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.

More on this topic

Factsheets
Reward: an introduction

Introduces the basics of reward, which includes pay and benefits, and outlines the UK legal position

Factsheets
Pay structures and pay progression

Outlines the purpose of pay structures and progression, including the common ways of structuring pay and determining, reviewing and controlling pay progression

More thought leadership

Thought leadership
New employment legislation to come into effect on 6 April 2024

We outline the key pieces of legislation set to come into force in the UK and explain their implications for employers and employees

Thought leadership
Lifetime pension provider consultation prompts focus on pension awareness

Employers’ reactions to pension proposal highlight concerns over cost, while the CIPD calls for focus on raising pension awareness among staff, the need for higher contributions and better understanding of value for money

Thought leadership
Could mismatch in desired and actual hours worked prompt early labour market exit?

We examine people’s desired hours and how this compares to the hours they actually work

Thought leadership
Stormont is back - but what should it focus on?

What are the priorities for Northern Ireland as its devolved government makes a full return after two years?