The pay gap and why Lisa Wilkinson broke up with Today

The pay gap & why Lisa Wilkinson broke up with Today

The pay gap is as enduring as the myth that it’s a misnomer. ‘Why would it exist’ and ‘It doesn’t make sense’ are common refrains from those who simply don’t believe that men and women are paid differently for the same work.

‘But men work longer’ and ‘Women have babies’ are sometimes offered by disbelievers to explain the discrepancy between the pay packets of men and women.

But the numbers don’t lie. There is an entrenched gap between the earnings of men and women and it begins the minute men and women step into the workforce and widens over time. The fact it is preposterous doesn’t change it.

Men and women are paid differently, even for the same work. We know this because of the data that WGEA gets from the ABS and reports on regularly. We know this gap can be closed – Australia Post is a recent case in point that ought to be celebrated. But we also know it won’t close without a concerted effort.

The lack of transparency around salaries makes the pay gap a tough fight for any individual to take on, let alone win. In many workplaces pay packets and bonuses are opaque which means most employees negotiate blind. If you don’t know what your co-worker earns, it’s hard to argue you should earn more, or the same, as them.

It is this that makes Lisa Wilkinson’s stance on pay equity so powerful. Wilkinson’s negotiations with Channel 9 reportedly broke down because she wanted to be paid the same as her Today show co-host Karl Stefanovic.

If the rumours are right Stefanovic has been on a deal worth $2 million a year while Wilkinson has taken home half of that a year for doing the same job. Given the pair have co-hosted Today for ten years the cumulative cost of that discrepancy is shocking.

(The gap is also hardly surprising – female presenters at the BBC this year learned there was a large gap between their earnings and their male colleagues.)

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph Wilkinson was shown market research by Nine earlier this year which showed – very clearly – that she was critical to the show’s ratings success. Even when Stefanovic was away, often given his tumultuous year, the show thrived.

In addition to being fair and equitable, the ratings render Wilkinson’s demand for equal pay commercially justified. But Nine were unwilling to close the gap, so Wilkinson walked. Within 45 minutes of publicly resigning from Today, she had signed a deal with Channel 10.

The fact most women do not have the luxury of being offered a competitive job within 45 minutes of quitting another doesn’t diminish the impact of Wilkinson’s decision. The fact many women can’t forgo three months’ salary doesn’t diminish the fact Lisa can and has taken that path.

Wilkinson is in a very unique position. She is one of Australia’s most established and successful television broadcasters and is at the peak of her powers. Why should she be paid less than her co-host?

Few employees have access to information about what their co-workers are paid and fewer still have access to objective benchmarks like TV ratings to make their case. Wilkinson has both and decided to act on it.

The fact that path isn’t available to many is what makes her decision so powerful. The fact the impact of her departure will be so readily quantified – by the same ratings which prove her popularity – makes it better still.

Wilkinson is, without a shadow of a doubt, every bit as competent and capable as her male co-host and she ought to be remunerated at least as well as he is.

The pay gap in TV has been highly scrutinised this year and in standing her ground, Lisa Wilkinson has become the very public face of the fight.

And the next time someone tells you the pay gap is a myth ask them why else Lisa Wilkinson would leave Today?

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