Community as guilty as BBC on gender pay gap

Gary Lineker’s agent, Jon Holmes, compounded an already awkward situation this week when it was revealed that the top male BBC presenters were being paid substantially, and consistently more than women in identical jobs.

Fabulous and deserving women such as Emily Maitlis were excluded from those earning more than £150,000, but I was very pleased to see Vanessa Feltz on the list.  Holmes went on to announce, with astonishing casual sexism, that he “wouldn’t buy a house” from any of the “tough” female agents negotiating for their presenter clients.

Any company employing more than 250 people will need to publish its gender ‘pay gap’ by April; that is the difference between the amount men and women are paid to do the same job.

With the average gap being 18  percent, many companies, such as the BBC, are facing embarrassment and outcry from their female and, hopefully, male staff. To make matters worse, new policies on redundancy and protected days off, proposed by the BBC, would add to the inequality as they would disproportionately affect women.

Presumably these were not designed to target women, but rather there was insufficient determination to avoid the discrimination pitfalls.  I suspect, this week at least, many of our Jewish communal organisations will breathe a sigh of relief that they are not big enough to need to disclose.

The last time we systematically looked at pay in the Jewish community was in 2014, when the Jewish Chronicle published the salaries of  chief executives’ earnings. It made for interesting reading, not because of the salaries themselves, (I think our CEOs deserve to be well rewarded) but because, when those of us working on the  Jewish Leadership Council’s Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership attempted to systematically analyse the figures, we found a substantial pay gap.  Our men, in similar CEO jobs, were being paid a substantial 22 percent more than the women.

The BBC salaries are high, but that’s not the issue.  What we need to consider is how is it that men command higher salaries than women,
and what this says about us as a country and particularly us, as a Jewish community.

We share many of the same gender challenges as the BBC or any other organisation, but have specific challenges of our own, too.

The 2012 report  Inspiring Jewish Women Leaders identified some Jewish norms that contribute to the relatively low numbers of women in leadership roles.

These include the demands put on them with regards to family responsibilities, women’s low demands, the excluding Old Boys’ Network and a lack of real interest in the issue among our communal organisations.

I’ve seen myself, over many years, the way in which women in Jewish organisations negotiate over pay and conditions vs the men, and I’ve rarely seen the “tough” approach Holmes attributes to women, far from it.  Few people or organisations actively want to hold women back – but without systematic and honest scrutiny, and maybe some training on negotiating, as we can see from the BBC, it just happens.

Six forward-looking organisations took part in the award-winning Gender Equality Plan, which helped them to look, in a practical and honest way, at their own processes and structures and to consider whether they are genuinely inclusive.  Each one felt that as a result, they benefitted directly from the wider mix of people moving into leadership roles. We were disappointed more didn’t come forward, despite them knowing equality is a hot topic in government, with more and stricter legislation in place.

I was pleased to see the incoming JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein referring in his manifesto to needing more engagement with women, as we know the JLC is currently male dominated, particularly at a lay leadership level.  We hope that, with support, he will see pay and leadership equality as a communal issue worthy of scrutiny.

My husband would never forgive me if I suggested Gary Lineker’s appearances on Match of the Day could be in jeopardy through demands for pay cuts.  But it’s worth noting that the BBC has made some ambitious claims about change within three short years that would require radical, innovative and out of the box thinking.

It’s time for us to be part of the process of delivering change, leading the way as we do on so many important issues, rather than dragging our (high or low) heels.

  • Laura Marks –  Woman in Jewish Leadership 2011-17
About the Author
Laura Marks is a serial social entrepreneur who likes to focus on the common good. She founded Mitzvah Day, an international and interfaith day of social action, co-founded Nisa-Nashim, a Jewish/Muslim women’s network, and co-chairs the Alliance of Jewish Women. She chairs the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and all her work aims to make the world better and safer starting with the grass roots. Laura’s OBE was awarded for interfaith relations and in 2019 she was honoured by the Archbishop of Canterbury through his interfaith Hubert Walters Award. Laura’s family think she has a view on everything – and she does indeed love to broadcast (a regular on Radio 2 Pause for Thought) and write for the Jewish News.
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