11 Jan 2018 15:33 IST

Carrie Gracie, Iceland, and the gender pay gap

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, India ranked 108 out of 144 countries

Carrie who?

Carrie Gracie is the BBC’s ‘old China hand’, a senior journalist who resigned this week as China Editor in sensational fashion to protest the “illegal” gender pay gap within the organisation. Given her professional stature, her bombshell of a resignation letter, addressed to the public broadcaster’s licence-fee payers (read it on carriegracie.com), has re-ignited a trans-continental debate over equal pay for equal work.

So the ‘glass ceiling’ is as sturdy as ever…

Yup, but professionals like Gracie, and enlightened leaders in some developed economies, are battering away at it. Gracie has been invited to give evidence to a British parliamentary committee on equal pay. And on January 1, a new law took effect in Iceland, which would publicly shame companies that discriminate against women in workplace compensation.

Iceland? That heavyweight country of 350,000 people?

You may well mock, but Iceland tops the global ranking on The Economist’s glass-ceiling index, which measures gender equality in the labour market.

So what does the Iceland law do?

Companies with more than 24 employees will have to secure certification from the government that their female and male employees are paid equally. Job applicants can check if a company is certified, and the government can fine companies for persistent gender pay gaps.

Sounds like Big Government on steroids.

Iceland’s businesses say the law imposes a compliance burden and reflects excessive government interference in the labour market. But the government is driven by a desire to bridge the gender pay gap by 2022.

But does qualitative work allow for comparison?

In Iceland, researchers compiled a detailed matrix to make salaries comparable — even if work schedules and job requirements are not the same on paper. The Nordic Information on Gender notes that the employer must determine which work-tasks each position entails and assign a value. “The salary must be decided on the position and not the person carrying out the work.” But in fact, in many cases, gender pay discrimination is blatant.

Tell me more.

Gracie, for instance, was being paid only 50 per cent of what BBC pays other international editors — although China is more of a ‘hardship’ posting for journalists, given that the government there routinely subjects foreign journalists to surveillance, police harassment and censorship, and even routine coverage requires fluency in a difficult language. The gender pay gap at the BBC was only revealed as part of a disclosure that the organisation was forced to make six months ago; it revealed, as Gracie said, “an indefensible pay gap between men and women doing equal work.”

Why does equal pay matter?

This isn’t just about political correctness. A 2016 KPMG study in Australia, titled She’s Priceless: The Economics of the Gender Pay Gap, notes that organisations that commit to addressing pay equity see tangible benefits through employee engagement and loyalty, and attract the best talent because they have access to the whole talent pool. “A stronger focus on driving the value of human capital... will boost productivity, participation, and ultimately drive greater economic activity and prosperity,” it said.

Dare I ask how India fares?

Abysmally. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, India was ranked a lowly 108 out of 144 countries. It fared particularly poorly in ‘Economic participation and opportunity for women’, although in terms of wage equality for equal work, it fared relatively better, with a ranking of 80.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)

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