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Is the BBC Representative of the UK’s Gender Salary Gap?

When the government announced that employers with over 250 staff would have to collect and publish data regarding gender pay gaps, the employment industry was expecting a shake up across all sectors. However it was the entertainment industry, or more specifically the BBC, that really stole the headlines.

After publishing a list of all stars paid over £150,000, the BBC faced widespread backlash over the lack of women featured and the huge gaps in pay between the male and the female stars who did appear on the list. The list included 96 different stars, two thirds of which were male. The highest paid male celebrity, Chris Evans, earned over £2m per year while the highest paid female star, Claudia Winkleman, earned just £500,000. Elsewhere it was revealed that female radio stars such as Clare Balding were being paid around 40% less for shows similar to those presented by male counterparts.

Is this significant gap indicative of the country’s gender salary gap as a whole? 

The short answer is that there is no short answer. As it stands currently, the gap between what men and women in the UK earn is 18% – that is, men earn 18% more than women. While this statistic is the lowest it’s ever been, and certainly lower than the gaps depicted in the BBC report, it’s still a significant difference. However the reasons why this pay gap emerges are complicated and likely very different from the reasons male TV and radio stars get paid more than female ones.

In the UK it is actually illegal not to pay men and women the same for the same work, so the pay gap very rarely comes down to outright or conscious discrimination. Rather, the discrimination is more murky and institutionalised; official statistics have to factor in other scenarios such as the fact that there are fewer women in the highest level (and therefore highest paid) positions, or that fewer women choose to go into careers that have traditionally been higher paid. Women are also more likely to work part-time or to take time off to have children, affecting the amount they are paid overall.

What can be done to reduce the gap?

While the pay gaps in the BBC might be reflective of a more conscious gender bias, the overall pay gap in the UK is much more likely reflective of a deep-set societal bias. Employers aren’t necessarily choosing to pay their female employees less but perhaps need to look at why fewer women have risen to the top in their company or whether their maternity scheme is fair and whether similar paternity schemes are offered. Similarly our education system needs to look at why fewer young girls choose STEM subjects or take on degrees that traditionally lead to higher paid careers.

One good outcome of the BBC report is that these issues are now very much at the forefront of public consciousness. The level of scrutiny faced by the broadcaster will certainly give other employers pause for thought; thought that will hopefully lead to positive change.

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