BBC top salary list includes three women: genuine gender equality or PR stunt?

On 2nd July 2019, the BBC published its star salaries list where three women had ranked as top paid presenters for the first time. In light of this, HRreview reached out to some professionals in their field to pose the question of whether this is a genuine step by the BBC to rectify inequality within their company or a way of ticking boxes merely to comply to standards.

In the annual BBC report of 2018-2019, it was reported that Claudia Winkleman, Zoe Ball and Vanessa Feltz had all made the list as some of the highest paid presenters at the BBC. Ms. Winkleman and Ms. Ball tied eighth out of 11 presenters on the list, each earning an annual income of £370,000. Ms. Feltz was joined last with Jason Mohammad, earning £355,000 annually.

This was a significant improvement on the 2017-2018 annual BBC report which saw the star salaries list being solely dominated by men.

The lack of women in the top paid presenters list of BBC’s 2017-2018 annual report garnered substantial criticism. An internal criticism came from Carrie Gracie, the China editor for BBC news since 2013, who publicly resigned from her post due to claims of being paid up to £100,000 less than her male counterparts.

Professor Binna Kandola, an author of several critically acclaimed books on unconscious bias within the workplace, a business psychologist and senior partner of Pearn Kandola, said:

It has long been established that the foundation stones for creating fairness within organisations are transparency and accountability. Without these, people can make decisions based on any whim or fancy they may have. Ironically, they will do this whilst maintaining a fantasy that they are behaving totally fairly.

Making the salaries of the highest paid people at the BBC known to everyone revealed the inherent unfairness within the system. In turn, this led to very different conversations about what needed to be done to rectify the biases.

To write off these outcomes as mere political correctness is to implicitly endorse the view that women don’t deserve to be the same as men; that they are somehow to be valued less.

The issue now is to keep the momentum going and to ensure that it is something that becomes part of the way that the organisation does business, rather than being a one off.

However, Toby Levy, general manager for BrighterBox North, a graduate recruitment company, who has experience in multiple PR agencies, takes a more sceptical view towards the news. He said:

The timing is convenient given their recent negative press on the issue of gender pay and TV licenses for over 75s.

I’m not denying there has been progress within the BBC in tackling the gender pay gap but as a publicly funded organisation, the BBC should be ahead of the game, not playing catch-up.

However, unfortunately, for the BBC, I do think this is a PR stunt where people will open the paper and see that three women are in the list this year compared to no women last year. But this doesn’t tell the whole story, by a long, long way.

Teresa Boughey, founder and CEO of Jungle HR, and Amazon best selling author of ‘Closing the Gap’, a book concerning implementing inclusivity and diversity within the workplace, said:

It is positive to see women reach the BBC’s highest earning presenters list and it does indicate progress – albeit slow.

Establishing the truth of the pay situation within any organisation can be an uncomfortable truth, if historically, it’s been left unchecked. What’s important, however, is to acknowledge it and take action to address imbalance. It is also noteworthy to highlight that there appears to be a lack of representation across some of the other protected characteristics – namely ethnicity (albeit it is reported that Jason Mohammad received a £95K increase and, according to his BBC biography, he has a mixed heritage background).

What’s also fascinating is that the BBC has expressed concerns that the level of salary transparency may lead talent being poached by rivals. Whilst pay is an important factor for many employees when deciding to work for a particular company, it’s only part of the equation. Candidates are now much more likely to do research before joining. Employees want to work in an environment where they feel respected and safe. Where there are opportunities to learn, grow and to be developed and where progression is possible.Ultimately, employees want to be valued and respected for their unique differences and talents.

Interested in implementing inclusivity and diversity within the workplace? We recommend Unconscious Bias in the Workplace






Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.