Lisa Wilkinson’s refusal to accept a pay packet half the size of her male co-host’s was a laudable moment. I hope I will describe it to my daughter as the point at which the tide turned and the gender pay gap began to close.
Right now, it raises several questions:
Why hasn’t Karl – a man who wore the same suit for a year to demonstrate how much abuse his co-host got for her appearance – resigned in solidarity? Does he condone Channel 9 paying Lisa less? Or does he think he’s worth twice as much as she is, or does twice as much work? Does he just really, really need that pay packet after his divorce settlement?
Why hasn’t Channel 9 done as Australia Post did and taken definitive action on equal pay? Do they rely on that pay gap to deliver value to their shareholders? Does their board – incidentally 50% female – think it takes two Lisa’s to make one Karl?
Karl and Channel 9 represent our problem. Abuse, pay gaps, wife droughts, deficit models. It all comes from the same culture that lets Karl and Channel Nine show their faces today. They are as deserving of a Joe Biden tongue-lashing as perpetrators of abuse.
Now might be a good time to have a look at your wages, ladies.
What if I suspect I’m being paid less than my male counterpart?
When I read the headlines about Lisa’s departure from Channel 9, I paused. Would I have had the courage to ask my previous employer if I was being paid on par with my male?
My gut said: No. I’d be uncomfortable asking.
But that won’t solve this problem. I – we – need to find a way to overcome this discomfort.
Fortunately, I had a wonderful opportunity last week to meet Catherine Fox, author of ‘Stop Fixing Women’. I asked her how a woman could go about asking their employer whether they have a pay gap and then doing something about it.
Her advice was excellent:
- Do so carefully. There is no need to risk being fired or detrimentally affecting your career, as this won’t help anybody. But…
- Do it if you have agency. If your workplace values you (which, if they spent the time and money to recruit you, they do) you’re in a good position to ask.
- Do it was a group. If there is more than one woman in your workplace, band together.
- Make it a general question. Instead of asking: ‘Am I paid the same as insert-name-of-male-person-in-same-job?’ you could ask ‘Have you assessed whether we have a gender pay gap? Would you be willing to conduct an audit?’
The role of men, and what to do if they’re not yet on board
Until the Karls of the world start hitting the Channel Nine’s of the world where it hurts, this will continue. As Fox rightly points out, asking women to fix it when they’re not in positions of power is ridiculous. This is why #HeForShe and Male Champions of Change are needed. Men have to help solve this problem too.
I hope that Lisa’s decision, combined with the #metoo movement, is a tipping point to bring about sustainable change. But while we’re waiting for that to happen, I have a message for women everywhere:
Be like Lisa.
Her wealth and reputation gave her space to make the decision to leave Channel 9. You can be like Lisa too, by:
- Building up your personal (not joint) savings. This means you will have the financial security to weather a crisis – quitting your job, needing to leave your relationship, whatever. It will take the ‘but I need to stay for the money’ part out of the equation, or at least lessen it.
- Treasuring your professional reputation. The fact that Lisa was able to switch to Channel 10 on the same day that her negotiations with Channel 9 ended is testament to her professionalism and skills. Your ability to earn an income is an asset. Treat it as such.
I hope that one day you find you didn’t need to be financially independent and able to earn a decent income, these were both just ‘nice to have’.
I hope that the pay gap is gone in my lifetime, and that abuse and harassment are not the common things they apparently are today.
But while we’re waiting for those changes, I encourage you to protect yourself with economic independence.
We teach adults how to get on top of their finances so they can stop work sooner and stop losing sleep over money. Part of that is, of course, teaching them how to get into the situations you’ve just read about in the first place. If that sounds good to you, check out our course on Achieving Financial Independence.
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