Earlier this week, BBC editor Carrie Gracie quit her role as bureau chief in Beijing, accusing the corporation of having what she described as a “secretive and illegal pay culture.” While Gracie will remain in her role as a newsroom host, she said she would demand equal pay to her male counterparts—some of whom make upwards of £150,000 per year: a sum far higher than many of their female colleagues.
While Gracie ruffles feathers across the pond, colleagues who stand up and support her are being banned from presenting stories about the corporation’s gender pay gap, according to sources who spoke to Buzzfeed News. While this seems like a harsh punishment, the fear of career retribution keeps many people from speaking out about the wide gender pay gap in many fields, in many countries, even today.
But what can be done? Unlike Iceland, which recently implemented a law to ensure that all employees get equal pay or face hefty fines, the U.S. doesn’t have a national pay standard. It’s up to each individual business to set rules and regulations on who gets paid what for their work. While many businesses keep their hiring and salary practices secret (on purpose), there is no legal reason for this to happen, so talk to your bosses about transparent pay grids. If you are a boss, consider rolling out a transparent grid and if you notice discrepancies in male and female salaries for the same work, it’s time to figure out why, and correct it.
If you’re an employee and feel uncomfortable going directly to your boss, or you work at a big enough company to have a human resources department, going to your HR rep is a good place to take questions and concerns. HR professionals spend their careers supporting employees in fair and transparent practices. And having someone from the department onside isn’t a bad idea, either. The more people in the company working together toward a common goal, the better.
An even more simple act of solidarity is just telling your women co-workers how much you make. If your company won’t make pay grids public, then right them yourself. Information is power. By sharing your salary with co-workers you help to foster an atmosphere of openness that makes it difficult for pay disparities to be kept hidden. Despite what you may have heard from bosses in the past, under the National Labor Relations Act, all workers have the right to discuss pay with each other. If you remember the famous Supreme Court case of Lilly Ledbetter, she only found out she had been underpaid by Goodyear for three decades when an anonymous co-worker slipped her a note comparing her salary to that of three male counterparts. The resulting litigation resulted in Congress passing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.
There’s this pervasive idea in our culture that creating equality takes away from those in power, but this idea isn’t only wrong, it’s plain backwards. When everyone is on a level playing field, expectations are more easily met, and staff tend to stick around longer and be more productive. What’s important to remember is that in supporting the women you work with, you won’t lose anything, but gain more trust, and better comradery from the women in your workplace.