BBC Pay – what does it really tell us?

“A little learning is a dangerous thing” said poet Alexander Pope. A little bit of data can be dangerous, as today’s release of the BBC’s top salary information shows. Making assumptions about gender pay gaps and equal pay in an organisation on figures solely of well-known personalities is always likely to be fraught with problems, although that hasn’t stopped plenty of people offering their viewpoint.

First of all (something HR people should know, but other readers may not). Equal Pay is not the same as a Gender Pay Gap.

Equal Pay is paying the same wage for the same job – or a job of equal value –  to an individual regardless of sex. Not to do so is illegal in the UK. So, paying a male production line worker £300 per week and paying a female one doing exactly the same job £250 per week is not allowed. Where it becomes difficult is trying to judge if two different jobs are of equal value. There is no simple way to do this and trying to compare roles often ends up in long and complex employment tribunal cases.

A gender pay gap, in contrast, is not illegal. It is simply a snapshot of average salaries between men and women. It may for example show that men earn 10% more than women in an organisation – the important thing is to identify why this is the case (more men than women in the organisation overall; more men in senior positions; or a small group of highly paid men skewing the figures are among possible reasons).  Without knowing the cause, it is impossible to address the problem . Companies with more than 250 employees must report their gender pay gap figure (actually 6 different figures) on an annual basis, starting no later than April 2018.

So, do the BBC figures reveal a Gender Pay Gap in the Corporation? We simply don’t know. What we have are the salaries of the 96 most highly paid “names” – TV and Radio presenters, journalists and actors. That’s a drop in the ocean – the BBC has many thousands of employees. The fact that a male Casualty actor earns more than a female journalist tells us nothing in itself.

What about Equal Pay? Actually the data at face value does suggest some potential claims. Why is Strictly judge Darcy Bussell paid less than fellow Strictly judge Bruno Tonolli? Why does Today presenter Nick Robinson earn more than colleague Mishal Husein? But I’m pretty sure that on investigation there will be valid reasons (appearing on other shows, for example), as I can’t believe a major national organisation with extensive HR and legal resources would expose itself to such a reputational and financial risk.

Of course, a lot of this is nothing to do with pay equality, but a chance for some to make political points about the BBC and for others to express incredulity at presenter salaries (usually ones we don’t like – “Nick Knowles gets paid how much?”). Let’s see what transpires when the BBC does actually publish its gender pay figures before jumping to conclusions.

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