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BBC’s Carrie Gracie reveals feeling “exhausted and isolated” from equal pay battle

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Susan Devaney
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In an interview, former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie reveals the real price she’s had to pay for fighting for equal pay within the broadcaster.  

Since Scottish journalist Carrie Gracie published an open letter in January, accusing the BBC of harvesting a “secretive and illegal pay culture”, she’s received a wealth of support and witnessed progress – but the fight for equal pay has come at a cost.

Which is why Gracie has discussed just how much her resignation has affected her life, saying the battle for pay equality has left her “exhausted and isolated” and feeling like she was “going mad”.

In her open letter, Gracie revealed that as the BBC’s China editor she was earning significantly less than her male counterparts. “In the past four years, the BBC has had four international editors – two men and two women… Last July I learned that in the previous financial year, the two men earned at least 50% more than the two women,” she wrote.

With the support from many of her female colleagues at the BBC (and Emma Watson), she’s become something of a figurehead for fighting to close the gender pay gap. But Gracie admits that she had three main fears before taking the risk to step down from her role amid the pay disparity and publicly shame her employer.

“The three things that definitely gave me nightmares [were the prospect of] my colleagues feeling it was disloyal to wash the BBC’s dirty linen in public,” Gracie told Stella magazine

“I was also worried about being in conflict with the BBC, because that’s a really unpleasant place to be. It’s like being expelled from your family.

“The third fear I had was that the audience wouldn’t understand; that they’d think I wanted more money.”

It’s obvious Gracie’s decision to step down from her role was not about the money. The broadcaster offered her a £45,000 pay rise and later £105,000 in back pay – both of which she turned down. After doing so, she asked herself a lot of questions.

“So you have to remind yourself why you’re doing it, and the answer is, ‘If I don’t do it, who?’. I’m 55 years old, I’ve had 30 years in the BBC, I’ve got a body of work that means I can’t just be dismissed and marginalised. And I can hopefully do something that will show future generations of women are not going to suffer this,” she says.

The BBC tried to previously justify the pay disparity by claiming Gracie was “in development” in her role as China editor during her first three years - despite her years of journalistic experience. It was a role that was “tough” as it involved her being away from her family for 200 days of the year as she lived in Beijing, and they stayed in the UK. 

Gracie’s main motivation is to pave a better workplace for the women coming next by using anger to build a movement, something that she’s reflected on before International Women’s Day.

But Gracie admits that women are only just getting started. “We have a long climb ahead. We’ve just barely begun.”

Images: Rex Features