I want to be happy for Lisa Wilkinson. Really I do.
It’s not every day that a woman on television — and Australian commercial television no less — switches networks and lands a contract that could make her close to, if not the, highest earner in the business.
The reality is, Wilkinson’s case is not too different from thousands of situations that play out in workplaces every year. It goes something like this: Woman discovers she earns less than male colleague doing exactly the same job. Woman asks for pay rise. Employer says no. Woman leaves organisation. (Or wishes she could. Most women do not have the luxury of walking away from their underpaid jobs and have no other option but to accept whatever scraps they are offered.)
The crucial message from the “Lisa Wilkinson stood up to Channel Nine” story is not that she landed a new job. It’s that against her employer, she lost.
She wanted equality, she fought for equal pay, and she didn’t get it from her employer.
And here’s the kicker to this whole depressing story: If Lisa Wilkinson — and her agent — can’t get equal pay, what hope do the rest of us have?
Even Channel Nine’s PR spin on the failed salary negotiations showed just how far out of reach equal pay is for women in Australia.
Nine CEO Hugh Marks told Fairfax Media they couldn’t meet Wilkinson’s demands because “If she got what she wanted we would have had to cut 10 producers’ jobs … that is the reality”.
This is the classic line used to justify lower wages for women since, well, forever.
Companies can afford to overpay men, but they can’t pay women equally because such “selfish” demands would bankrupt the company and lead to other people losing their jobs.
Of course there was no mention in Marks’ statement about how many producers had to lose their jobs so Karl Stefanovic could, according to News Corp reports, be paid up to $3 million (including bonuses).
Given Marks himself reportedly took home $2.77 million last financial year, even though Nine reported a $203 million annual loss, he might look in the mirror when thinking about where cuts could be made.
Wilkinson has earned, and no doubt will be earning, an astronomical sum in her new gig at Network Ten, with some reports speculating that she may out-earn Stefanovic.
But again, the fact that it’s newsworthy for a woman with far more experience (and arguably a broader appeal) than her male colleague to now be earning slightly more than him, is pathetic.
The only thing to celebrate here is that the Wilkinson case has, in a very public way, called bullshit on all those gender pay gap deniers who claim the only reason women are paid less than men is because they don’t have the “balls” to ask for it, or to negotiate hard like men.
It is true that historically women have been less likely to negotiate pay rises than men, but as Wilkinson has shown us, it’s unlikely to have made any difference anyway.
I don’t imagine Wilkinson was shy and cowering in her salary negotiations. And it’s pretty safe to say that her agent, who negotiates pay deals for a living, would know how to play hardball.
Nor is the gender pay gap a result of women needing more mentoring, or to attend more conferences for women in leadership. Wilkinson is so skilled and experienced at this stuff that she’s often the keynote speaker at these conferences.
The gender pay gap is simply about gender. Women are paid less for no other reason than that they are women.
For this reason, Wilkinson’s failed negotiation with Channel Nine should not be seen as a victory for women at all. It’s a victory for the status quo.