Shocking BBC pay revelations heralds golden opportunity to model social change

The unsurprising yet still shocking BBC pay revelations of elite employees’ salaries give voice and substance to a pay gap that we know exists but to date has lacked a concrete sense of reality. Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicates a UK pay gap at 19.2% for full- and part-time workers, with women earning an average of 80 pence for every £1 earned by a man. The BBC’s publication of a top list of earners with household names we can all relate to, renders discrimination tangible and familiar. Making visible individual TV and broadcast celebrities’ annual salaries connects the UK license paying population to a clearly discriminatory hierarchy of pay. The highest earning female Claudia Winkelman’s substantial annual salary documented at £499,000 is a quarter of the highest earning male Chris Evans whose pay packet is reckoned at a staggering 2.25million in 2016, and reported as equalling the combined salaries of all of the black and minority ethnic BBC high-earners.

Newly published research examining gendered media representations has shown however how tying inequalities to individuals can serve to mask organisational responsibility for addressing deeply embedded discriminatory practices. This can unwittingly reinforce a gender binary that pits men against women rather than tackling systemic practices that perpetuate a traditional norm where men are seen as the natural inhabitants of elite positions and worthy of greater reward.

While putting a face to discrimination makes unfairness personal and provides a clear point of connection, if we are to push forward social change it is important to look beyond the individual to pay systems that are indicative of an organisational legacy of networks and negotiation practices that reproduce and sustain inequality. Government legislation requires UK companies employing more than 250 people to publish salaries and bonuses for all staff by 2018. The delay of this legislation, originally planned for 2017, presents the BBC with their advance listing of elite earners a golden opportunity to make a positive ethical stand that other organisations can follow by redressing the blatant discrimination revealed and by tackling the formal and informal practices that have allowed such inequalities to flourish.


Dr Valerie Stead is senior lecturer in Department of Leadership and Management and director of the research forum Academy for Gender, Work and Leadership