Few people battle their employer and force them into a highly embarrassing admission that they had paid them unfairly for years. Even fewer then continue to work for the same company and hand their £360k settlement to a charity. But that’s what Carrie Gracie did.
Gracie was BBC News’ first China editor, leaving the role after 4 years in 2018 having been balked and brushed off in her attempts to get a coherent explanation from the BBC as to why she was paid so much less than other editors such as Jon Sopel and Jeremy Bowen. It was an exceptionally courageous step – it must take a ferocious level of nerve and determination to render yourself unemployed, and take on one of the world’s biggest and best known media organisations. Particularly when it’s an organisation you otherwise respect and love working for, and know that your actions will be seized upon by the dullards who pounce upon every opportunity to eviscerate or argue for the elimination of the BBC.
Upfront, Gracie clarifies that her issue with the BBC was about unequal pay- “Pay discrimination is the gender pay gap’s dirty secret”. It’s also illegal, unlike gender pay gaps, which aren’t. It’s a confusion that has to be addressed as it’s possible to pay men and women equally (same work, same pay) but still have a gender pay gap (more men in senior, higher earning positions than women).
On appointment Gracie made only one salary stipulation – to be paid equally with the America and Europe editors, and accepted the BBC’s offer trusting that her request would be met. She had no way of knowing for sure, because as she points out inequality is hard to tackle when companies have all the information and all the decision rights – “you can’t correct what you can’t see”. When the BBC were forced to publish all salaries higher than the Prime Minister’s £150k in 2017, Gracie discovered that despite being very well paid colleagues in equivalent positions such as Sopel (made America editor after Gracie was appointed) were earning between 50% to 100% more. The politically motivated decision to force the declaration of salaries was meant to damage the BBC’s ability to retain their biggest stars and weaken their requests for funding reaped a bigger dividend than expected thanks to the BBC’s ineptitude.
She makes it clear in the preface “I have tried to avoid score settling and instead be guided by the editorial values the BBC has taught me”. Laudable, but the end product is uneven. She notes that Bowen and John Simpson were generous with their help. Other names, by their omission, clearly were less so, but Gracie isn’t naming names. Her account of how the BBC responded to her claim is excruciating to read, a sequence of bluffs and missteps that relied on Gracie being far less tenacious than she turned out to be.
A personal frustration with the book is that each chapter mixes Gracie’s personal story, and in particular the story of how she pursued her claim, with a variety of statistics and studies that speak to unequal pay and wider aspects of sex discrimination. I know I’m in a minority here – it’s partly because I’ve already dipped into Caroline Criado Perez’s book “Invisible Women” which is much richer in terms of detailing gender bias, but also because I like a linear narrative. The last quarter of the book is given over to advice on how to frame a complaint as well as a variety of references and resources and I found myself wishing the whole book had been structured to split her story from the data and advice.
In January 2020 and the BBC had their backsides handed to them again in court when Samira Ahmed won a claim thought to be worth around £700k in back pay, whilst Sarah Montague announced she had already agreed a £400k settlement. A further monumental cock-up from Auntie saw an accidental disclosure of the names of 120 further claimants. It’s hard to imagine how they could have been more woeful.
As much as the free market ideologues have tired to make this purely about the BBC (and who have of course nothing to say about the wider issue of pay inequality), it’s worth noting that Asda, Tesco and the Co-Op are all in the midst of defending claims. Equal pay legislation was first given royal assent 50 years ago in May 1970, but the claims continue to average around 30,000 a year.
Gracie’s courage forced the BBC to confront their discrimination and opened the door for other women working there to seek redress. Sadly, the challenge for women elsewhere remains significant. A story worth reading.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
One thing you’ve learned
Spare a thought also for the gender pay gaps that now have to be reported in the UK. The BBC’s was 9%, whilst ITN’s was 19.6%. The Telegraph, who hammer the BBC day in, day out was 35%. Unite, the biggest union in the UK reported 29.6%.