Jacinta Tynan is an experienced broadcaster and the author of Mother Zen. Here she writes for Be about the gender pay gap in the Australian television industry.
There’s a widely touted maxim about the power of television that seeing is believing, that what people see on their screens is what they believe to be the norm. In one swift, sassy move, Lisa Wilkinson sent a powerful message to the nation that women working for less than men won't be tolerated.
The popular Today host blindsided even her own colleagues this week by announcing (via Twitter) she was stepping down from the job she’s held - and shone at - for a good decade.
Industry reports claim it was because, despite lengthy and increasingly testy negotiations with the Nine Network, she was (via her manager) unable to secure the same pay as her co-host, the guy doing exactly the same job as her, Karl Stefanovic.
Granted Lisa is in a rare and privileged financial position to pull it off - to bail on a job on principle - something most women wouldn't have the luxury of doing, no matter how much it bothered them. But, because she can take a stand she has, and in the process has raised the bar for this country’s unjust and nonsensical gender pay gap which, despite being against the law, is alive and well. It’s when bold people with the benefit of a public profile make bold moves that change happens.
When it comes to trailblazing, Lisa has form. There’s the magazine editing career which she began at just 21.
And, when her children were small, she quit her successful magazine publishing gig to spend more time with them. I once asked Lisa about that, about whether she feared throwing her career away and, in a caution of sorts to women like me coming up behind her, she said words to the effect of, “I had to trust that the career would always be there, but my children won’t”. Again, passing up income to stay home with your babies is not something every woman can afford to do, but it was a gutsy move.
And what a public statement about priorities.
Nine has justified the glaring pay disparity between its two stars, Lisa’s salary reportedly half that of Karl’s, by his extra workload hosting a prime time show and guest spots on 60 Minutes. But job descriptions are especially vague in the media often coming down to a person’s ever elusive ‘star power’, a factor impossible to quantify and too easy to explain away.
It’s one of the reasons why, when it comes to gender disparity, the media has a shameful record.
According to a specially commissioned report by the MEAA’s Women in Media, women in the media industry earn 23.3 percent less than men, compared to a 15.3 percent pay gap across other industries.
National convener of the program, Tracey Spicer, has called for an overhaul of how TV executives calculate salaries to make them more accountable. ”A lot of decisions in commercial television have traditionally been made on ‘gut’”, she says. “But this fails the fairness test because it's compromised by unconscious bias. We need robust structures, like gender pay audits, to identify where the gaps are and close them. These audits are common in the corporate world, but in some ways TV is still like the wild west”.
She believes employers should be forced to disclose salaries in line with recent UK legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap. “Shame is an extremely powerful motivator. No employer wants to be seen to be paying women less than men”.
Publicity is also a powerful motivator. When the BBC was recently forced to release the salaries of its top 96 stars revealing stark gender inequality, there was an uprising. Forty-two of the BBC’s most senior women penned an open letter to the director general, demanding immediate action.
Most of the time, we remain blissfully unaware of what our colleagues earn as salaries are rarely divulged, even amongst friends. As recently as May Lisa Wilkinson pleaded ignorance when badgered, good naturedly, by Charlie Pickering on ABC TV’s The Weekly about why ‘Karl is paid significantly more than you to host The Today Show’.
“I can put my hand on my heart and say I have no idea what Karl is paid, and he has no idea what I'm paid”, she replied, deftly.
It seems she does now.
After all that, it’s unlikely Lisa left Nine just for the money heading to Ten, a company still technically in receivership. She left on principle with her dignity intact, a move that has already paid off.
Jacinta Tynan is a Sky News Presenter and author @jacintatynan