When it comes to paying men and women fairly, most big companies get away with vague claims. Men and women are paid equally, without discrimination, they’ll say. And that’s it.
Most companies won’t show you the salary data to prove their case. Such a maneuver would be less acceptable if we were talking about, say, sales data or profit ― public companies are required to report real numbers in those categories.
But this week, the BBC did something remarkable. The publicly funded British media company released detailed salary information for the network’s on-air talent, revealing that men earn a lot more money than women.
Women make up just one-third of the network’s highest-paid on-air talent, defined as those making more than 150,000 pounds, or about $195,000, a year. The highest paid man, Chris Evans, earns between 2.2 and 2.5 million pounds. The highest paid woman, Claudia Winkleman, makes 450,000 to 500,000 pounds.
The BBC only released the data because former Prime Minister David Cameron and his successor, Theresa May, ordered the disclosure.
The push for the information actually had nothing to do with gender equality. The idea was to find out if certain BBC stars were overpaid, a years-long campaign waged by The Daily Mail, which argued that because the network is funded through fees paid by U.K. citizens, the public had a right to know.
The release of the information raised little clamor about how much these stars make, and a lot of fuss over the gender pay gap.
The network said it will fix the disparity. “By 2020 we will have equality between men and women on air, and we will also have the pay gap sorted by then too,” said BBC director general Tony Hall, who fought against releasing the information.
The whole affair reveals an obvious truth: Without transparency, the gender pay gap won’t go away. Only when pay gaps come to light can they be addressed.
“If you don’t have the information, you can’t act on it,” Elise Gould, a senior economist at the progressive Economic Policy Institute who studies the pay gap, told HuffPost. She pointed out that in unionized workplaces, where employees have more information about pay, there are smaller pay disparities between genders.
In any workplace, information is power. Workers can’t advocate for equal pay until they know where they stand, compared with their colleagues. Public pressure that comes from releasing detailed information helps, too, Gould added.
The gender pay gap exists in nearly every industry, at every level ― even when you account for outside factors. On average, women in the U.S. make 80 percent of what men make, according to federal data. The gap is far wider for black and Hispanic women. Even studies that take into account a worker’s level of experience, education and other mitigating factors still find disparity in pay.
Yet most employers will say they pay their workers fairly.
“When you talk to a company, this is typically what you hear: ‘We don’t have a pay gap and we don’t discriminate,’” said Julie Gorte, a vice president at Pax World, a investment group with a social mission that’s pushing public companies to publish information about gender and pay.
Gorte’s organization has met with a handful of companies, including Apple, Amazon and Goldman Sachs, and pressed them to release pay data. All the companies have said they pay fairly.
“Unless all of the pay gap resides in companies no one ever talks to, there’s something weird going on,” Gorte said.
Under pressure from Pax and a few other investment outfits with social justice agendas, Apple and Amazon last year both proudly announced that they audited salaries and found that they paid their employees fairly. Neither would provide data to back up their claims.
The Wall Street Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones, recently said that it had hired an outside firm to audit pay practices and found that a small percentage of employees weren’t being paid fairly. Dow Jones said it was working on raising salaries for those people. But the company didn’t release details, so it’s impossible to know how the consultants reached their conclusions.
And that’s what typically happens, Gorte said. Companies hire consultants who use a mysterious methodology to conclude there’s no gap, or a small one that will be fixed.
That’s not enough.
Under a new rule, established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Obama administration, a select group of employers were supposed to start reporting pay data by gender and race starting next year. It’s unclear if the Trump administration will ever let that requirement see the light of day.
Occasionally, a woman will discover she’s being underpaid on her own. Lilly Ledbetter learned she was being paid less than male peers after 19 years working at a Goodyear factory in Alabama ― and she took action, suing the company. Though she ultimately lost her case, Ledbetter’s lawsuit led to a new federal law on pay passed in 2009.
A few Hollywood stars have spoken up about being underpaid ― and have seen disparities rectified.
It’s great that the BBC aims to have gender equality in 2020. But the company hasn’t yet explained how it will do this. What this flood of salary information has really done is empower the network’s women stars to get the raises they deserve.