What are the lessons from the BBC pay gap storm?

A PwC review has found "no gender bias" at the national broadcaster, which is now launching a five-point plan to "help create a fairer and more equal BBC."

Broadcast media with female hand and male spokesperson
The conversation at the UK’s public service broadcaster about pay gaps among its on-air talent continues after a new report prepared by business advisory firm PwC for the BBC found no gender bias on pay decisions. PwC’s report acknowledges the BBC’s approach “is far from perfect.” However, it concludes there is “no evidence of gender bias in decision making.”

Timeline of the BBC's pay gap reporting

The BBC has been under fire on gender pay since revealing the salaries of its highest earners in July. Of its 96 highest earners, a third were women. The highest-salaried woman, Claudia Winkleman, earns just a fifth of the highest salary paid, which was awarded to Chris Evans.In October, the BBC also reported its gender pay gap for the first time under new legislation for large employers. This stood at 9.3% in favour of men, explained by the BBC as due to the higher number of men in senior jobs – a line taken by many companies reporting similar or larger gender pay gaps before this April's deadline for annual publication of data.Last month, Carrie Gracie quit as the BBC’s China editor over equal pay, while this week, women putting forward written evidence to the parliamentary committee told MPs they face “veiled threats” while trying to raise the subject. 

PwC’s key findings: salary range publication key to clarity

Explaining its assessment, PwC’s report said: “In our view, too much weight has been placed on the prominence and profile of certain individuals (both male and female, but mostly male), which has resulted in instances of very high pay.“The BBC has started to reduce pay for some individuals in these circumstances,” it added referring to the news last week the some of the highest-paid male presenters, including Today programme anchor, John Humphrys, and Radio 2 afternoon show presenter, Jeremy Vine, announced they were taking pay cuts. PwC’s analysis also said the “absence of pay ranges has led to a lack of clarity and openness” about the basis of pay decisions. This has created “a sense of unfairness because individuals are not aware of where they are paid in a range."

‘Real issues to tackle at the BBC’

Responding to PwC’s review, the BBC's Director-General, Tony Hall, said: “Today’s report does not find evidence of gender bias in decision-making, but it shows that we have real and important issues to tackle, particularly in some areas of news and current affairs.“We’re addressing unfairness in individuals’ pay and want to close the gender pay gap and have women in half of our on-air roles by 2020,” he continued.“We are clear we’re going to tackle this and change for the better, and I hope other organisations take the same approach. The BBC can and must lead the way. I am determined that we will.”
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‘Lack of transparency and oversight on pay’

Before the PwC report was published, the BBC's news website reported BBC Women – a group representing female BBC journalists and producers – said it had "no confidence" in the review.Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, also rebuked the BBC’s PwC review of on-air pay for “not reflecting the reality” of NUJ members currently making equal pay complaints at the BBC.“Its claim that there is no evidence of gender bias in pay decision-making flies in the face of reality our members say they are experiencing,” said Ms Stanistreet. “Unless the BBC stops denying there is a problem, our members will not be convinced it intends to fix it."The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is representing around 125 members at the broadcaster in a collective grievance after complaints of alleged discriminatory practices – including unlawful pay disparities on grounds of race, discrimination against women returning to work after maternity leave, part-time workers and/or those who request flexible working.“This report acknowledges that there has been a serious lack of oversight when it comes to pay of on-air talent at the BBC, with unchecked managerial discretion that the NUJ believes has been a significant factor in allowing a discriminatory pay culture to flourish," said Ms Stanistreet. "Having a transparent structure with clear job rates is vital to ensure that unequal pay is eradicated at our public service broadcaster.“Right now, however, rebuilding trust among women who feel rightly angered and betrayed by their treatment is the BBC’s key challenge," she concluded.

BBC case highlights importance of the issue for all employers

Employment law consultant, Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson, at the ELAS Group, comments that the recent publicity highlights the importance for all employers to be alert to the issues."Of particular concern is the recent article suggesting that female employees at the BBC have faced threats whilst simply trying to raise the issue of equal pay, which it is their legal right to do,” he explains.“As an employer, if you are approached by a female employee raising an issue of equal pay, then it's important to give this concern your full attention."All employees have a right to be paid the same as a member of the opposite sex for doing the same work. If they aren't then they will have a valid legal claim which could be particularly costly, and which could result in a public judgment showing that you are in the wrong."

Taking action on fair pay 

"However, this is a wider issue, particularly for larger employers, who are now obliged to publish full salary details publicly," continued Mr Demeza-Wilkinson. "As can be seen from the severe backlash the BBC has received, any pay discrepancies can have a significant detrimental effect on the reputation of your business.“Whilst the BBC are now making efforts to remedy the situation, largely through enforced pay cuts for male employees, the damage has already been done. There is one simple way to resolve this if you are an employer – by making sure that there is not an issue in the first place."It is advisable to conduct regular reviews of salaries and, if you find that there is a discrepancy between a male and female employee who do the same (or similar) job, can you justify it? If not, then something needs to be done about it."
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Read more about the future of the UK business in the Winter issue of our magazine
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