The BBC is dominating the headlines this week, not just across its own channels but nationally, with news of the salaries earned by the corporation’s highest paid employees published for the world to see. We now know the wages of the 96 people employed by the BBC who are paid more than £150,000 of licence fee revenue per year. This includes the highest earner of them all, Chris Evans, who is paid an annual salary of between £2,220,000 and £2,249,999. People will likely pore over these figures for weeks and months to come, intrigued to see how much money their favourite presenters, actors and news anchors are taking home. But rather than focussing too much on the more sensationalist angles to this story, we really need to consider one of the most worrying themes to come out of the report: the huge discrepancy it revealed between the BBC’s male and female employees.
Just one-third of the top 96 earners are female, and the top seven earners are all male. Furthermore, the difference between the top male earner – Chris Evans – and top female earner – Claudia Winkleman – is staggering. At £450,000 to £500,000 per year, Winkleman is paid just one-fifth of the salary Evans earns from the corporation. Faced with criticism for the imbalance across the board, the BBC’s party line is that it is incredibly hard to introduce a fair system for pay parity when it is dealing with such a breadth of talent and so much variation in the nature of the roles. Of course, the body is also under pressure to keep its talent and avoiding losing it to rivals like ITV, Sky, Netflix and other channels which famously offer much higher salaries than the publicly-funded BBC. However, this does not explain the extreme gap between men and women, which unfortunately is nothing new. The BBC’s director general, Lord Hall, has pledged to address this by ensuring gender pay equality at the BBC by 2020.
The previous government also made promises to even out imbalances among the UK’s largest companies, introducing a league table that ranks firms employing more than 250 people according to their gender pay gaps, to be enforced in 2018. But these plans are pending and everybody is talking about dates in the future. We need to act more quickly and take practical measures immediately that begin to address the problem we can see exists. I would urge more large businesses to follow the lead of the BBC and publish their salaries so that we can see exactly how severe the gender pay gap really is, then enforce a plan to address this once and for all.
My concern is that this revelation from the BBC is just the tip of the iceberg. We all know that the corporation is an equal opportunities employer and likely pays more attention than most to ensuring there is diversity and equality among its staff. So what does that tell us about the hundreds of other leading employers in the UK who have nobody to answer to and whose activities are going unreported? If businesses have nothing to hide they will openly publish this data and work on addressing any issues that arise, but until we have this transparency on the real state of gender pay in the UK I’m concerned we will continue talking about future targets and plans, without any real action to make improvements that are so urgently required.