Claire Heuchan, The Independent
Samira Ahmed has won her sex discrimination claim against the BBC. As well as being a victory for Ms Ahmed, who will now receive almost £700,000 in back pay, this ruling sets a precedent for future equal-pay tribunals.
Ahmed has presented Newswatch since 2012, and in that time become one of the BBC’s most visible faces. However, the salary she was paid in no way reflected her value to the organisation.
In October last year, Ahmed claimed she faced a 600 per cent pay gap in relation to Jeremy Vine — a white, male colleague who performed equivalent duties as presenter of Points of View. And the judgement agreed with her, stating that “…the difference in pay in this case is striking. Jeremy Vine was paid more than six times what the claimant was paid for doing the same work as her.”
During the tribunal, Ahmed gave the following statement: “I love my job on Newswatch despite it being difficult and challenging. I know that it is an important part of demonstrating the BBC service to all its audiences and the licence-fee payers. I have a sense of pride working for a public service broadcaster which seeks to represent the diversity of Britain and its licence fee payers.
“On the back of my BBC ID card are written the BBC values, which include ‘we respect each other and celebrate our diversity’ and ‘we take pride in delivering quality and value for money’. I just ask why the BBC thinks I am worth only a sixth of the value of the work of a man for doing a very similar job.”
Perhaps some people will wonder how it is possible that the BBC — which has been accused of left-wing bias more than once — could discriminate against an employee to this extent. But, for many women and people of colour — in particular women of colour — the disparity in pay Ahmed cited will come as no surprise.
As of 2019, the gender pay gap between British employees sat at 17.3 per cent. While the gender pay gap has long been a focus of the feminist movement, and the issue is increasingly acknowledged by corporations, the same attention is rarely given to the UK’s race pay gap.
According to research from the Bank of England, people of colour are paid an average of 10 per cent less than their white colleagues. And the Office for National Statistics place the median hourly pay gap between people of colour and white people at 21.7 per cent in London — where Broadcasting House is based.
Samira Ahmed’s case is not an isolated incident. Across Britain, women of colour face a double penalty in the workplace. The gender pay gap and the race pay gap both slice into our salaries. Yet, despite the widespread nature of this problem, there is very little research into the overlap between how racism and sexism both affect the income of minority women.
Much of the data on how discrimination affects income treats it as a false binary: it’s either gender or race. In reality, both play a part in determining the extent to which women of colour are systematically undervalued by employers.
There is no way to neatly divide what’s racism and what’s sexism into two separate piles when the two are interlocking. Back in 1989, a legal scholar by the name of Kimberlé Crenshaw came up with a term to describe how multiple forms of inequality can overlap: intersectionality. And while intersectionality has become something of a buzzword, found everywhere from tote bags to Twitter bios, much of its meaning has been left behind.
This is a shame, because looking through the lens of intersectionality shows us how racism and sexism both shaped the BBC’s discrimination against Samira Ahmed — a fact that’s been missing from a lot of public discussion about this case.
The ruling in favour of Samira Ahmed is rightly being held up as a landmark victory against sexist double standards behind the gender pay gap. But the intersection between the gender and race pay gaps — where Ms Ahmed was positioned by the BBC — has received very little scrutiny from the mainstream media.
As a woman of colour, Ahmed faced discrimination on more than one front. If anything is going to change for the better, both the legal system and the British media must take an intersectional approach. If we can’t identify how racism and sexism overlap, then we have no hope of challenging either. And women of colour will continue to pay the price.
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