The news that the first women in British naval history this week took over command of a warship caught my eye. The story however did not interest me because Lt. Commander Sarah West was a women but because of her salary. And, again, her £65,000 salary did not grab my interest because I felt it was in any way discriminatory, or at least not in the men .v. women pay scales sense.
Why this story grabbed my interest was because of the merge sum of money she is paid for a tremendous amount of responsibility. She is paid £65,000 to manage a crew of 185 and take control of a Type 23 frigate warship. This figure astonished me on a Human Resources level but also on a “most dangerous jobs” level.
Some headteachers are paid more for managing less staff (although arguably a large human resource pool when you include student population), however when you compare it to the salaries afforded to bankers, accountants and other businesses it pales into insignificance. And yet let’s look at her responsibilities. On a day to day basis she has the usual human resource issues to content with but she also hold the responsibility for an arsenal that includes Harpoon and Sea Wolf missiles, various guns that bristle the sides of the vessel, anti submarine devises and associated torpedoes. Added to this she has overall command for the usual navigation and safe passage of the 4,900 tonne, 436 ft long ship. And this is without incident specific duties included. These might range from peacetime humanitarian aid missions, politically fraught incidents and full scale warfare and combat scenarios. If that is not enough responsibilities for a high earner then what is. The fact that she was not on a six figure sum astounded me.
Post script:- I first started writing this piece before the riots kicked off in London. It is interesting to note two things from these events. Some commentators have noted that the riots are a result of lack of jobs and/or those in jobs suffering from poor pay. This feeds in nicely to my thoughts on Lieutenant Commander Sarah West in that we all are tying to establish what we are worth both in terms of salaries, right to a job and our worth beyond monetary and financial means. The second interesting dimension to the riots has been the overwhelming backlash in support of our public workers who have to do so much when it all goes wrong. The police service were the initial targets of the rioting, the spark having come from a police shooting incident, however the tables have turned pretty quickly. The shooting incident itself, and then the degree of violence the police have had to contend with and protect the majority from perhaps calls for a re-assessment of what they are worth. Whilst Boris Johnson has used the violence to call for a rethink on police spending cuts, I would contend it calls for a re-evaluation of what individual officers are worth to us as a whole. Maybe we need to seriously rethink our priorities and rethink what Lt Commander Sarah West, her ship mates and the police officers out there are really worth. Maybe the incidents also need us to rethink what our “preventative” and “capacity building” services like teaching and community educators are also really worth. Or indeed do we need to leave it to the hands of business to create the climate and economic conditions where we are all worth something. No easy answers I am afraid. However, it is clear to me:- at time of plenty, it is easy to inflate what we are worth and at time of difficult it is difficult to defend what we are worth. The real challenge is knowing when that pendulum is going to swing and ensuring we are prepared for the backlash or the pendulum can be stopped cyclical motion. The truth is we are all worth a great deal, no matter where the pendulum is at. The challenge is to create relationship and economic conditions which relfect that in monetary value and the way in which we feel we are ‘paid in kind.’ Maybe an apprecation of what others do would help me to come to terms with Sarah’s £65,000 salary and would avert the crisis points where our feelings of worthlessness spill over. It is certainly food for thought.