Gender pay gap: What would you do?

by Adam Batstone

The BBC took a lot of criticism this week for paying its best known staff salaries far in excess of those earned by most public servants – including the Prime Minister.

Much of the criticism was entirely deserved, not least because the BBC revealed a poor record of addressing the gap in pay between its male and female star performers.

But for those lining up to duff up the BBC, how many could be entirely confident that their own houses were in order? Several senior BBC managers pointed out – while under scrutiny from some of those whose own pay packets were in the spotlight – that while the situation was imperfect, the BBC had done more than many others to address the problem.

Putting a price on the value of a presenter is notoriously difficult, there are so many considerations not many of which can be neatly measured by an annual appraisal or KPIs.

But while it may be hard to identify what is right – it’s quite easy to see what’s wrong. It just doesn’t smell right that the BBC’s top paid woman gets almost £2m less than Chris Evans and the top seven earners are all men.

Other media organisations are equally guilty of iniquitous salary policies. How many newspaper editors can honestly hold their hands up to say they have never paid top dollar for a celebrity columnist, many in the full knowledge that the copy will be written by someone else entirely.

Because of the BBC salary list, the gender pay gap issue is right back on the public agenda – and promises to remain there for as long as there is perceived to be a problem. One high profile BBC presenter whose name wasn’t on the list is Jane Garvey of Woman’s Hour. She tweeted that the programme had been championing the cause of equal pay since it was launched in 1946. Anyone preparing for a Woman’s Hour interview would do well to ensure they have something sensible to say on the subject.

So what is the best advice to senior executives who face questions of the kind that the BBC Director General Tony Hall had to deal with on gender pay differentials? Here are some basic reminders:

  • Know your facts: Don’t be caught out not knowing how your own organisation is doing on gender pay gap. Even if the figures aren’t publicly available, it’s possible a whistle blower may have leaked salary records.
  • If you have a company policy on addressing pay gap issues make sure it’s being implemented. Warm words butter no parsnips and if you are not delivering on that pledge, what else are you failing to do?
  • Make sure you know the law. Can your HR team assure you that all your pay rules are fully compliant with employment law?
  • How are you performing in relation to the rest of your sector? Have you got a positive story on leading the way to gender pay equality?
  • Equal pay legislation is a popular focus for Private Members’ Bills so make sure your public affairs advisors are keeping you abreast of what is being said by law-makers and whether you have a chance to put your case.

The BBC has made a very public declaration that it intends to resolve the most egregious examples of gender pay inequality by 2020. That is laying down a challenge to other employers throughout the country to do the same.

There is positive reputation benefit to be garnered by addressing this issue. If you make it a priority you will attract better quality female talent and have a much more pleasant experience if you’re ever interviewed by Woman’s Hour.