Equal pay for equal work

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Australian Channel 9 TV Today Show host Lisa Wilkinson has quit the station after pay negotiations broke down. Her request to have her salary matched to that of her male side kick Karl Stefanovic was knocked back. Stefanovic is reportedly on a $6mn three year deal, contracted when he was about to quit and join another station. Call it unfair or whatever you will but Wilkinson was still paid ($1.1mn) but appeared on fewer shows than Stefanovic .The network upped it to $1.8mn (with the potential it would cause retrenchments) but it was not accepted by her. She walked to defend the gender pay gap to join a new show where she is paid 3x the salary of the male host. So the gender pay crusader is ok with earning more for equal work. How soon we forget that the station being pilloried for not paying fairly made Jana Wendt the top paid announcer 30 years ago. Commercial decision.

MotoGP is a great example of why equal pay for equal work isn’t always so simple. The Ducati Factory Team has two riders – a newly signed €25m 2-yr contract former 5x world champ Jorge Lorenzo and a €1.5mn pa 1x world champ Andrea Dovisioso. Now Dovi is in shooting distance of his first ever MotoGP crown while his overpaid team mate is ranked 8th with patchy performance. While no doubt the pay gap for the same work (riding a motorcycle as fast as possible and not crashing) will be addressed somewhat, satellite team rider Scott Redding has to “pay” for his seat. Not get paid, but pay. So much for equal pay! Yet Redding has made a conscious choice on the basis he performs and his fortunes change. He hasn’t demanded a €25mn deal because he’d be laughed at even if technically fair. Yes, the reality is that “performance” matters. If you’re a better rider, TV cameras are zoomed in on your sponsors for more of the race. That’s why the pay gap exists. Sponsors get their lick. Same job, unequal pay.

We heard similar arguments around the pay differences between the male and female national US soccer teams. The point was made that the women were more successful than the men (true) so it was absurd they were paid less.  The realities were simple. The women were paid healthy salaries whether they played or sat on the sidelines – win, lose or draw. The men were geared to pay on performance and those who were dropped on playing badly didn’t get a dime. Once again, as professional sports goes, male sports tend to be much better paid because of the revenues they attract (which is a reflection of commerciality). Lionel Messi earns 40mn euro a year. Is he worth 100x that of the highest paid female player, Alex Morgan. Well if you paid Messi $400k he probably wouldn’t play. It’s just the world of professional sports. Perhaps all players should be on $40m per year after all equal work, equal pay right? How would losing teams be able to attract superstars to help them win championships (they’re not in it to lose) if they paid them the same wage? They’d remain at the bottom of second division and go out of business because they couldn’t afford equal pay.

To turn the argument on its head, perhaps male models should have the right to protest that female supermodels absolutely trounce them for pay. Only three male models earn over $1mn while 5 times as many supermodels earn it. In the lower echelons female models get paid much more than the men. Probably because the companies that wish to advertise think their brands get more impact by using women! No problem – a commercial choice.

While there is no doubt that pay equality for the same work is fair in theory, the idea that women are deliberately discriminated against from a pure economic standpoint is irrational. If companies could hire women to do the same work as men for 25% less, why would any business hire men? If you work at Starbucks or as a bank clerk, on the same seniority, hours, effectiveness and efficiency then absolutely the pay should be equal .

For jobs that have equal output from equal time then absolutely equal pay is warranted. However workplace discrimination is an evil in almost every firm. Do we have half yearly evaluations where everyone gets the same grade and same bonus? Or do firms try to keep the best performers by incentivizing them to keep bringing in more dollars. For the record my top salesperson (female) in my former career was the best paid of all – gender irrelevant – output relevant. No complaints.

So we can howl at the gender pay gap but let’s get real with what is unfair and what isn’t. There is an idea that all have a right to equal pay but I will defend every woman who earns more than me if she legitimately beats my results – wait a minute I already did.

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