There but for the Gracie of God…

 

About 6 months ago, I wrote this post about BBC pay and the gender pay gap. Rather naively, I stated in that post “I can’t believe a major national organisation with extensive HR and legal resources would expose itself to such a reputational and financial risk” by breaching equal pay legislation. It appears I was wrong.

As has been widely reported, the BBC’s China Editor, Carrie Gracie, resigned at the weekend, citing the corporation’s failure to pay her at the same level as male colleagues doing the same job in different parts of the world. Reading her public post explaining her reasons for resignation, it appears that she does have the potential for a successful claim.

Equal Pay is either pretty straightforward – men and women doing the same job must be paid the same* – or complex – men and women doing jobs of equivalent value must be paid the same (this is complex because working out the “equivalent value” can be difficult and time-consuming to establish).

Ms Gracie’s case however seems to fall into the former category. As I understand it, there are a group of 4 senior journalists within the BBC who undertake editor roles for distinct regions of the world (Europe, North America, China, Middle East).  So essentially there are 4 people who are doing the ‘same’ job – two of whom are men and two women.

Can the BBC justify a salary difference? It could, if it was able to show that the difference was due to

a)       Work Performance

b)      Geography

c)       Market forces

d)      Special duties or responsibilities

e)      Greater skill and experience

Obviously, I can’t comment in any detail on most of those areas. But given the individuals in the 4 editor roles are long serving experienced BBC journalists, it would seem that reasons a), c) and e) are unlikely.  Reason d) would seem to apply equally to all 4 – all of them undertake other BBC jobs (presenting on TV or radio etc), which leaves us with simply geography as the reason.

On that basis, I could probably argue a case that the Middle East editor should be paid higher (due to the need to visit war zones/higher degree of personal risk etc) and it might be justifiable to pay slightly differently if the cost of living were significantly different between countries/regions.  But otherwise I’m struggling to see how the BBC will justify a difference in salary.

We’ll see how Ms Gracie’s claim does over time. But the message for my clients and other readers is that you should be paying men and women the same* for doing the same job and differences can only be justified for one of the reasons highlighted. A claim may not be as publicly damaging to your organisation but it has the potential to be very expensive.

(*To be clear, the same can mean within the same pay scale/band, not necessarily an identical salary)

 

 

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.

You need heels if you wanna make deals (apparently)

Top accountancy firm PwC hit the headlines yesterday when a temporary receptionist was sent home for not wearing high heels. While it may not appear related, the situation has many parallels with the famous case of whether a Christian can wear a cross in work – something which went all the way to the European Court to decide.

So can an employer have a dress code? And can it include a requirement to wear high heels?

The answer to the first question is yes – but you need to have a reason why you want one.

If the reason is health and safety, things are relatively simple. If employees must wear hi-vis jackets, safety shoes or tie long hair back to avoid it being caught in machinery, then you are fine with enforcing rules – and indeed the vast majority of employees would understand and accept this.

Equally, if it is a condition of employment to wear a uniform, you’re also on safe ground. Lots of people wear uniforms to identify themselves either to customers or to show the company they are representing. While it’s perfectly possible to be a courier, security guard or airline pilot without wearing a uniform, it’s a requirement of most employers in those sectors that their staff do so.

Where things can become a bit more nebulous is when you want to enforce a dress standard to promote a “corporate image”. You need to ensure that any dress code is non-discriminatory (particularly on gender and religious grounds) and proportionate to what you are trying to achieve. So if you want to say that employees must wear smart business dress this is fine (and you can define this as a suit and tie for men, and a business suit for women). But the reason for this needs to be clear – for example because it would be expected by business contacts, customers etc. What you need to consider is the culture and the expectations of your company and the industry it operates in.  Does it really affect the performance of your call centre if staff wear jeans, t-shirts and trainers?

So the answer to question 2 – can a dress code require a female employee to wear high heels? – is a “no” on sex discrimination grounds and a “why would it be necessary?” on the grounds of being reasonable.

Like many things related to HR, the key question for business owners is whether the dress code rules actually serve a business purpose or are they just petty restrictions?

Time to ditch the Equal Opps questionnaire?

Some months ago I was working with a client on a recruitment project, and they provided me a copy of their “Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form”. It was certainly a comprehensive document, covering as it did around 20 different definitions of ethnic origin, a dozen major world religions, an option to declare if your birth gender was different to your current gender and five options for sexual orientation. In line with good practice the form carried a declaration that it was not part of the selection process and would be detached from the individual’s application; it was anonymous and every question had a “prefer not to say” option.

This sort of form is pretty common throughout HR departments – certainly in the UK – and it is, in my experience, genuinely used for the stated purpose, i.e. simply monitoring applications to ensure that the organisation is attracting candidates from all sections of the community. But something about it left me feeling uneasy and wondering why we are really doing this. While I have had conversations in the past about why so few women are applying for a particular role or that the company seems to have an issue attracting candidates from a minority ethnic group despite being based in an area which has a high population, I can honestly say that I’ve never had a discussion about “this vacancy seems to be attracting a large number of transgender candidates – I wonder why that is?” or “We’re not getting many Sikh applicants, do you think we’ve got a problem?”

Now that could be that as a profession we’re just not as aware of discrimination when it doesn’t involve race or sex. But it could also point to the fact that we are operating simply as data collectors in order to tick a box (and indeed in the traditional risk-averse HR way, storing the information purely as insurance against a discrimination claim: “Us – discriminatory? We’ve had 17 lesbians apply in the last 6 months”)

But my main sense of unease is the intrusive nature of the questions. We talk a lot about candidate experience and trust in employment relationships. Yet for many individuals, one of their first contacts with a potential employer is to be asked a lot of extremely personal questions – and then to believe that someone they have never met will keep their stated promise that “this information doesn’t form part of the selection process”.

Of course, without the information, organisations won’t necessarily know if we do have a problem in recruitment. But is there a better way to do it? One that better balances the company’s requirements without the need to pry into personal information that we admit is of no relevance to the role we’re recruiting for. I don’t have an answer – do you?

Fine Words Butter No Parsnips

Social media went crazy over “Harry Potter girl” (her words not mine) Emma Watson and her speech to the United Nations last week about Gender Inequality. Surprisingly for a speech promoting feminism, the majority of negative comments (aside from the hoax “nude photos” campaign) were from other female commentators critical she had watered down the message to make it palatable to men (perhaps the trolls who gave other women such as Carolyn Criado-Perez such grief thought Hermione might turn them into actual trolls).

One area which was suspiciously quiet about the speech however was HR. As a profession we can’t change the world, but we do have a significant influence over the world of work. And within the speech there were a lot of challenges that we should be happy to pick up.

So what can HR do? Here are just a few thoughts:

  1. Looking at your organisation’s workforce – are there certain jobs/areas that are heavily male or female dominated? And is there a wage/salary discrepancy between the two? If so, is there anything you can or should do to address them?
  2. What is your attitude to issues like shared parental leave or flexible working? Is it a grudging acceptance that “it’s the law so we’d better do it”, or do you positively promote it as being good for both employer and employee?
  3. What is the management style of your organisation? If it’s based on aggressive “command and control” with an emphasis on presenteeism and competition rather than collaboration and team work, then what are you doing to challenge and change it?
  4. Address mental health issues in the workplace. This can be as simple as including mental health in absence management briefings and training. And if you don’t feel fully clued up on mental health, then make it one of your own personal development targets
  5. Challenge inappropriate behaviours. While the nude calendar on the office wall has been generally consigned to history, there are still many workplaces where “banter” is used to exclude, belittle or isolate those who are “different”.

And do you know what? As I typed that list, I realised that all these are things I’d expect a competent and qualified HR professional to be doing as a matter of course in the organisation that they worked in. So why aren’t we all doing it already?