Tackling gender pay at the BBC

Who could forget the scandal that broke when it came to light that a certain red-headed radio DJ was earning almost five times as much as his highest-paid female colleague?

It was back in July 2017 when the BBC published its first publicly-available annual report, detailing its highest-paid on-air personalities.

It revealed that two-thirds of those earning upwards of £150,000 and all of the top seven earners at the organisation were men, catalysing a series of events that put the BBC under what has surely been the most scrutiny any organisation has faced to date around its gender pay gap and equal pay compliance.

Last year saw BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie stand down, citing a ‘secretive and illegal pay culture’; the EHRC writing to the BBC calling for action; and six of the broadcaster’s leading male presenters agreeing to take pay cuts. BBC bosses were called to face questions from a Department of Culture, Media and Sport committee into the alleged discrimination.

But HR hasn’t shied away from the challenge. “The very first step was announced by Tony Hall [the BBC’s director-general] on the day the list of high earners was published – a clear target of closing the BBC’s gender pay gap by the end of 2020,” group HRD for the BBC Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth tells HR magazine.

It’s an ambitious target and one few companies have been bold enough to make. “It is ambitious… but we are determined to lead the way,” comments Hughes-D’Aeth. “This is an ongoing sustainable goal. But for large organisations fluctuations and workforce changes will mean it is unlikely a zero gender pay gap can be held over time, so our commitment includes maintaining a gender pay gap of +/- 3%.”

This ambition is being realised through the introduction of two key structural changes: new pay principles, and the Career Path Framework. The latter, Hughes-D’Aeth explains, has involved reducing the number of job titles from more than 5,000 to around 600, and developing market-informed pay ranges for each of these jobs. “It means all employees know where they sit within the organisation, how they can progress their career, and what skills and experience is needed,” she says, adding that it “ensures any decisions around pay are made across the organisation with the same level of insight, fairness, clarity and transparency.”

Terms and conditions have also been updated, meaning one contract for all, six broad career bands instead of 16 grades, and pay ranges for all jobs, which Hughes-D’Aeth says “is the biggest change for the way the BBC operates in a generation”.

This all ran alongside three key pieces of work used to flush out any discrimination issues: the BBC’s first gender pay gap report, an equal pay audit to investigate allegations of unequal pay, and the On-Air Review, conducted by PwC into on-air pay decisions.

While the On-Air Review found no gender bias in pay decisions, it did, Hughes-D’Aeth admits, “identify that a lack of a clear pay framework meant too many decisions about pay were being made at a local level, and there was a lack of clarity and transparency about pay for on-air roles”.

Hughes-D’Aeth is keen to point out that the “cultural change has been every bit as important as the structural change”. This has included changes to flexible working, initiatives to help women progress into senior leadership roles, mixed gender shortlists and more support for women returning from career breaks.

With the BBC’s second-year gender pay gap already published, it’s clear these steps are starting to pay off. The median pay gap has fallen from 9.3% to 7.6% in a single year. But HR isn’t taking its foot off the pedal. “We’re starting to implement the changes agreed as part of the review of terms and conditions, and we’re close to completing the consultation on the On-Air Review,” says Hughes-D’Aeth.

“We’ve also commissioned two reviews to make sure the BBC is at the forefront of transparency. There’s plenty more to do and we will not be complacent in ensuring we continue to make real change.”

Further reading

Bridging the gender pay gap: Where now?