PwC review of BBC pay claims 'no evidence' of gender bias

05 February 2018 Consultancy.uk

PwC’s long anticipated review of the BBC’s on-air pay policy has claimed there is “no evidence” of gender bias in pay decisions at the broadcaster. The findings seem unlikely to quell growing discontent within the UK broadcaster, having come under scrutiny before they were even released, with employees alleging they had been excluded from the process.

PwC were initially contracted to audit the BBC’s pay policies following the annual release of the salaries of the BBC’s top earners, with particular attention to be paid to the gender pay gap, according to BBC director-general Tony Hall. The broadcast giant had raised public ire following the revelation of a significant pay-gap between male and female employees – particularly in terms of top talent at Broadcasting House. Only a third of on-screen presenters earning over £150,000 were found to be women, while the highest earning male star, Top Gear presenter Chris Evans, saw a colossal £2.2 million cheque in 2016, drawing stark contrast with female top-earner, Claudia Winkelman, who earned under £500,000.

The speculation surrounding the PwC analysis has been growing ever since. In the wake of the high-profile resignation of former China Editor Carrie Gracie, BBC insiders commented that the subsequent paper would determine once and for all whether there were discrepancies in pay at the Corporation, further confirming that the broadcasting institution would “stand by the judgements be they helpful or unhelpful.” 

PwC review of BBC pay claims 'no evidence' of gender bias

The BBC had previously committed to ending its gender pay gap by 2020. However, at present it is clear that the corporation has not done enough to quell the anger of women across the corporation, following months of mounting anger regarding the publication of salary information. This began when 40 women working at the BBC penned an open letter to Tony Hall criticising the fact that “women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work,” and calling for immediate and transparent action.

The gender pay row at the BBC had exploded back into the open with the resignation of Carrie Gracie, who stepped down from her position via the penning of an open letter to BBC licence fee payers. In the damning document, Gracie made accusations of the Corporation operating a “secretive and illegal” pay culture, while implying that it was not “living up to its stated values of trust, honesty and accountability.” Gracie’s letter and subsequent comments in interviews also revealed that as many as 200 women at the BBC had complained to management about pay. 

In response to the resignation letter, the BBC repeated its defence that it was making appropriate efforts to address pay disparity, and that it was performing “considerably better” than other organisations when it came to reducing the gender pay gap. Provisional figures released by PwC in conjunction with law firm Eversheds had shown that the pay gap was around 10%, significantly lower than the national average which currently rests at 17%  according to the latest analysis from PwC – costing women in the UK a total of £85 billion in lost wages annually. 

What the report says

After a long wait, PwC have finally released the results of their analysis for the BBC, with the headline conclusion being that while the Corporation have room for improvement, the institution had not been the perpetrator of gender bias. The Big Four professional services firm did cite “anomalies that need addressing” in relation to pay, however the firm blamed this on lack of clarity and openness, as well as financial constraints within the BBC over the last decade, rather than a sexist employment culture. 

The report subsequently set out a five point plan to help create a fairer and more equal BBC, which has since been adopted by the broadcaster’s leadership. The five steps set out will first see substantial pay cuts for some men, and pay rises for some men and women, reallocating funds to address unequal pay. The BBC will also implement a new framework for determining the pay of people on air, to match that already created for the rest of BBC staff.

The broadcaster will also introduce new levels of transparency to allow future scrutiny to maintain these standards, with everyone being able to see the pay range for virtually every job in the BBC – and in every role where there are more than 20 people in the same role, staff will also be able to see where everyone else is positioned. Following up on this, the BBC will review the progression of women in the corporation, looking at working practices and support for women returning to work, and finally the BBC claimed it will accelerate progress towards equal representation of men and women at all levels on air, as well as towards closing the gender pay gap by 2020 – though, as mentioned previously, this was already a target.

In a more immediate response to the report, meanwhile, the BBC asserted that it had already resolved more than half of 230 individual cases raised so far which related to pay equality. The Corporation said it would deal with the rest by the Summer of 2018.

The BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall, commented, “Today’s report does not find evidence of gender bias in decision-making, but it shows that we have real and important issues to tackle, particularly in some areas of news and current affairs, and I’m determined to get it right. The plans we’re setting out today go further and are more important steps in modernising the BBC and making it fairer.”

Criticism

The findings have left many women who have been campaigning for equal pay at the BBC frustrated, though perhaps this does not come as a surprise, as a number of staff at the BBC had already said they had no confidence in the review, before it was even published. Female staff had already alleged that they were excluded from the process, with some calling it a ‘whitewash’. BBC Women – a group of 170 female producers and broadcasters backed by star presenters Mishal Husain, Victoria Derbyshire and Jane Garvey – subsequently wrote to Hall distancing themselves from PwC’s findings.

In a letter circulated by the British press, one well-known BBC newsreader said, “The lack of transparency and the narrow scope mean staff are not likely to trust the findings. We cannot find anyone covered by the review whom PwC has spoken to.”

An unnamed national radio presenter also said a manager had told her that “the BBC doesn’t do equal pay”, and that she was being “aggressive” for raising the subject. Written evidence further claimed “veiled threats” had been made to female staff about the subject of equal pay, suggesting that “while individual BBC managers have been supportive there is still a bunker mentality in some quarters.” In evidence submitted to MPs on the influential DCMS committee ahead of a hearing in January, the BBC Women campaign group called for an apology, back pay and pension adjustments from the BBC for breaking equality laws. 

Auditing contract

Elsewhere, the BBC may soon be looking for a new external auditor. The BBC audit is worth around £1.6 million, including the audit of the BBC’s annual accounts, and until last year, it was overseen by Big Four firm EY – having won the role in 2015. The BBC could have stayed with the professional services and audit advisory for a further two years, but instead opted to seek the services of the National Audit Office, as part of the media giant’s bid to further improve their organisation's value for money. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) will fulfil the responsibilities of external auditor over the course of the 2017-2018 financial year, potentially leaving the lucrative role up for grabs beyond that. Before EY, BBC was audited for 18 years by competitor KPMG, leaving Deloitte and PwC as the two Big Four firms yet to land the position.

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