The BBC and the Gender Pay Gap

Lacey Turner who is paid less than her male co-stars. Photo by Ramon Chiratheep cc-by-sa 2.0

For the first time, the BBC has published the salaries of its highest paid earners at the request of the government. This shows 96 stars who are all earning £150,000 or more, of which around two-thirds are men and one third are women. As might be hinted by the statistic above, there is an important detail in this: the gender pay gap. This has reignited a national debate which has existed for decades.

The gender pay gap is the difference in average earnings between a man and a woman. According to the Fawcett Society, the current overall gap for full time workers in the UK is 13.9%. There are many causes for the gender pay gap including the divisive labour market, the cultural norms of traditional gender roles, and discrimination.

The divisive labour market means that there are differences between men and women regarding the type of employment and the differences in sectors. More commonly, men are involved in higher skilled, more dangerous and more stressful jobs. An example of these may include specialist engineers and aircraft pilots. Comparatively, women are more likely to be employed in low skilled and low paid jobs. Studies show that 60% of those who earn less than the living wage are women. This indicates that the reason for the gender pay gap is because of a difference in the types of jobs. In addition, women hold 65% of public sector jobs and they mostly predominate in administrative and service sectors. At times of austerity women are particularly more vulnerable to redundancy and ‘pay freezes’, which are cuts in real terms.  This is an example of how a divisive labour market can affect a group of people.

Another cause for the gender pay gap is because of traditional gender roles. Women tend to have a more dominant role in caring duties, meaning they are more likely to take time off work to look after ill dependents such as children and grandparents. It can be argued that this is because of an intrinsic maternal characteristic which is a part of human nature. On the other hand, the gender pay gap acts as a self-feeding mechanism as it forces women to take more parental leave than men as it makes more economical sense. Traditionally as women dominate in the private sphere, men dominate in the public sphere. This means they are usually the ones to take more senior roles as ‘breadwinners’. This can be seen today as 95% FTSE 100 CEOs are men.[1]  

Lastly, discrimination. Although this is illegal in the UK, some women are still paid less for the same work. This can occur when a man and a woman are doing the same job or work of equivalent value, yet the woman will receive a relatively lower pay. An example of this could arguably be seen in BBC’s ‘EastEnders’ pay gap. Actors Danny Dyer and Adam Woodyatt, earn between £200,000 and £249,000.  Whereas, co-stars actresses Linda Henry and Lacey Turner earn between £150,000 - £199,999.

Solutions to these issues may include teaching women different skills to approach higher paid jobs, affirmative action to enforce ‘equality’ through quotas, and relaxing the gender roles between the private and public spheres.

However, increasing the participation of women in the labour market, which closes the gap, does not necessarily increase the share of domestic labour undertaken by men. This is particularly the case with poorer working women who cannot afford domestic help. As family dynamics are changing, so are the number of dependents that rely on the wage of a woman. A gender pay gap therefore affects the poorest in society creating further inequalities.

Whilst the gender pay gap between top earners in the BBC is does not have major consequences as they are highly unlikely to be affected by issues surrounding childcare for example, it appears the gender pay gap affects those on a variety of levels.


Final questions to think about:

Is it possible for the gender pay gap to be completely closed?

And should we take affirmative action to close it?


[1] See the debate