An ugly pay gap at the BBC

Last week the BBC was thrust into the “awkward” and “unflattering” position of “reporting on itself”, says the Financial Times. Disclosure of pay, obligatory under its new Royal Charter Agreement, revealed that only a third of its highest-paid staff are women; that the seven highest earners are all men, and that the highest-paid man (Chris Evans on £2.2m) earned around four times more than the best-paid woman (Claudia Winkleman). “For a public corporation that often investigates inequality in business and government, these are ugly headlines.”

In response, more than 40 of the BBC’s most high-profile female stars wrote an open letter to Tony Hall, the BBC director-general, to “politely suggest” that the BBC could do “better”. Hall responded by saying that closing the pay gap, which is on average 10%, had been a “personal priority” and that he had committed the BBC to closing it by 2020. And to be fair, in spite of the furore, the BBC performs better than average. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the average pay gap between men and women in the UK is 18% (in the US, the figure is 17%).

The issue is only going to attract more attention in the months ahead. By April 2018, all companies with more than 250 employees – there are more than 9,000 of them – are being obliged to make their gender pay gap publicly available, says The Observer. Companies are “dragging their feet”. To an extent, their unwillingness is understandable. Equal pay – the legal requirement to pay men and women equally for doing the same job – can be “unhelpfully confused with gender pay, which is the mathematical calculation for what men and women in the same organisation earn on average”. Men are disproportionately represented in senior positions.

It is also true that this reporting requirement allows the government to “disguise its own inaction”. Promoting an Icelandic or Swedish model of shared parental leave would arguably do more to solve the problem. However, this doesn’t mean that a “blast of transparency” won’t help. It’s only when a problem is “described in detail” that those in power are forced to respond.

It’s important to understand why the pay gap, which is one of the highest in Europe despite narrowing from 28% to 18% in the past 20 years, exists, says Rachael Revesz in The Independent. Today’s women are more likely to do well at school and go to university, and they are also much more likely to have a job than their mothers. In 1972, only 53% of women had a job, compared with 92% of men. Now 66% of women have jobs compared with 75% of men.

The game-changer in terms of pay appears to be motherhood and the cost of childcare in this country, which is the highest in the world. Up until the age of 29, the pay gap for full-time employees, at less than 1%, is “almost negligible”. Thereafter it shoots up, and is “much wider” for higher earners than low earners.

So what more can be done to close the gap? Greater transparency is vital, but we also need to get men on board, and individual firms also need to recognise that they need to change their “policies, processes and behaviours”, says Ann Francke in The Daily Telegraph. Women need to do their bit, too. They need to “get better at recognising and celebrating their competence and more confident about shouting about it… Easy to say, hard to do.”