Let’s End the Male-Female Pay (Information) Gap

On July 11, 2018, Ceylan Yeginsu of the New York Times published an article titled, “BBC Closes Gender Pay Gap, but Men Are Still Its 12 Highest-Paid Stars.” This article exposed an outrageous gap in treatment of elite male and female journalists.

To be a leading journalist at a place like the BBC, one must assume, you have to be intelligent, knowledgeable, aggressive in seeking out facts, likeable, trusted, and educated. One must assume this because the Times does not actually say how it, or the BBC, or any other top media outlet decides whom to hire.

In fact, the Times article does not say a word about qualifications of any sort. It doesn’t say which journalists bring in the most ad revenues, or have the highest ratings, or win the most awards and prizes, or make the greatest social or political impact, or do the best job of communicating difficult concepts to lay viewers or readers.

Instead, the Times piece is completely fixated on gender. Every sentence is preoccupied with the single question of whether a journalist at the BBC is male or female and, if female, whether she is getting paid as much as the males. On those matters, the article is clear enough: it speaks, for instance, of “accusations that the British broadcaster was actually moving backward” in its pay for women, insofar as, this year, there are fewer women than last year, among the 20 most highly paid BBC stars. Not a word, here, about average pay of ordinary male and female staffers, even at the BBC. Apparently only the stars count.

Judging by this article, the cause of female viewers everywhere would be advanced if they were treated to an all-female BBC staff that was completely incompetent. The message: it doesn’t matter what they do, or how well they do it. It only matters that they are women — more specifically, that the richest among them are getting richer faster.

Consider, for example, the article’s curious remark that “Claudia Winkleman, at No. 13, was the highest-paid woman on the list, earning [about $500,000]. Last year, she ranked No. 8, with a salary of [as much as $650,000].” Her pay dropped substantially: in a single year, it decreased by nearly one-quarter. How come? It is a glaring reduction, and yet the Times doesn’t seem interested in talking about it. Maybe she’s old news: maybe viewers don’t like her so much anymore. Maybe she has decided to spend more time with her kids. It could be anything. Why is her salary newsworthy, but not the reasons for it?

The point is not that there’s no pay gap. Depending on the industry and the specific employer, there may well be. The point is that pay gaps exist within a context. In broadcasting, it may be that viewers respond much more positively to male than to female journalists. Or it may be that men are much more willing to put in the hours. We don’t know, and the Times doesn’t help us to know.

To make big bucks in journalism, let us stipulate, you have to be good, and you have to be dedicated. That’s the sort of information we’d be getting in a Times article on the BBC’s decision to hire a new male journalist: the article would talk about what he’s been doing so far, and how well he’s done it. His gender might be mentioned against the backdrop of seeming male favoritism at the BBC. Balanced treatment of a new female hire should likewise focus on why she qualifies; it should mention her gender as a possible reason for her employment, insofar as the Beeb is under pressure to be more overtly female-friendly. But I don’t see many admissions, in the Times, that some woman might be getting a job because (along with at least some vague qualification) she satisfies the essential criterion of being female.

There is a certain brainlessness in articles like this Times piece. The focus is entirely upon getting women into prominent positions and getting them paid the same as men in those positions. Is that really how it should work? If some sociologist determines that basketball teams have a dearth of short players, should there be a push to hire short ballplayers, disregarding any evidence as to their actual suitability for the position?

I’m not saying women don’t make good journalists. For all I know, they actually make superior journalists. I’m saying only that this Times article is remarkable in its sexism — in, that is, its preoccupation with gender, free from any consideration of qualification or market forces. If female broadcasters at some network bring in twice the ad revenues, or twice the viewership, that’s fine with me; in that case, I’d be inclined to say the network needs more female broadcasters. The absence of any such information in this article could just mean that Yeginsu and his/her editor are incompetent, but that’s probably not the explanation. The Times would surely mention relevant information if it favored the BBC’s female journalists. What seems most likely is that these Times journalists have a feminist bias — one that actually disserves most women, but does at least conform to the prevailing ideology — and for that reason are suppressing inconvenient facts.

In broadcasting and elsewhere, a significant part of the problem is that the women as well as the men of our culture persist in idolizing stars. There may be thousands of people who could become widely respected or beloved as broadcasters, of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors. Sadly, I am here to tell you that those people don’t get respect, in this culture, remotely comparable to that showered upon the few who are elevated into these elite media positions.

In other words, there seems to be an urge to make kings. If you’re not willing to fight against that — if you really don’t have time or inclination to respect and elevate more ordinary men and women for part-time broadcasting positions, within an internal if not external culture emphasizing qualities like friendliness, humility, and teamwork — then you’ve made your own bed, and you can lie in it: you’ve created a context in which women who want to mix family and career will often fail to compete numerically against the horde of men who can and will devote themselves almost entirely to their careers, and who are motivated to do so by the realization that being dominant makes all the difference, in terms of access to women and money. If you are contributing to that sort of culture, in America at large or within your own business and/or social circles, then you can go ahead and complain that men continue to make more at places like the BBC — because kings always will.

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