Consultancy advising BBC on gender pay parity has worse pay gap

07 February 2020 4 min. read
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The BBC has become embroiled in a furore regarding gender pay disparity, after the state broadcaster appointed Croner, an employment consulting firm based in Hinckley, to handle complaints from the organisation’s female employees regarding equal pay value. It has since emerged that Croner’s own gender pay gap is more than twice the size of the BBC’s.

Over the last few years, the BBC has been challenged on its gender pay policy on multiple occasions. In 2017, the yearly publication of salaries of its top-earning stars showed that only a third of the Corporation’s on-screen presenters earning over £150,000 were women.

Following the news, the BBC appointed Big Four firm PwC to review its pay processes – but just a year later this landed the broadcaster in further hot water. Female staff had already alleged that they were excluded from the process, with some calling it a ‘whitewash’, before 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. One well-known BBC newsreader went as far as to claim they could not find “anyone covered by the review whom PwC has spoken to.”

Consultancy advising BBC on gender pay parity has worse pay gap

In 2018, the BBC also appointed consultants from Croner – a UK advisory firm which specialises in HR and employment work – to help handle the growing number of complaints from the organisation’s female employees claiming they were being paid less than their male peers for doing work of equal value. In the two intervening years, Croner has become central to the BBC’s gender pay gap efforts, and this increasingly close relationship has sparked a new barrage of criticism aimed at the BBC.

Since legislation was introduced in 2017 all large companies in the UK have had to make their gender pay gap public. Croner’s own median gender pay gap between male and female earnings was 18% in 2018/19. That is more than double the BBC’s gap of 7.6% over the same period. Speaking to the Financial Times in January, a number of BBC insiders said this had undermined their confidence in Croner’s ability to tackle the BBC’s gender pay problem, while also prompted some to raise concerns regarding equal pay disputes within the organisation.

Croner’s consultants sit on the BBC’s equal pay panels, and are understood to hold casting votes in the most contested cases. Reportedly, this see a two-person panel consisting of a senior BBC manager and a Croner consultant preside over the Corporation’s internal grievances process – something one female BBC staffer described as “a show-trial put on for the employer’s benefit.”

Commenting on Croner’s involvement, one person from the BBC Women’s group told the Financial Times, “We have not found the involvement of Croner to be independent or to have improved outcomes for women. Often the Croner approach is hostile.”

Sources have subsequently claimed Croner were at least partially at fault for the BBC’s handling of the gender discrimination case of presenter Samira Ahmed, who eventually took the BBC to an employment tribunal and won. The tribunal found that work by the female Newswatch presenter was “of equal value” to that of fellow presenter Jeremy Vine, who at £3,000 per episode was paid almost seven times as much for anchoring another BBC programme, Points of View.

Ahmed’s victory in her gender discrimination case against the BBC – which coincidentally came 10 days before Tony Hall, who presided over the escalation of this issue during his time as Director General, announced he would step down from the role – might be about to open the floodgates to more costly claims from female employees in 2020. While the BBC insists there are “significantly” fewer left to resolve, as of November last year, a tribunal heard there were up to 70 cases involving female employees who had made official complaints over alleged discrepancies in their pay compared with male staff.

In response to the allegations, a spokesperson from Croner told The Financial Times, “It is denied that any Croner consultant has ever been hostile. Croner consultants have always been impartial throughout the process and as members of each grievance panel, have jointly upheld, or partially upheld grievances where appropriate.”