budget had been cut for production. At the same time, these salaries out this week are up to twenty times the amount of the people working the 18 hour days to make the programmes actually happen. I’m sure the wages will have gone up a little but a researcher was £27,000 and an assistant producer £36,000. These are far from unreasonable and there is no doubt that I for one feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be working in a job I enjoy. But the world of presenters getting hundreds of thousands of pounds is not one 90 per cent of people working at the BBC or elsewhere will recognise. I feel that those who are presenters or brands should earn a good deal more than production staff, but twenty times as much? I don’t think so.
Salaries should be up for discussion but equality should not
I can understand why many feel that the salaries are very high and balk at the idea of the less well-paid (but still incredibly well-paid overall) now wanting a pay rise to be equal to those earning more. There should certainly be a review of these rates, especially given that it affects the ability for good programming to happen if huge chunks of the budget are increasingly being ring-fenced for talent. BUT that does not mean that we shouldn’t have women and BAME matching the men’s salaries. It may be that they are all at a lower level but they should be paid the same if they are doing the same hours and the same work. Some (like Alex Jones) are literally doing the same job – sitting on the sofa on the One Show- as her male colleague. I have not spoken to the women who signed the letter this weekend, but I would suggest that while I’m sure they would rather have more money than not, the thing for them that really hurts is the disparity of pay between them and their colleagues – being devalued by their employers and it happening for so long when there had been hope that the gap wouldn’t be as bad as it turned out to be. There may be disagreement over level of pay but the pay should be equal nonetheless. Otherwise, what is the message to all those growing up and those in wider society? That however hard you work, even if you are ‘lucky’ enough to get the job, you will be paid differently and your skills valued less? I’m not naive enough to think this doesn’t happen elsewhere but I don’t want to pay for it and discrimination should not be a publicly funded venture.
It’s more than just salaries
The media, along with politics, is one of those hypocritical industries who bemoan the lack of social diversity in its ranks but rarely do too much about it. It’s not just about salaries, it’s about how to get into an industry where paid jobs are rare at the beginning and unless you live with family in London, will struggle to survive. Ironically after a year or so, it is likely many will be stable enough to make a good salary but by this time most of those who are less financially supported will have been filtered out. There are a few schemes here and there (like the BBC Production and Journalism scheme) and they do a great job. But we are talking small numbers. I only am in this industry because I had to beg my first producer not to put me on more work experience when i was two weeks from being evicted, and he gave me a very low wage. I had no other choice. I am lucky he reacted in this way but most others don’t have that choice and end up leaving. It saddens me the people on my Facebook that I met at various networking events as I grew up have not had the resources to enter and remain in this industry. I remember pitching a film about this issue and was told it was a ‘middle class issue.’ I think it is the opposite. The middle classes are alright and will continue to be alright. Unpaid work and unstable contracts will adversely affect the working class the most. It’s more important than ever before that people can enter and influence the media by working in it. It’s not good enough just being on the sidelines because there are powerful alternatives waiting to fill the vacuum. The thing is, the whole industry knows about the fact many people from BAME and ordinary backgrounds can’t access the industry and we all know why, but there is a real apathy and bizarre confusion as to what to do about it.
To me, diversity, the gender gap and social access to this industry that has so many barriers are all linked. Highlighting one doesn’t devalue another. Similarly, it is not an attack on the wonderful and talented men I work with. It’s about believing and acting in a way where if equally qualified, we all have a right to be considered and valued equally, and that the more different voices there are to expand our horizons, the better.