Lord Sugar should be fired as a commentator on equal pay

‘The Apprentice’ star says the BBC’s female stars would get paid like their male equivalents if they demanded more

Lord Sugar with ‘Apprentice’ co-stars Claude Littner (right) and Karren Brady
Lord Sugar with ‘Apprentice’ co-stars Claude Littner (right) and Karren Brady

Calling all women! Do you want equal pay with male workers doing exactly the same job as you? Well for goodness sake, stop being so shy and retiring about it, would you? Just you sashay into your boss’s office and tell him you want more money! Even better, get your agent to do it for you.

What, you want to know what to do if he doesn’t cough up? That’s the simplest part! Tell him he’s fired!

So says Lord Sugar. And, as one of Britain’s “most famously demanding bosses”, as the BBC will remind us again and again while the latest season of The Apprentice is screening, he should know.

Actually, I’m paraphrasing just a bit. The grumpy one was actually opining on the more specific subject of equal pay at the corporation that screens his show.

You may remember that the Beeb got into a spot of bother a while back when it had to publish the pay of its top stars (he thinks that was off despite the fact that they are paid with public money), and women were conspicuous by their absence from the list of top earners.

His solution to the corporation’s gender pay gap? It’s basically how I characterised it at the outset: “It can be narrowed by the lady herself saying, ‘No, I want more money’. Right, you want me to do that, I want more money’.

“Her agent should come along and say, ‘Hold on, I know how much Charlie’s being paid and I want more for my lady to do it.’

“If the BBC, or ITV, or Channel 4, or Channel 5 say ‘nah, not really’, then, tough. She’ll have to decide what she wants to be paid.”

In other words, if women just had the, I don’t really want to say “balls” at this point but you get my drift, to demand more, or to get their agents to demand more, then they’d get more.

It’s really hard to know where to begin when confronted with an argument that screams “wrong” on quite as many levels as that one. But I’ll have a go.

The problem of unequal pay was not created by female workers not being demanding enough. It was created by misogynist bosses who are, even now, being allowed to get away with it. The people who, as Lord Sugar should know, control the purse strings

You, or your agent if you’re lucky enough to have one, can ask for more all you like, but if they decide to say no then you’re stuck. Tough on you, as Lord Sugar says, demonstrating that the 1950s attitudes that Harry Enfield once mocked with the black and white sketch that started “Women: Know Your Limits” are still very much alive today.

If BBC stars, with their high-powered agents – paid a percentage of their clients’ salaries to bargain forcefully with the aim of securing the best possible deals for them – can’t secure equal treatment, what chance does anyone else have?

What hope is there for ordinary women with things like mortgage and car repayments to make, who might understandably be reluctant to go all Lord Sugar on their boss by demanding what ought to be theirs as of right.

As a commentator on the subject of equal pay, it’s high time that Lord Sugar was fired. Unfortunately, he is far from being alone.

It seems slightly surreal that we are still having to hold this debate in 2017. But we are, because there remains a substantial number of people like him out there.

It’s going to take some bosses with similarly antediluvian attitudes getting fired alongside him to bring a curtain down on it. Perhaps, in the public interest, we should start with those in charge of controlling the public money that funds the BBC?

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