25/07/2017 11:41 BST | Updated 25/07/2017 11:41 BST

Time For Us All To Open Up About What We Earn?


Who really benefits from keeping their pay confidential? The BBC salary row suggests that the answer to that question is not, in fact, employees. And that means it's time to make some changes.

I suspect many businesses are hiding gender discrimination behind the fig leaf of 'worker confidentiality'. Call it a hunch. But if the state-run broadcaster is at it, who isn't? We may now need to accept a bit less privacy to flush this bias fully out of the system.

Goodness knows how bad the situation is in firms under rather less scrutiny and constitutional obligations. Politically correct BBC? Not so much, it transpires.

There may be only one answer. Has the time come for all individual salaries in a firm to be made public (or at least available internally)? Radical, certainly. Intrusive, yes. It would also require robust performance appraisals in order to support pay differentials. But it would also be cathartic and reforming. We already know the pay of politicians by role, most grades of civil servant, many corporate officers, entertainers by the score.

It hardly seems a leap to accept that all other pay should now be made plain in the interests of fairness and transparency; with the accountability benefits far outweighing the personal intrusion costs.

The direction of travel on pay equality is putting us on this course any way: From next April about 9,000 big employers will be obliged to give details of the gender pay gap in their own organisations, which will hopefully embarrass any with failings to sort them out. Hopefully.

Sadly, reporting is not the same as enforcing. The Government is, as ever with gender bias, relying on corporate red faces to bring things into line. Possibly it will. But shaming only goes so far. We are still a long way from, for example, annual assessments not being used to disguise gender discrimination.

What is profoundly depressing about the BBC being found to reward its male 'stars' far, far better than its females ones is that nobody in its senior hierarchy apparently thought to question the pattern, which must have been very evident over many years.

It is also a reminder of the experience in the past when I and another female colleague questioned a disparity between our pay and that of male colleagues. I was told to my face that I was paid less because it was assumed that I would leave to have children and, anyway, women were not generally the main wage earners.

I suspect that particular prejudice is still there, implicit these days rather than crassly explicit, but becoming it's own self-fulfilling truth all the same: Women will continue not being the main wage earners for as long as men keep being given more money to do the same job (usually by other men, naturally).

Big problems call for big solutions. The time may have also come to consider moving to the Norwegian model where all tax returns are published, freely available for all to inspect. That way we might wash out not just salary disparity issues, but aggressive tax avoidance measures and other financial iniquities of our age that are helping to fuel a sense of society becoming unequally governed.

As Britain embarks on Brexit, we should seize the reforming agenda to bind financial openness more firmly into the fabric of our lives. We are, indeed, all in this together. Now more than ever. And as earners we need to be more open with each other.

It is also a plain wrong to discriminate based on gender, and extraordinary that such an obvious truth needs pointing out. Surely we could all do with one less divisive, insulting, pointless insult?