Yesterday, the BBC made a bold move. Reluctantly, perhaps – and albeit after having their hand turned by demands of the government – but still bold. For the first time, the corporation published the salaries of their employees earning £150,000 per year or more, in an exercise of transparency. Effectively, they peeled off a couple of layers, and invited the world to have a peek. And we stood slightly wide-eyed – but somewhat unsurprised – at what we saw.
The highest earner by far was Chris Evans, who earns a handsome £2,200,000 to £2,249,000 for his breakfast show role on Radio 2 and his short-lived stint at Top Gear last year. Not far behind him were Gary Lineker, who collected more than £1.75m, and Graham Norton, on more than £850,000, followed by Jeremy Vine and John Humphrys. The top five female earners were Strictly Come Dancing host Claudia Winkleman, on a salary of between £450,000 and £500,000, Alex Jones of the One Show, Vanessa Feltz, Fiona Bruce and Tess Daly. The Pool’s Lauren Laverne was also among the highest paid women.
It doesn’t take much to see the glaring gender gap at the top – and it wasn’t long before the BBC was rightfully criticised for the way they value women. Just one-third of the top earners – mainly presenters and talent who work in news, radio, sport and some drama – were women, with men (all earning over £500,000) firmly placed in the top seven slots. Not only that, but of the 96 people whose salaries were listed, just ten – five men and five women – were black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) employees. Of those ten people of colour, six are black or mixed race, and four are Asian. There were no BAME stars in the top 20 earners, with just two earning over the £250,000 threshold. It was a sorry indictment of just how entrenched inequality is in the corporation, commentators said yesterday, and highlighted the urgent need for more serious talks concerning diversity in the workplace.
That disparity between the genders loomed even larger still when stars in similar roles and of roughly equivalent calibre were grouped together by The Guardian yesterday. For instance, comparing newsreaders Huw Edwards (£550,000 to £599,000) to Fiona Bruce (£350,000 to £399,999) showed a significant gap. Or, more starkly, the Today programme’s John Humphrys on £600,00 to £649,999 – a huge difference to his counterpart Mishal Husain, who took home £200,000 to £250,000 last year. Does the gap accurately reflect the difference in their jobs – that Humphrys also presents Mastermind? Critics are quick to dispute that it does.
Millions of pairs of narrowing eyes make any inequality more difficult to ignore
The 96 largest earners represented “less than a quarter of one per cent” of the 43,000 talent contracts handed out by the BBC last year, according to Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC. He praised the corporation yesterday, but acknowledged that the company needs to “go further and faster” to close the pay gap, as promised, by 2020.
They certainly do need to “go further and faster”, and without hesitation, too. That this is the BBC – a national treasure of sorts – must be an irrelevance if the data is going to be taken seriously and used to ignite positive change towards equality both in terms of gender and of diversity in the workforce: now, there can be no ifs, and no buts.
Isn’t that refreshingly plain? No ifs, no buts, no excuses and absolutely no wiggle room. Millions of pairs of narrowing eyes make any inequality more difficult to ignore. Yesterday might have felt like being let in on a big, juicy secret, but what it showed was that transparency works. Soon, this information will expose pay gaps in different companies, and different sectors, within different workforces all over the country – and as knowledge grows, and achieving an equal workplace perhaps becomes a selling-point for companies, more action will be have to be taken. Change will have to happen.
And, not only that, but businesses will be forced to have some uncomfortable conversations, as the BBC did with admirable elegance. On Radio 4, Mishal Husain grilled her boss, Lord Hall, over gender inequality at the institution. The news service published several unforgiving reports. Radio bulletins read the news as their top story. It was quite brilliantly awkward – and necessary – to see the media being critical of their own protocol.
But of course this isn’t the end of the story by far. This first report only represents the smallest portion of the BBC’s vast roster of employees, for a start. More importantly, though, it’s important that vigilance is upheld and that eyes are not averted. As we know all too well, pointing at a pay gap and acknowledging that “more must be done” does absolutely squat to fix it. No – now we’ve all stopped gawping, it must be time for action. The BBC should lead by example. And everyone else should follow.