Equal pay – what can we learn from the BBC’s experience?

In 2017, the BBC was obliged to publish all employee salaries due to new legislation that enforced companies to be more transparent. There was outrage due to the discrepancies among salaries of talent, and it highlighted areas of concern that all companies should consider. The BBC also found themselves in a legal battle with Samira Ahmed which went to tribunal over equal pay. This blog post is going to explore what happened and what we can learn from the BBC’s experience when it comes to equal pay.

Equal pay can be described as the legal right for men and women to be paid the same for doing the same or similar jobs, doing work that has been rated as “equivalent” or doing work of “equal value” where jobs may be different but require a similar level of skill.

The legal bit

The 1970 Equal Pay Act is also part of the 2010 Equality Act, which means that all employees are entitled to equal pay, regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time or temporary contracts.

Samira Ahmed Tribunal

Samira Ahmed took the BBC to court to claim she was underpaid for hosting Newswatch compared to Jeremy Vine’s salary for Points of View. He was being paid £3,000 per episode, compared to her £440, which is a 600% difference!

Samira’s argument was that she simply could not understand how pay for her, a woman, could be so much lower than Jeremy Vine, a man, for presenting very similar programmes and doing similar work.

“I just ask why the BBC thinks I am worth only a sixth of the value of the work of a man for doing a very similar job”

The BBC’s counter-argument was that there is a big difference between news programmes like Newswatch and entertainment programmes such as Point of View. They also argued that the presenter is a lesser part of the appeal of news programmes. They said Newswatch required a “skilled, trained journalist”, whereas the profile of the Point of View presenter was “more important than in the news”.

The result of the tribunal? Samira Ahmed won! The judge said her work was like that done by Jeremy Vine and the BBC had failed to prove the pay gap wasn’t because of sex discrimination.

During this time, Jeremy did agree to a pay cut and took £1300 per episode instead, which Samira Ahmed believes was due to her complaint.

BBC Gender Pay Gap Report

After publishing their employee salaries, the BBC received much backlash due to the difference in pay between men and women. The report was made up of just one-third women which is a further issue of under-representation and the highest-earning man earnt more than four times the salary of the highest-earning woman!

Evolve Hr Solutions

So what can we learn from this?

The BBC and broadcasters have long thought it a common assertion that profile, fame or ‘stardust’ justifies the difference in pay rates. Although some circumstances allow employers to offer men and women differing salaries in the same role without being in breach of the Equal Pay Legislation, you must be able to demonstrate valid “material factor” to explain the difference. This can include experience, but it needs to be significant, relevant and genuine.

If you are an employer, you need to be very clear about how salaries have been calculated. It is prudent to carefully inform your staff about how their pay has been set out and tell them how soon they can expect to start earning the same as their higher-paid colleague. You will also need to report on backgrounds, skillsets, abilities and experience to justify any pay differences.

Keep an eye on both sex and race representation across all levels of business. You may want to assess your existing recruitment, inclusion and diversity policy to ensure they are fit for purpose. This helps to level out any under-representation.

Train any line managers on how to handle pay queries, so they are not escalated when challenges arise.

Businesses with less than 250 employees are not required to report on Gender Pay, but adopting the principle of greater transparency around pay can only be a good thing for your company.

Conducting a review of any existing pay bands gradings or benchmarking processes may pinpoint any areas of difference which could help prepare for reporting on Gender Pay differences.

Greater awareness of equal pay will see many organisations have to justify how their people are rewarded, so by following my tips, you can make sure you are prepared for any future challenges.

Takeaway Tips:

  • Review your existing recruitment, diversity and inclusion policies
  • Build awareness of unconscious bias
  • Redesign career advancement programmes and arrange regular meetings with employees in line with appraisals
  • Regularly monitor any pre-existing pay gaps
  • Train line managers on how to handle pay queries

If you need any advice regarding equal pay or help with your existing policies, please do Get in touch