Time to play fair on pay

Tim Henman's comments on the lower prize money for female tennis players highlights a problem that goes beyond sport, says Hettie Judah
Click to follow
HENMANIA MAY take on a new meaning as Tim's hordes of devoted female fans hear their hero's thoughts on his female tennis-playing colleagues' right to equal pay. Yesterday, Henman was quoted referring to Hingis and co as "greedy" for demanding equal prize money to the men. The women's top prize currently trails by pounds 45,000. And why not, says Henman: they only play three sets to the men's five. With the spirit of fair play that has always characterised British sport, he pointed out that the winner of last year's Ladies' trophy actually walked away with more than any of the men, because she also won the doubles. He could understand the women grumbling about the pittance they were paid in regular tournaments, but as for the Grand Slams? That was respectable prize money by any yardstick.

It will probably do Henman a bit of good to get the fuzzy end of the lollypop for a change. He has been the golden boy for too long, and in all truth his comments were probably made with honest, if naive, intentions. Of course it makes sense; the women play shorter games, so they earn less prize money. Except, of course, that the prize money was never linked to the length of the games in the first place. Before Henman brought the issue up again, the official explanation for the discrepancy was that the women's game brought in fewer viewers - less interest meant less prize money. Now that the women's game brings in more viewers than the men, as well as garnering considerably more press attention, this maxim has been brushed under the Astroturf.

Henman's explanation for the financial lopsidedness will no doubt be adopted as the "original" reason behind the anomaly, and if it is, this will certainly not be the first time explanations have been shifted to maintain a misogynistic status quo. "You find that people always move the goalposts," explains Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between the sexes. "The reason that they pay women less is because they always have, and the reason that they want to continue doing so is because it costs them more to do otherwise. In all sectors, when one argument runs out they come out with another one."

In truth, there are few sectors left where women and men are paid different amounts for the same jobs. But showbusiness is one area where women often find they are receiving lower pay. A survey by the actors' union Equity recently found that middle-ranking female actors received, on average, 34 per cent less for lead roles than men. The discrepancy went right across the profession. Caroline Quentin and Lesley Ash threatened to walk out of Men Behaving Badly when they found they were being paid pounds 25,000 less per series than their co-stars Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey. Even Sue MacGregor, the no-nonsense Radio 4 presenter, was horrified to discover last year that she was being paid less than her male colleagues on the Today programme.

Ms Stephenson says one reason for such discrepancies is the rather British habit of not discussing pay with one's colleagues, which means female employees accept what they are given, never realising they are being paid less than the men.

Whilst such clear-cut cases of inequality are rare, the fact is that the pay for jobs more commonly done by women is still considerably lower than those dominated by men, largely because jobs done by women are simply less highly valued. Nurses are paid less than police officers, supermarket shelf stackers are paid less than warehouse shelf stackers, canteen cooks are paid less than road sweepers. Such cases have been coming to the courts, but they are difficult to assess, requiring an evaluation of the degree of responsibility each job requires, as well as the levels of skills and training. Last week a group of headteachers from primary schools, the majority of whom are women, succeeded in getting their pay raised by pounds 7,000 to the level of secondary school headteachers, the majority of whom are men.

If the women of centre court wish to draw deuce with the boys, it seems that the automatic answer is to increase their matches to five sets. Until then, perhaps their male colleagues would like to count newspaper cuttings to work out exactly where their coverage has gone.