Women across Australia are standing to applaud former TODAY Show host Lisa Wilkinson right now.
The 57-year-old abruptly exited the Channel Nine breakfast show – the one she worked tirelessly on for over a decade – in resolute fashion on Monday evening. The response was swift; the murmurings deafening. Rumour had it that Wilkinson, a veteran journalist, was being paid half of what her co-host Karl Stefanovic was all these years, and she wasn’t going to put up with it anymore.
Of course some have argued that Stefanovic’s marginally heightened presence on the network – his appearances on A Current Affair and episodes as host of This Time Next Year – explain the ‘million dollar gap’. But, given that Stefanovic and Wilkinson front line TODAY for over 200 episodes annually, it’s hard to reconcile that rumoured difference in pay.
This story – one that feels like it belongs in 1967, not 2017 – has hit a nerve. Each major Australian publication has pored over every detail, running Wilkinson’s departure, new job, and the subsequent fallout as the biggest stories of the day. The commentary on social media is laced with intense anger, coupled with a saddening realisation that, yes, men and women with the same job still face disparate treatment and, no, we haven’t really reached gender equality in the workplace at all.
Thankfully, within an hour of announcing Monday morning’s show was her last, the ex-international editor in chief of Cleo Magazine had happier news: She’d been snapped up by Channel 10 for The Project. Industry experts predict her new salary doesn’t match what she was earning at Nine; it exceeds it, minting her the most lucratively-paid woman on Australian television.
But make no mistake: The Lisa/Karl differential is not limited to the TODAY Show.
Last year we learned that Channel Nine’s Erin Molan, the co-host of the NRL Footy Show since 2014, has been earning just a slice of her male counterparts’ salaries. While the seasoned journalist reportedly took home a fraction over $100,000 every year, it’s believed ex-athlete Beau Ryan pocketed a cool $800,000 for his panellist gig.
Until September 2016, Molan and fellow female sports presenter Yvonne Sampson were relegated to economy seats on airplanes while many of their male colleagues flew business class – something a Channel Nine spokesperson put down to “their contract, not their gender”.
Molan has since renegotiated her salary, and it would be interesting to know whether or not her “worth” is deemed by predominantly male television executives to be even half that of Ryan’s. It would be equally curious to see what the notorious Sam Newman rakes in for his sexist barbs on the AFL Footy Show compared to Quill award-winning co-host Rebecca Maddern.
Listen: Lisa Wilkinson speaks to Mia Freedman about being on live TV for 20 hours a week. (Post continues…)
Hopefully, those mysterious salary figures are fair.
Over at Channel Seven’s Sunrise, co-hosts reportedly experience a similar discrepancy; with David Koch reportedly making close to $1 million a year, with his female co-host Samantha Armytage taking home half that, on $500,000.
In 2013, even the ABC was accused of gifting its male presenters with higher salaries than it did women. Only in July of this year was a spokesperson able to confirm with News Corp “[the company’s] own gender pay gap analysis shows there is no pay gap that is unfavourable to women at any level.” The claims came after British broadcaster BBC was forced to reveal two thirds of its highest paid presenters were men.
According to Dr Simon Pervan, Associate Professor of Management and Marketing at Swinburne Business School, the Wilkinson story merely highlights what is a deeply entrenched problem not just in television, but in every industry globally.
“There’s no question that there’s a gender pay gap, based on findings around the world,” Dr Pervan, who has conducted extensive research on the topic, tells Mamamia.
“There’s about an 8.5 per cent gender wage gap between men and women… after factoring in education, which is usually one of the strongest indicators of pay differential, around about 12 per cent of that gap is attributed to discrimination.
“Stories like [Wilkinson’s] are important, it’s important to be outraged by this. I personally get disillusioned when I see this happening time and time again. History shows that this has happened for so long.”
Although, in the case of Wilkinson and Stefanovic, Dr Pervan does point out that favourability with commercial clients and TODAY‘s audience would have come into play when negotiating salaries, although those discussions would have almost undoubtedly been shaped by “implicit biases”.
That is, the many men in leadership positions are often indirectly discriminate towards women in the workplace; whether its in determining someone’s worth, or simply not being flexible enough for the demands of motherhood.
“It’s time for an attitude change for men. Collectively they need to have a think about this issue themselves, and when making these kind of decisions, ask the question, ‘Is there a structure that can remind me of those implicit biases?’
“We are in the roles that can affect change,” Dr Pervan says.
Ultimately, though, we also need to push for more transparency in the workplace.
“Transparency is an important issue and would certainly help in the negotiation process if you had an idea of what your colleagues were earning for the same role, and why,” Dr Pervan says.
“That’s why you don’t see as much of a gender pay gap in the public sector… the private sector might say that inhibits them, or can’t be fixed, but I think if we’re going to achieve any sort of equality around the wage situation, we do need more of a considered approach to wage situations.”
This is an approach Maz Compton, the former co-host of 2DayFM’s breakfast radio show Dan & Maz, luckily took when she and Dan Debuf organised their salaries.
“We we negotiated our contracts together. When Dan and I committed to becoming a duo, we had a very transparent conversation and agreed that we would receive the same rate,” Compton tells Mamamia.
“I’m so grateful I had a co-host who was such a feminist, who said it was a partnership and we were on equal footing from the very beginning.”
While the 37-year-old considers herself “grateful” to have never experienced pay inequality, she says that’s how all women should be treated, and that there are many in the entertainment industry who have a very different story to hers.
“There is a massive gender pay gap, and it’s something we’re still fighting for,” Compton says. “It should be on our male feminists counterparts, to invite us into that room, to open that door and say, ‘I can’t do my job without this intelligent, savvy, amazing woman’. The more men did that, the more teams would last for longer. There’d be more stability if those doors were opened for women.”
As for Wilkinson’s vacant spot, Compton hopes the baton is passed over to the next generation of broadcasting.
“I really hope that Channel Nine look at this as an amazing opportunity to put someone in there who’s the next Lisa Wilkinson. To take broadcast to the next level in Australia, and open more doors for talented women.”
For more from Michelle Andrews, follow her on Facebook.