How the BBC Women Are Working Toward Equal Pay

By Lauren Collins | The New Yorker | July 23, 2018
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The first weeks of July, 2017, were especially intense for Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor. She travelled seven thousand miles to record more than a dozen television and radio pieces. The dissident Liu Xiaobo died, and Gracie scrambled to explain to the British public why the Chinese authorities had found him so dangerous. “For a jealous ruling party, an outsider with conviction is an affront,” she wrote, “and those who cannot be bought or intimidated are mortal enemies.”

On July 14th, Gracie left for a vacation. She flew to London from Beijing—where, for two hundred days a year, she lived alone, in a rental apartment—and caught a train to the Scottish coast. She planned to unplug from the news cycle and spend time with her children, Rachel, twenty, and Daniel, nineteen. They went to the beach, walked their dog, ate fish-and-chips. On the eighteenth, they celebrated Daniel’s birthday. The next day, a friend of Gracie’s asked her whether she had seen that the BBC—under pressure from the government, as a publicly funded broadcaster, to be more transparent about its costs—had published a list of its highest-paid stars.

Sixty-two men and thirty-four women qualified for the list, which concerned on-air talent earning more than a hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year. The highest-earning woman was making £1.7 million less than the highest-earning man. A number of the BBC’s famous female names were conspicuously absent, a scandal over which the London media were in a frenzy. “Piers Morgan sent me a text and then a D.M.—‘I’m so outraged by your rate’—clearly digging,” the sports broadcaster Clare Balding, who appeared at the bottom of the list, told me. Being on the list meant a putatively embarrassing breach of one’s financial privacy. But for many of the BBC’s top women, not being on it, in an organization where opportunity often followed cost, could be a professional liability.

The BBC had four foreign editors. Jeremy Bowen, who covered the Middle East, was paid between £150,000 and £199,999; Jon Sopel, who covered North America, got between £200,000 and £249,999. Neither Gracie, whose salary was £135,000, nor Katya Adler, who covered Europe, appeared on the list. Gracie calculated that she and Adler were getting paid around fifty per cent less than their male colleagues. “It’s such a deep blow that your body kind of goes into a profound stop,” she told me recently, of the revelation.

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