Let’s not downplay our own achievements when discussing the gender pay gap

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Megan Murray
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Why do women so often downplay their achievements in comparison to their co-workers? A Stylist writer explores Michaela Strachan’s negative comments about her own expertise and why this is so commonly done. 

Pay inequality scandals have taken up their fair share of column inches recently, and for good reason. Just a few months ago, it was revealed that Bryce Dallas Howard was paid a whopping $2 million (£1.5 million) less than her male co-star Chris Pratt for their film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Claire Foy – despite playing the actual queen in Netflix’s The Crown – was paid significantly less than Matt Smith, who played Prince Philip. Michelle Williams was paid a measly 1% of Mark Wahlberg’s salary in All The Money In The World. And there are countless other examples of pay discrepancies across Hollywood and beyond. 

So, when Springwatch presenter Michaela Strachan came forward to speak about the possibility that her male co-host, Chris Packham, may earn more than her, we thought we knew what she was going to say. We were wrong.

“If Chris was paid more, and I don’t know if he is, I wouldn’t be upset because you cannot pay for his knowledge, it’s an extraordinary knowledge,” she told Daily Mirror

“If I’m honest, what Chris brings to Springwatch in terms of knowledge is way more than what I can bring.”

Strachan went on to praise her co-host, saying: “Chris is extraordinary and the campaigning that he does is extraordinary and I think he’s everybody’s hero on the team at Springwatch.

“So I’m not interested in what he earns from it – it’s none of my business.”

Michaela Strachan on Autumnwatch 

There’s no denying that Strachan’s high opinion of her colleague can only be a positive thing. Having worked with him since the early Nineties on a variety of wildlife shows, it’s clear that the pair have a good professional relationship, and that she respects and admires him. 

What isn’t positive, though, is the fact that Strachan has downplayed her own achievements. Because, in doing so, she has suggested that she doesn’t believe she is as good as her male colleague – and that she feels Packham is more worthy of his spot on this show. Which absolutely is not true.

First, some facts: Strachan has been presenting alongside the rest of the Springwatch team since 2011. That’s seven years working on the same show, and the television industry isn’t generally a place known for being full of warm fuzzies. Stars can climb high and fall fast in this cutthroat world, and Strachan wouldn’t have been given the job (let alone kept it) if she was falling short of her co-star.

Secondly, while Strachan speaks highly of Packham’s achievements, the pair receive the same amount of air time on the show. Similarly, her CV – much like his – boasts a reel of notable titles, including The Really Wild Show, Countryfile, Orangutan Diary and Auntumnwatch.

Thirdly, while Strachan recognises that the show needs a blend of different people and talents to be successful (“it’s a fact that the programme would not be as good if there were two Chris Packhams or two Michaela Strachans and that’s why Springwatch works so well as we both have different strengths,” she says), when it comes to herself she seems quick to dismiss her own value. 

Michaela Strachan with her award for Best Presenter at the British Academy Children’s Film & Television Awards in 2005

Sadly, Strachan’s self-deprecating comments are not unusual: in fact, they are all too common of women the world over. In 2011, the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed managers about how confident they felt in their professions. Half of the female respondents reported self-doubt in their jobs, compared to less than a third of men.

There’s also the fear of coming across ‘too confident’ or ‘too proud’ of your achievements. Indeed, research has found that women who are seen as assertive or forceful (aka intent on pursuing their dreams and achieving their goals) are perceived as 35% less competent than non-assertive women, according to a 2015 VitalSmarts study.

Of course, not all of us feel comfortable asking about the salaries of our co-workers and it’s your prerogative if you wish to compare how your contribution to the workplace is being rewarded. But one thing’s for sure, it’s high time we stopped automatically assuming our efforts are worth less than those around us.

Feeling inspired you to start talking about your own achievements? Then check out Big Yourself Up, our new regular column exploring ways in which women can boost their self-confidence, get better at self-promotion and resist being side-lined in the workplace.

Images: Getty