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The BBC, equal pay and the effectiveness of the requirement to publish gender pay information

There is “no evidence” of gender bias in pay decisions, merely some “anomalies that need addressing”. So says BBC Director General, Tony Hall, of the equal pay issues which have dogged the organisation over recent months.

Let’s be clear:

Firstly “anomalies” that mean women are paid less than men are illegal.

Secondly, the report reveals an overall gender pay gap of 6.8%.

And thirdly, Mr Hall’s over confident statements yesterday shows little understanding of the facts of the matter and of the strength of feeling amongst women employees at the BBC.

Mr Hall’s, perhaps unwise, pronouncements were made in response to a long awaited analysis of the pay of 824 on air stars. The Report drafted by accountancy firm PwC states, there is "no evidence" of gender bias; but notes that there are "anomalies" which could create the impression of unfairness on the basis of sex. The BBC has set out a five-point plan for resolving the issue, including new criteria for pay decisions and greater transparency.

The report is in stark contrast to the experience of many women working at the BBC, including Carrie Gracie (the ex-China Editor) who have raised concern regarding huge pay disparities with male counterparts.

Campaign Group BBC Women have criticised the report and have provided 14 examples of women who have been engaged in battles with management for equal pay. The examples are glaring and require to be addressed. Whether or not the report says there is “no evidence” of unequal pay, this is in stark contrast to the experience of women working at the BBC.

In particular, the decision to only review “on air” talent, meant that many high earners did not feature on the list. The review also excluded many lower earners (mainly women) who carry out production, research or a myriad of other functions that ensure our national broadcaster runs smoothly.

Women’s Hour Presenter, Jane Garvey, stated: “At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s really hard to not reach the conclusion that they commissioned the report they wanted and it’s provided the result that they wanted.”

This is potentially a valid point and one that will become ever increasingly relevant as more and more organisations require to submit their gender pay gap data to the Government.

Unfortunately, the guidance provided to employers conducting gender pay audits is fairly broad. There is, therefore, a real risk that audits may be manipulated by employers to produce more favourable results (although not a gender pay audit this is exactly what BBC Women are arguing happened here).  For example, in relation to reward packages. Further, as it is only employees who are intended to be included within equal pay audits, companies may elect not to include directors, owners or partners when conducting their audits.  Thus, again, not presenting a true representation.

Crucially there is no enforcement mechanism for this duty. There are no sanctions if organisations do not meet the duty, or only partly meet the duty (for example, those who publish reports which are more general, lack detail or specific measures of progress on equality outcomes, or present only parts of the evidence required to enable employees to make an informed assessment of their work).  

To have effect the regulations on the publishing of gender pay gap information have to be enforced in a meaningful way, to have any chance of closing the gender pay gap. Without enforcement the legislation is fairly toothless as the BBC have, arguably, demonstrated this week.

Unless there is a consequence of failing to provide adequate information, it is very easy for organisations to provide vague data, lacking in the detail required, to really consider the true extent of the gender pay gap.

Blog by Jillian Merchant, Employment Lawyer

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