• Four red flags for HR from the BBC pay report

  • 20 Jul 2017
  • Comments 3 comments

‘Principle of greater transparency’ means more employers could find themselves in the firing line over top earners’ salaries

The BBC pay report caused outrage yesterday after the publication of salaries of on-air talent earning more than £150,000 revealed glaring discrepancies. Here’s why HR needs to give the report a closer look:


Women comprised only a third of the BBC’s high-earning staff, with the highest-earning man, Chris Evans, earning more than four times the salary of the highest-earning woman, Claudia Winkleman.

The lack of diversity went beyond gender, with no one with black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds featuring in the top 10 earners. While the director of strategy and external affairs at the Chartered Management Institute, Petra Wilton, said the BBC was “falling short” on BAME representation, she added that, with 10 BAME individuals on the full list of 96 earners, Auntie’s representation was higher than many of the top UK businesses covered in its Delivering Diversity report released earlier this month.

Equal pay

The report highlighted a deep divide between pay for men and women, but experts have been quick to warn that some discrepancies could be more problematic than others and could, in theory, lead to an equal pay dispute. In particular, some commentators pointed out that newsreader Huw Edwards is earning up to £250,000 more than female peer Fiona Bruce.

“If [the BBC] hasn’t got a legal argument to explain why one presenter earns more than another they will have an equal pay issue on their hands,” Matthew Ferro, reward consultant at Paydata, told People Management. “This is about presenters who have the same background, skillsets and abilities, and it could prove very hard for an employer to explain away, especially in the public eye.”

Meanwhile, comparing sports commentator Gary Lineker's £1.9m salary with colleague Clare Balding’s £199,000, Karen Jackson, managing director at didlaw, said Balding could have a legal case, “unless the BBC can show there is a substantial and legitimate reason for the discrepancy”.

Employee contracts

Rumours have already surfaced that, in a bid to equal pay, the BBC may ‘pull the lever’ by cutting salaries among their highest-paid male staff – but lawyers warned that this may cause a fresh set of problems.

“This would have to be with the male presenters’ agreement and, if they unilaterally change their contract without agreement, they could face legal claims from the male presenters as well,” said Jane Crosby, employment lawyer at Hart Brown. She added that organisations must treat the revelations as a “lesson”, and scrutinise their own salaries where men and women are doing the same jobs to avoid costly equal pay claims.


Although the BBC pay report is an extreme example of salary disclosure, the gender pay reporting rules now require companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of their gender pay gap and gender bonus data.

“Not all organisations are required to publish top-earner pay like the BBC has, but the principle of greater transparency and taking stock of high pay is right for any business,” said Charles Cotton, reward and performance adviser at the CIPD. “We won’t shift the dial on greater fairness in pay, or on issues such as gender equality, until we see more organisations step up and take a reality check on how they reward their people – and, importantly, whether this can be justified.”  

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Comments (3)
  • I think it is difficult to extrapolate clear findings from headline figures.  You'd probably need to look at hours, programmes covered, ratings and, as Chris Woodman infers below, perceived value in the market.  Having agents in the mix is also bound to add complexity in terms of parity in pay negotiations.  That said, it is hard to see that there is not a case to answer  for  women.  It's obvious, now this has been published, that they will press for action to justify the differentials and a clear explanation.  Inequality in pay is not something that can be left to HR to police.  It has to have a number of checks and balances as well as broader social changes.  It's not just the BBC that under values in £ female contribution.  We also need to leave aside the political agenda about the BBC not being 'publicly' funded and pushing it to be wholly commercial.  The government of the day is happy push them around and make them publish figures like this because it can; at the moment.

  • The BBC's HR Director/ Directors are paid over £150k yet have appeared to bury their collective heads in the sand. Far from being the conscience of an organisation they are a reflection of the 'four red flags'.

  • There are a couple of important issues here.  One is about entertainment talent.  When someone becomes famous or well known, their value often rises.  There is competition for their services.  Gary Lineker, as a former top goal scorer for England and some strong TV presentation skills, has built his personal brand to an extent that he can negotiate with various broadcasters for his services.  I am sure he could move for similar levels of compensation to ITV.  He is not just any broadcaster.  The question on whether the BBC should (as a licence funded) organisation be trying to compete with commercial broadcasters in light entertainment is important.  Maybe the BBC should reduce its remit or become fully commercial?  Top talent (whatever we personally think of them) will command big fees for their work based on a view of their added value to the programme or movie.  Of course this is not scientific and the campaign by many female movie stars to gain parity with their male counterparts indicates that there may well be bias in these negotiations.  Does Tom Cruise put more 'bums on seats' than Jennifer Lawrence?  Further down the pecking order Huw Edwards vs Fiona Bruce doesn't seem to be a justifiable differentiation.....