Employers urged to focus on record keeping in wake of BBC equal pay row

As the UK equalities watchdog calls on the broadcaster to rebuild trust with female staff, experts recommend other firms ensure their processes are watertight

Employers have been told to be diligent when it comes to keeping records of pay awards in the wake of a report from the UK’s equality watchdog criticising the BBC for the way it handled complaints of pay discrimination from female staff.

A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigating historical issues of unequal pay at the broadcaster found there was no evidence of unlawful pay discrimination against women.

However, it criticised the procedures the BBC had in place and said a lack of transparency opened it up to the risk of discrimination cases in the future. The report said the BBC failed to keep proper records of pay decisions, leading to confusion and poor communication with women making complaints.

It also said there was evidence that the complaints system took too long to resolve cases, and that some women did not feel it was sufficiently independent and that it heightened their anxiety and stress.

Commenting on the report’s findings, HR consultant Kate Marchant said it was interesting to see the emphasis the EHRC placed on record keeping. “The importance of this should not be overlooked, as without such records there is a risk of potential pay discrimination if an organisation is unable to justify and evidence how decisions on pay are made,” she said.

“There are many lessons to be learned from this report, and employers would be wise to look internally at their own practices relating to equal pay and implement the recommendations made if they are lacking in any area. It will certainly help create a more trustful environment around the issue of equal pay and help future proof organisations against claims.”

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Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC, said it was “easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organisation has broken down”. Many women at the broadcaster had felt their voices were not being heard and were being left confused about how decisions over pay had been made, she said.

“This took a heavy emotional toll on those involved in the process and the strength of feeling of women at the BBC should not be understated,” Waters said.

The report included a number of recommendations for the broadcaster, including regular reviews of pay frameworks, better record keeping of pay decisions and more transparency over how decisions about pay are reached.

“A number of other factors contributed to the environment of mistrust, namely a lack of transparency around decision-making and communications; a long, slow complaints process lacking in independence; and concerns from women that the BBC’s complaint resolution had not considered the issue of equal pay correctly,” said Marchant.

“Genuine independence needs to be part of any pay complaints process, as does clear and regular communication on the progress and outcome.”

The EHRC’s findings were welcomed by Tim Davie, director general of the BBC, who accepted all the recommendations and pledged to implement them.

However, Carrie Gracie (pictured), the BBC journalist who resigned from her role as the broadcaster’s China editor after discovering she was being paid less than male colleagues in similar roles, described the findings as a “whitewash” and criticised the methodology of the report – which she said looked at just a small number of cases.

Similarly, a statement from #BBCWomen said the group was “deeply disappointed” with the findings and said they did not reflect the experiences of women working at the BBC. “This does not address the systemic issue of unequal pay suggested by the hundreds of pay increases and settlements the BBC has made to women,” it said.

The BBC has recently lost a number of high-profile pay discrimination cases, including that of Samira Ahmed, who won a tribunal claim against the broadcaster at the start of the year arguing she had been paid a sixth of what her male colleague, Jeremy Vine, was earning for presenting a similar show. Ahmed and the BBC eventually agreed a settlement out of court.