The problem with male employees taking pay cuts to ensure their female counterparts are paid equally

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Unless you’ve been holidaying on planet Mars recently, you would likely have seen the media coverage regarding pay disparities in the media and entertainment industry.

After being locked in negotiations with Channel 9 for 6 months over a pay dispute involving a pay gap with co-host Karl Stefanovic, it’s been reported that Lisa Wilkinson left to take up an opportunity at channel 10. The ins and outs of this case are still unfolding and there’s many reports and unconfirmed social media commentary that Karl is paid more due to having more roles with the channel than Lisa, that Lisa is not paid for sitting in hair and make-up and that to pay Lisa what she was asking, they would need to cut 10 Producer jobs. Whilst we are not privy to all the details behind the scenes that led to this outcome, what we do know and what has been confirmed is that pay negotiations faltered and by all reports were a key part of her decision to move on.

Whilst Lisa is undoubtedly in a position of privilege that many other women are without, her move has still empowered many. It has demonstrated the power of choice we each have in the face of these issues and that we simply do not have to accept payment arrangements that we believe are not suitable. Further, we simply do not have to accept being paid less than male colleagues for the same role where that occurs.

The second example of this is the pay inequality between Kate Langbroek and Dave Hughes at KIIS FM. Upon discovering that Hughsey was earning a reported 40% more than Langbroek, he took it upon himself to take a pay cut so that the business could pay them equally.

Again, we don't know all the ins and outs of what lead to the difference in salaries between Kate and Hughsey, however there are many calls for men out there to take pay cuts to ensure that their female counterparts can be paid fairly. Undoubtedly, this is a gesture of true leadership and commitment to gender equality and closing the gap. This raises further questions to explore, however. Firstly, why are we asking employees to demonstrate the leadership that businesses, across many industries, are lacking? And, why are businesses being able to get away with justifying having a pay gap due to budgetary restraints?

We are talking about profitable businesses who are claiming their hands are tied in this issue due to budgetary restraints. Businesses who knowingly negotiate and re-negotiate contracts where male employees are paid more than their female colleagues for the same role.

If truly locked in tight budgetary restraints, why are we not asking the CEO’s (or the leaders who made the decisions regarding remuneration) of these organisations to take the pay cut needed instead of expecting employees who, through no fault or responsibility of their own, have found themselves involved in the gender pay gap dispute to do so on their behalf? Where is the true leadership needed to demonstrate good will and true commitment to resolving this pervasive issue?

It’s time for businesses to stop talking about “working towards pay equality” and simply walk down to payroll and fix it. Even where issues are extensive and will take time to correct, leaders need to demonstrate leadership and put plans in place to implement the change needed instead of talking about it.

While admirable that employees are stepping up to pioneer change and taking pay cuts of their own to support their colleagues, what we should be asking for instead is this level of leadership to be demonstrated by the businesses that employ them.

Shevonne Joyce