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Jane Garvey explains why it was so important for her to talk about the gender pay gap at the BBC

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Chloe Gray
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Jane Garvey talks about the gender pay gap

What happened when our two favourite podcasters come together? They find the solution to financial sexism… 

Jane Garvey has to be one of our favourite women in broadcasting. Not only does she present Woman’s Hour, a show that brings female-focused issues to the masses, but she also teamed up with Fiona Glover to bring us Fortunately… With Fi And Jane, the absolutely side-splitting podcast in which they ponder over what’s happening in the world.

But there’s one other thing that we admire Garvey for: protesting against the BBC pay gap. She was one of the organisers behind the open letter from some of the BBC’s biggest female stars calling on the corporation to “act now” on pay. And they did: many female presenters, including Garvey, had their pay increased, and some male stars even faced pay cuts. 

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Like any movement today, there’s criticism. That was mainly focused on how redistributing the BBC stars’ money isn’t the most pressing job when it comes to equality, especially considering their already-six-figure salaries. But talking on Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast, Garvey made such an excellent point about why it was so important to speak out: “I really do feel strongly that I had been completely blind to what was happening around me and if it was happening to me, a white… middle, middle class woman with vocal skills, what the hell would be happening to women of colour, whether they work at the BBC or anywhere else? What would be happening to women now juggling three or four zero-hour contract jobs and trying to bring up their children in inadequate social housing?” 

Garvey added: “It’s because we have a voice at the BBC that I feel this absolute fervour, the closest I’ve ever come to fervour in my life, that if we can’t fight this battle when women at Glasgow City Council, for example, have done it, women at Birmingham City Council and some of the major supermarkets, they have done it, if women like that have done it, then for us to not even try to cause a stink would just be the most appalling failure.”

While Garvey is obviously proud of the work that she did, she said that doesn’t think of her equal pay work as a win. She told Day that one of her biggest failures was to appreciate fully what women were really up against in terms of pay until the BBC figures were made public. One reason for that was because she didn’t have to suffer the hardship faced by the women of past generations, and had never lived in poverty or destitution, so assumed everything was OK. “I had my head down. I was trying to do everything right as far as I could for the children. I was also trying to do my job, keep my job. There’s no guarantee that once you’ve got a job like a presenter on Radio 4 that you’ll always have a fantastic job so I wasn’t thinking or even wondering very much about how much I was paid for what I did, I was just trying to do it well enough to keep it.” This feeling of keeping our head above water, always needing to do better, not wanting to rock the boat is so common that it has a name: imposter syndrome.

Garvey also went on to speak about how the difference between how society values the issues and interests assigned to different genders is responsible for the pay gap, saying: “We have to understand that we live in a world where a man who used to kick balls for a living now earns an enormous amount of money talking about men young enough to be his sons also kicking balls for a living. And that is all deemed much more important than a woman talking about, in my case, women’s health or politics.”

The solution, according to Garvey, is one we can get on board with: allyship. She spoke about how men have a responsibility to step up and do more to support women and expose sexism and inequality. “It would have been really good if some of the high profile men at the BBC, not necessarily those with daughters but yes, even better if they do have daughters and have skin in the old gender game in the years ahead, had actually pitched in and said we back you and we get this.”

While Garvey has done amazing work at closing the pay gap, opening up conversations and creating change, she makes such a great point about the knock on effect this will have for the rest of her life: “I will have retired not having earned as much as very many of my male counterparts as presenters. Equivalent male broadcasters to me will have earned more than me, will have very different retirements, will have very different prospects financially in the rest of their life, and whose fault is that exactly? I don’t really know.”