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A Question of Worth: BBC Talent, The Gender Pay Gap & How Money Really Works

July 20, 2017
BBC Top Earners

I’ve never worked for the BBC (though it is certainly a dream for the future), but I have certainly dabbled in related fields and let me tell you – presenting television is not as easy as it looks. It only looks easy because it’s being done by a professional.

The social media response to this report seemed to be anger. And I really don’t understand why. They get paid a lot. Good for them. I think we have a real problem in this country at the moment of demonising the rich. And the psychology at the root of that is dragging everybody down.

Are they worth it? Well… yes… and here’s why.

Television Presenting Is Not As Easy As It Looks

Television presenters must be acutely aware of their tone, what they say, their facial expressions, as well as one of the hardest skills of television presenting, which is to speak to the camera while being spoken to through your earpiece by the producers. And they have to appear like these perfect people with perfect lives even if their mother has cancer. The trials and tribulations of life, that we all must bare, can under no circumstances show up on the screen. And that’s not easy.

You’ve got to be everybody’s best friend, even when you don’t feel like it.

How Is Worth Determined?

This is the question that I would assume is at the centre of any accusations that BBC talent is overpaid.

Are they worth it?

For me, a popular argument about worth features premiership footballers rather than television presenters. I would argue that kicking a ball around is not worth £20,000 a week. Of course, this is a job I could never do. I just haven’t got it in me. But how is it possible to value football skills at £20k a week?

If fans are willing to pay for tickets to see the matches, and broadcasters are willing to buy rights, that means there’s a lot of money in football. On top of that, each team only has 11 players, which makes the football community relatively small. So there’s a lot of money to share (unequally I’ll guess) between a small number of people. Is it morally right? I’m not here to judge that. But economically, the numbers stack up. That’s why it happens.

I suspect a similar argument can be made for top talent at the BBC.

The argument of whether they deserve being paid ‘so much’ to do jobs that they absolutely love doing, asks a different question: Do we pay people according to what they’re worth, or according to what they are prepared to sacrifice?

There has for some time now in the Western world been a cultural norm to admire people for doing jobs they don’t enjoy; to in fact try to reward sacrifice. Tim Ferris touches on this in ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ and because it’s so deep rooted in our culture we don’t often question it. In reality, it’s just a way to get us to do things we don’t want to do.

If you think about it, however, this doesn’t hold true. Most minimum wage jobs are paid minimum wage because they are unskilled. If an employee at MacDonalds decides to leave, they can be easily replaced. MacDonalds created fast food by treating employees as cogs in a machine solely so that they could drive down what they had to pay, and recover easily if somebody dropped out. However, if Gary Lineker decided he didn’t want to do Match of The Day anymore, well…. then it’s a different show.

Presenters Are Not Just Employees

And there’s a secondary consideration too.

Many of the people in question in that report are not just employees doing jobs – they are brands. They add their own flavour, personality and values to the roles that they occupy which to some degree makes them unique. Most people know what The Graham Norton Show is. Whether we like it or we don’t, we know what to expect if we decide to watch it.

So if Graham Norton decides he doesn’t want to do the Graham Norton show anymore then the BBC has a problem. They need to popularise a new show title and educate the audience as to what to expect when they watch that show. It’s not impossible but it is a hassle. Especially if Graham Norton is getting consistent viewing figures.

Thoughts On The Gender Pay Gap

I refuse to believe that employers look at women and say, “Hey! You’re a woman! I’m gonna pay you twenty percent less!” It just doesn’t make sense to me and I know I’ve never done it myself.

So there must be something else going on to explain the gender pay gap.

Here’s what I think…

What we get paid is by and large a result of how hard we negotiate. Inside my own production company, the people that get paid the best are those who have shown a track record of being good at their jobs and then, to borrow a phrase from Ramit Sethi, negotiate like Indians! (I’m Indian too, so I can say it too!)

You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you’ll accept. But the other side of that is inevitably that you have to be prepared to walk away if the deal doesn’t work for you.

A friend of mine (and naturally of course a fellow Patel) buys mens razors despite being female. Because she noticed that they cost less for essentially the same thing. The likes of Unilever and P&G are aware of the simple truth that in general, women will spend money more easily, while, in general, men have a natural tendency to protect their cash. And the price points on these products is mostly based on what marketing research tells these companies that their customers will pay for them.

So I wonder if the gender pay gap has its roots not in any sort of deliberate inequality, but in how salaries are negotiated.

It’s just a question. I could be wrong. Let me know in the comments.

In Conclusion

To paraphrase Rocky Balboa “if you know what you’re worth, go out and get what you’re worth”, but first make sure you have a realistic idea of what your worth actually is.

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