The release of data giving the names of high paid people at the BBC triggered a reaction from high-paid females and a response from the Director-General promising to accelerate pay equality. The irony is that these data alone aren't convincing evidence of a pay equality problem or much help in assessing progress towards pay equality.

First, the data only cover just over 200 people (roughly 50:50 between the 'talent' and the 'suits') paid over £150,000 out of a workforce of over 21,000 and a 'senior leadership' group of nearly 3,000. It's not clear how changing the relative pay of the presenters of the 'Today' programme will feed through to more lowly paid members of staff.

Second, the data are incomplete. They exclude programmes made by outside companies. While the Government has cracked down on the use of personal service companies, some stars will have set up a company to make a programme perfectly legitimately and what that company pays its makers is shielded from scrutiny.

Third, all the data record is the sum an individual received from the license fee, regardless of how much or little they worked, where and when. And when it comes to the 'talent' every job is unique. Value is measured by much more than job evaluation.

Of course, the BBC wasn't made to release these data to advance equal pay; they are best seen as part of the Government's policy to rein in public sector pay. Other public sector bodies such as government departments and health trusts are obliged to publish how many staff are paid over £150,000 (the Prime Minister's salary). But the BBC is unlike these organisations in at least two ways. The highest paid people aren't those in charge. Like football clubs and investment banks 'top talent' earns more than the CEO. And the 'talent' are household names. So the list attracts attention in the way that a list of civil servants wouldn't.

However, the release of the data could backfire. Presumably when these people's contracts were renegotiated the BBC were hoping to reduce pay or get more for their money (Gary Lineker to host Songs of Praise?). But everyone will now know if someone's pay has gone down or if they've dropped off the list. Agents will see the pay of other 'talent' as a target to aim for, especially if their clients are female. The BBC may be tempted to move the problem 'off the books' by having more of the 'talent' paid by independent producers.

Yet at the same time the BBC released an impressive amount of data on workforce composition as an appendix to their equality report which, over time, will permit monitoring of progress in aspects of diversity and inclusion. The BBC says its gender pay gap is 10% which does compare favourably with many organisations. But it isn't necessarily evidence of an inclusive culture. In particular, it doesn't tell us whether or not part-time or flexible working hours are widespread and this is likely to matter more than the pay of a few dozen high earners.

About the author

Mark Beatson

Mark Beatson, Senior Labour Market Analyst

Mark's respected labour market analysis and commentary strengthens the CIPD’s ability to lead thinking and influence policy making across the whole spectrum of people management and workplace issues.

Prior to joining the CIPD, Mark was an economic consultant and for over 20 years worked as an economist in the Civil Service, latterly at Chief Economist/Director level, in a range of Government departments including the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and HM Treasury.

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