Duncan Brown: What can employers learn from the BBC’s pay gap?

Duncan Brown IES

First, it is not just the absolute size of the gap: and…

Second, communications are key. “You’re an industry doing so well, soon you’ll be able to afford a BBC man.” This was Emily Maitlis speaking at the TechUK Annual Dinner on 19 July, after learning fellow Newsnight presenter Evan Davis earned considerably more than her, with a £250,000-plus annual salary.

Yet the BBC’s 10% gender pay gap compares with the average across the UK technology sector of 25%. And Virgin Money achieved a generally positive reception to revealing a gender pay gap more than three times the BBC’s.

The BBC fought the government’s insistence that it report the salaries of stars earning more than £150,000 and came over as somewhat tight-lipped. Only later in the day did Lord Hall, director general at the BBC, commit to closing the organisation’s gap by 2020.

Virgin Money, on the other hand, reported early and confidently, outlining its gender pay gap at April 2016 in its 2016 annual report, published in February 2017. Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive at Virgin Money, declared its sector-leading 36% gap to be ‘not acceptable’ and promised a range of initiatives to close it by 2020, including linking part of annual performance-related pay to commitments to promote gender diversity for the executive committee, including herself.

So, employers should really work on the voluntary narrative accompanying their mandatory reporting statistics. And think hard about the internal messaging too: what are female employees going to make of it?

Third, do not assume practice is the same as policy. The BBC has a genuine equality and diversity strategy, even producing its own annual equality information report. But, as the Institute for Employment Studies’ (IES) forthcoming research for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Tackling gender, disability and ethnicity pay gaps: a progress review, has shown, in sectors where there is wide scope for individual negotiations on pay, like banking and technology, gaps are larger. So HR departments need to limit discretion on recruitment salaries and monitor any variations in individual pay setting and performance pay awards to ensure that systematic bias is not occurring.

Fourth, work with others to address gaps. The same IES research found that progress has been greatest where experts, employers and sector bodies work together to address the complex, often deep-seated drivers of pay gaps. These can range from bad careers advice in schools, to lack of flexible-working opportunities and unequal shared parental leave.

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Employers should use the sources of advice available. For example, the Government Equalities Office has been running well-received employer workshops; Acas has produced excellent guidance, such as Managing gender pay gap reporting and Gender pay gap reporting in the public sector; and charities like IES make case studies freely available, such as the Power of parity: a study of how Lewisham Council achieved gender equality at senior levels, the learning and implications, published by IES in July 2016.

Dr Duncan Brown is head of HR consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES)