A few years ago, I found myself on a press junket with then-TV3 presenter Sinead Desmond. Where most of us journalists were happy to relax, drink in the local sights at leisure and soak up the local wineries even more enthusiastically, Desmond was a professional powerhouse.
While we nursed hangovers or faffed about on Facebook, Desmond was awake hours before anyone to get a morning run out of the way. She socialised sensibly in the evenings, keeping one eye on the job at hand at all times. She worked harder than anyone on the trip, getting her on-camera takes just right.
On her downtime, she was informed and engaging company; sharper than most of us, at any rate. The broadcaster is lucky to have her, I thought. No doubt TV3 thought so too, which is why their decision to pay her less than her Ireland AM co-presenter, and then not hold on to her when she decided to resign, is a total mystery.
This week, fresh focus was shed on Desmond’s equal pay case, brought against Virgin Media Television. A judge gave the broadcaster formerly known as TV3 permission to challenge a Workplace Relations Commission decision in her equal pay case. Desmond, you’ll recall, resigned in 2017 and filed a claim for constructive dismissal following the revelation that she was paid less than her co-anchor Mark Cagney.
For their part, Virgin Media Television claimed that Cagney, arguably a more experienced and better-known broadcaster, was not an “appropriate comparator”. Not only did Virgin Media Television cite Cagney’s “star power”, they also noted that he was a contractor and not a member of staff, like Desmond.
Star power and national profile determined salary in this case, not gender. While Cagney left the station in July 2019, Desmond has been absent from Irish screens since demanding pay parity for doing the very same job as her colleague. And doing it well too.
Virgin Media’s decision to double down and challenge Desmond’s case isn’t likely to inspire confidence in any woman hoping to ask for a pay rise, or even asking for pay parity with colleagues. There are clearly reasons for Virgin Media Television’s decision to challenge Desmond’s case that the rest of us are not privy to, but the optics aren’t great in an instance like this.
Seek pay equality with your colleagues (gender, as we’ve said, isn’t coming into it) and forget just being knocked back on the request: see what happens to the career that you’ve worked incredibly hard to build. I should think a number of women would take a look at a case like this and decide to keep the peace and not bother looking for pay parity with their colleagues. Except this is not really putting one’s head above the parapet, is it?
Asking for the same pay as the colleagues that do the exact same job as you shouldn’t be seen as disruptive or troublesome. And yet this is seen as a situation still couched in gender. Men have no problem whatsoever asking for pay raises. Research undertaken by the Harvard Business Review in 2018 found that women ask for a raise just as often as men, but men are more likely to be successful. Women who asked, obtained a raise 15pc of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20pc of the time. Sounds like a modest difference, yet is likely to add up over a lifetime.
Challenging the status quo and perceived inequality takes bravery and, happily, it has worked out in some instances. Over at the BBC, broadcasters like Huw Edwards and Jeremy Vine took sizeable pay cuts after learning their female colleagues earned less than them. The late actor Chadwick Boseman took a pay cut on a film to increase the salary of his co-star Sienna Miller.
These are lovely gestures, but the onus shouldn’t be on men to do this. It’s on their bosses to take a step back, look at the job that’s being done on a day-to-day basis and write the appropriate pay cheque. In the meantime, I hope Desmond eventually returns to our screens.
No one should feel forced to halt a career they built slowly and steadily just because they’ve asked their boss for pay equality; something many people would consider right and fair.
Lots to like about Twitter in 2020
You can tell an awful lot about what kind of crazy year we have had as a nation by looking at our Twitter activity. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that #Covid19 and #Coronavirus were the two most used hashtags on the social media platform this year.
Elsewhere, #ActsofKindness, kickstarted by TV executive/author Helen O’Rahilly, was another widely used hashtag, as was #SelfIsolationHelp. Actor Paul Mescal lays claim to tweeting the most liked Tweet of 2020, who posted a succinct “I’m Irish” after certain media outlets described him as British after his Emmy nomination.
The moment clearly hit a nerve with Irish people who are fed up with the UK press ‘claiming’ homegrown talent, as well as Mescal’s short, sharp way to diffuse the mistruth. As if Twitter’s ability to propel pressing social matters into mass focus was ever in doubt, the platform also propelled the #BlackLivesMatter movement into the mainstream conversation, while #Golfgate, #Brexit and even #ConnellsChain were also hot topics.
Looking back on the year’s most used hashtags and most popular music/film handles, it shows just how much we needed each other and to have communal conversation.
Twitter gets a lot of flak for being toxic, but looking back on our shared activity on the site proves that, at least this year, we needed it more than ever.
It's never tattoo late for Madonna
Cue the ‘inked for the very first time’ headlines as 62-year-old Madonna gets her first ever tattoo — news that has made worldwide headlines.
The world seems particularly obsessed with Madonna’s efforts to hold back the tide of ageing, but if they’re waiting on this sixty-something to pull out the Radio Times and team it with slippers and cocoa, they’ll be left wanting.
At an age when many others are eyeing retirement, Madonna is still checking off firsts.
You have to doff your hat to that at the very least.