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Inside the BBC – Creative, Competitive & Courageous

The BBC has published the pay received by their biggest stars in their annual corporate report. Public reaction has been on two major issues:

  • The number of employees who earn more than £150,000 in a year;
  • The ratio of those employees earning over £150,000 who are female.

As a (relatively) young man growing up, I’ve heard a lot of complaints from the media and the older generation about various parts of the BBC. “What is our money going towards?!”, “It’s disgusting how much they pay Gary Lineker”, and “It’s biased to the left/right”, are among the many sticks I’ve heard used to beat the ‘Billionaire Boys Club’ over the past decade.

However, my take on the BBC has always been positive. They have a wide range of channels and programmes, where at least a portion of content suits pretty much the entire population. They have THE market leading on-demand service, being one of the first to produce the service and making it the easiest to use (and still advert free). They have shown they can be agile when closing their BBC Three channel and moving it entirely online – another leading move in the market. Their news channel spans worldwide, is accessed by 76% of UK adults each week, and won ‘News Channel of the Year’ at the RTS Television Journalism Awards. Their radio stations are excellent and again cover pretty much all demographics in the UK. From a wide range of choice, I’d go as far as to say the BBC is my favourite broadcaster.

So the BBC in my eyes starts from a position of strength in terms of output. So now the annual report has been revealed, let’s have a look at some of the input…

  • 96 BBC employees earn more than £150,000.
  • Of those earning over £150,000, 35% are women whilst 65% are men.

I’d like to address both these issues, from the viewpoint of an (again, relatively) young HR consultant. Having thoroughly enjoyed working with both the public and private sectors, I’d like to think I have constructed a respectable landscape of the differences in culture and pay between the two. However, where both sectors agree is on the point that to get the top talent to your organisation, you must pay the external rate in a competitive market. The whole point is, it’s difficult to do the jobs these presenters, TV and radio stars do better than they can. This is what makes them top talent.

Furthermore, the concentration of the public mind on £150,000 limit is superfluous. Part of my job at QCG is to identify the market rate for Executives, CEOs and star talent, and I have a good grasp on the nuances that external markets entail. If the market rate for these “biggest stars” is over £150,000, then that’s just what it takes to produce great content. Imagine if the BBC adopted a policy of nobody earning more than the ‘magic’ figure. I’d bet the public reaction would be far more negative with worse content and presenters. For my money, or pay, BBC Director General Tony Hall has hit this nail on the head: “I completely understand that to lots and lots of people these are very large sums but we are a broadcaster, a global broadcaster, in a very competitive market. Our position on talent pay has not changed”. Hall also made the very valid point that the employees each do very different jobs, in terms of time demands, skills and impact – broadly accepted pretty much anywhere as important pay differentiators.

Secondly, the gender pay gap. Here at QCG, we recommend four big opportunities of gender pay: dig deeper behind the numbers, reach out and talk to people, think big picture, and keep it real. Treat employees and the public like adults – explain the journey you are undertaking to improve the numbers and opportunities women have. The figures are not good from the BBC. 35% of the employees over £150,000 are women. However, I think BBC Director General Tony Hall has again hit this nail on the head. “We need to go further and faster on gender issues. Is this progress enough? It’s absolutely not”. It’s less easy to defend the BBC on this issue, but they are clearly acknowledging this is only the start of their journey towards closing the gender pay gap. By treating the public like adults, digging deeper past the headline over the coming year, and being frank about the situation, I think the BBC will close this gap year on year – and may once again be a leading light in another area of their business.

At the end of the day, the BBC are paying their top talent in line with the external market, and have a gender pay/equal opportunities gap, but are taking steps to reduce it. Is this such a bad thing?!