Today I bring you a non-fiction title. It’s a fantastic and worrying read at the same time. I kept thinking of people who’d “enjoy” reading it (I’m not sure enjoy is quite the right term, but…). Hi, Debby, this is the book! Teagan, reading this book made me think of you as well. And Pete, I think you’ll be interested in this one as well.
And well, without further ado…
Equal: A story of women, pay and the BBC by Carrie Gracie
‘Equal tells a personal story that changed the public debate’ Guardian
‘[An] absorbing account . . . she laces her tale with mordant humour’ Financial Times
‘A gripping personal story told with warmth and wit, combined with a ‘how to’ guide for anyone who wants to ensure women are paid as true equals’ Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister
Equal pay has been the law for half a century. But women often get paid less than men, even when they’re doing equal work.
Mostly they don’t know because pay is secret. But what if a woman finds out? What should she do? What should her male colleague do? What should the boss do?
Equal is the inside story of how award-winning journalist Carrie Gracie challenged unequal pay at the BBC, alongside a wider investigation into why men and women are still paid unequally. It’s a book that will open your eyes, fix your resolve and give you the tools to act – and act now.
‘The BBC journalist’s important account of her struggle to win equal pay is full of sound advice for women’ Observer
‘Pragmatic and honest’ Mail on Sunday
‘Pulls no punches’ Sunday Times
‘A book that can read like a tortured love letter to an abusive partner . . . and shows that such casual slights and the unthinking bias behind them remain an organisational and societal scandal’ Financial Times
‘She tells the story of her struggle and eventual triumph as a way of encouraging us, of changing our society, of giving us all courage . . . Equal is a very important book’ Sandi Toksvig
Longlisted for the Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award 2019
About the author:
Carrie Gracie is a Scottish journalist best-known as having been the China editor for BBC News. She resigned from this post at the beginning of January 2018, citing what she said was pay discrimination over gender for the BBC’s international editors. She returned to her former post in the BBC newsroom.
I am grateful to NetGalley and Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. What a book!
This is a fantastic read and an important book about a topic that, as the author notes, it feels strange to have to be still talking about in this day and age.
The author, a well-known and award-winning BBC journalist, chronicles her fight to get equal pay for her job as China editor for the corporation. The BBC is publicly funded, and after some pressures, in 2017 they published the salaries of the highest paid of their employees. All of them happened to be white males. Gracie, who was the China editor at the time, was surprised to see that the USA editor was earning almost double her salary, when one of the conditions she had asked for when she accepted the job (she was highly qualified for it, as she had studied Mandarin at university, had lived in China, married a Chinese, and had lived there and worked there on and off for long periods of time) was that her pay would be equal to that of male colleagues doing a similar job, and the comparison agreed was the USA editor. She was not the only female employee to take issue with the list of salaries and while Gracie chronicles her own fight (it was hard and arduous to put it mildly), she also emphasises the importance of the support of her colleagues and the encouragement she received from family, friends, and strangers who also told her their stories.
Although Gracie explains her story and how she felt, she is not a reporter for nothing, and she goes about the task of discussing equal pay for women (although she also acknowledges and talks about other types of discrimination: race, sexual, disabilities…) in a methodical manner, quoting facts and figures all over the world, talking about the law, the developments over time, the different cases that brought about new legislation, and intersperses this with a chronological account of the stages of her grievance with the BBC. Although her references to the law and the grievance process are specific to the UK (and to her organisation), the principles are applicable to many other cases, and the examples she uses are universal, unfortunately. She does recognise that she is privileged (she had access to free legal advice, she was able to resign from her job without being concerned about her financial situation, and she had another position to go back to), and she did not feel she was badly paid, but felt she had been treated unfairly, and she had to take a stand, not only for herself, but also for others.
The process she had to undergo was soul destroying, not only for the types of games and techniques used (she mentions Orwell in a number of occasions, but Kafka’s The Trial and Terry Gillian’s Brazil also come to mind), but also because she loves the BBC, believes what it stands for and felt terribly disappointed by the way they behaved. She tried to see things from their point of view and gave them the benefit of the doubt, but she was stretched almost to breaking point. This is not a fiction book, so there are no real spoilers, but I’ll leave you to read exactly how things settled in the end.
Apart from the interest of the story itself (and it is gripping), Gracie is a compelling writer, and she is evidently passionate about the topic, although that does not make her lose her objectivity. She does talk about her own battle, and she does mention the effect it had on her, how it made her feel, and the way it made her question her beliefs and, at times, even her own sanity, but she does not spend an excessive amount of time on that, and she focuses on providing useful advice and guidance for others. The back matter of the book includes a section of acknowledgements, an epilogue with cases and data that have come to light since the resolution of her complaint, also advice she provides to companies, men, and women, resources (including videos, books, information about a variety of organisations, links to important documents), and detailed notes for all the chapters, with references and links to all documents, studies, and cases she mentions.
Here a tiny sample from the book:
But when it comes to deep-rooted patterns of power and money, history shows time and again that justice for women does not come through patient persuasion. Instead women must find their power and use it. In January 2018, I went over my employer’s head to write directly to the public because I wanted an end to pay discrimination in my workplace and my bosses weren’t listening. The answering echo from women everywhere made me feel the BBC was a mirror of the society it served.
In sum, this is a fascinating book and one that is bound to make many readers’ blood boil. Why are things still like this in this day and age? This is an important book, well-written, full of valuable information and much food for thought, no matter what your gender, your position, or your status may be. Go and read it, and share it with others. The fight is not over.
Oh, I couldn’t help but share two videos Gracie mentions in the book. One that shows that Capuchin monkeys “get” equal pay, and a Norwegian study where kids demonstrate they also understand the concept of equal pay and are happy to apply it of their own accord. Priceless.
Capuchin monkeys reject unequal pay
Finansforbundet on Equal pay: What do these kids understand that your boss doesn’t? Mary just made me aware that the video does not play directly from here, but if you follow the link to YouTube, it does (at least for me!) Sorry about that. I guess the organisation doesn’t want the video shared on other sites.
Thanks to Carrie Gracie and to NetGalley for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep fighting and supporting others’ fight for equality.