Men have a vital role to play in promoting gender pay equality, writes Ellie Groves 

The revelation that John Humphrys has said something sexist is hardly ground-breaking news. However, in this case, it does highlight an interesting perspective in the discussion of gender pay – men’s response to women fighting for pay equity. I am fully aware that Humphrys does not represent all men. However, the ‘banter’ shared by him and Jon Sopel on Carrie Gracie’s decision to resign her position as China editor of the BBC, highlights a serious issue with male engagement on the subject of equal pay.

The issues with male engagement stretch from those who try to justify the discrepancy, to those who see it as irrelevant, or those who feel threatened by the conversation.

First, The gender pay gap discussion is complex and multifaceted. Some argue that discrepancies in pay occur because women are not in higher paid jobs, or have not worked in the organisation as long, not that the company is sexist. Others present the case that women are not assertive enough: they do not ask, so they do not get. This puts the onus on the women, rather than the companies, to solve the problem. These might be women who go on maternity leave, or the women who choose to have a work-life balance. Why should this give them less of a right to speak than someone who chooses to wind the country up every morning on the Today programme?

Even when the injustice is clear and women are paid less than men for the same job, the pay gap still creates a divide. This defensiveness on the part of men is especially prevalent when the newsworthy stories highlight those on high pay. For example, it is undoubtedly wrong that a senior BBC journalist is paid less than her male counterparts – Gracie turned down a £45,000 pay increase that would have taken her overall pay to £180,000 – still lower than US editor Sopel and the Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen. Because the sums of money involved are so much higher than the average wage, the issue of fairness between the genders gets lost and instead the discussion becomes about income equity in general

Third, when we talk about women being paid the same as men, as Humphrys insinuated, are we talking about men being paid less?

The common theme linking all three issues is structural. Emphasising the gender pay gap is does not mean that a junior member of the team should be paid more than a senior member. No, it does not take away from the fact that wages have stagnated for most people while the cost of living has skyrocketed. And lastly, no, it is not in the news so feminists can further ‘subjugate’ men in society.

This discussion exists because the issue is real for many women. Women are not being promoted to senior roles, and where they are – like when they are international editors for the BBC – they are still paid less than men. We should see the discussion on pay and the greater transparency that goes with this as an opportunity. An opportunity for women to feel emboldened to reach for more, and an opportunity for successful men and women to look at the state of the pay gap and push for change. This means pushing for women to get the opportunities which will help them to achieve the same pay as their male peers. This is not about pushing men down, but about pulling women up.


Ellie Groves is former chair of the Young Fabians. She tweets at @EllieRGroves.


Photo: Creative Commons