BBC women's fury as watchdog finds no unlawful bias in sexism pay row

‘Whitewash’ over sexist pay at BBC: Women’s fury as equality watchdog says there was no unlawful bias against them in wages row

  • Equality watchdog found no unlawful pay discrimination against women at BBC
  • Past and present female BBC staff reacted with fury yesterday at result of probe
  • Former BBC presenter Carrie Gracie branded the EHRC verdict a ‘whitewash’

Female BBC staff past and present reacted with fury yesterday after the equality watchdog found no unlawful pay discrimination against women at the corporation.

Former BBC presenter Carrie Gracie, who was at the heart of a huge equal pay row, branded the verdict by the Equality and Human Rights Commission a ‘whitewash’.

The EHRC was criticised for looking in-depth at only ten cases before coming to its conclusion.

A women’s rights charity claimed the probe had not properly examined the strongest cases and did not use ‘robust research’.

Female BBC staff past and present reacted with fury yesterday after the equality watchdog found no unlawful pay discrimination against women at the corporation. Protest: Carrie Gracie (centre, in black) and other BBC female staff stage an equal pay demo outside BBC HQ in London in 2018

High-profile BBC pay cases have involved Miss Gracie, who quit her post as China editor in 2018 over pay inequalities with men, and presenter Samira Ahmed, who earlier this year won an employment tribunal claim. 

Radio host Sarah Montague also received a £400,000 settlement and an apology over unequal treatment.

Miss Gracie wrote on Twitter yesterday: ‘EHRC report on BBC equal pay feels like whitewash.’

The presenter, who was given an apology and back-pay in a settlement with the BBC, added: ‘Examined just ten cases…Seriously? Follow the ££ instead. BBC forced to pay out to hundreds of BBC women. Moral of story – don’t rely on regulator, but stay strong, calm, united and justice will prevail.’

BBC Women, a group of more than 150 broadcasters and producers, said yesterday’s findings did not reflect their experiences and claimed the commission had accepted ‘BBC excuses’.

They added that new cases were still coming forward and declared: ‘We fight on.’ 

Former BBC presenter Carrie Gracie (pictured right), who was at the heart of a huge equal pay row, branded the EHRC verdict a ‘whitewash’. Pictured: Samira Ahmed (left) arriving at an equal pay case hearing against the BBC in November 2019

The EHRC found the BBC had not broken the law, but said it should ‘get its house in order’.  

It said processes to deal with pay claims had let women down in the past. 

The watchdog added there had been a number of areas where the BBC was at risk of unlawful pay discrimination.

It stressed bosses needed to increase transparency and rebuild trust with female staff, some of whom had ‘suffered humiliation, anxiety, insomnia’ after they raised complaints about pay.

The EHRC added the corporation had accepted its historical practices were not fit for purpose and had made significant changes since 2015. 

There was a wave of anger at the EHRC ruling given Miss Ahmed’s tribunal win – and the fact the BBC had made more than 500 pay ‘revisions’ for women in recent years.

One BBC insider said there was ‘puzzlement’ that the watchdog had ignored cases where the corporation had settled with female staff.

News presenter Martine Croxall posted a statement from BBC Women on her social media account. It said: ‘We are deeply disappointed by the findings that do not reflect our experiences.

‘The EHRC tells us they found no breach of the law in how the BBC handled pay complaints – 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. 

‘Out of over 1,000 complaints, the EHRC looked in depth at only ten cases and accepted the BBC’s excuses for why these were not “likely” to be equal pay cases.

‘We question why the EHRC discounted equal pay cases it knows the BBC has been forced to settle. New cases are coming forward and women are still heading to court. We fight on.’

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath acknowledged that women had ‘suffered’ at the BBC, with some waiting two years for an outcome to their cases. Several were signed off work for stress. 

She added: ‘These are real people having a really terrible time…If the processes have let you down, then you don’t trust what’s going on.’

Women’s charity the Fawcett Society was highly critical of the EHRC report. Chief executive Sam Smethers, said: ‘It just can’t be good, robust research to reach a conclusion like that about systemic discrimination across an organisation but only do ten in-depth cases. It just doesn’t stand up.’

The watchdog had begun by looking at 1,000 complaints, but reduced this to 40 before finally focusing on just ten.

Miss Hilsenrath defended the commission, saying it is ‘very confident’ in its findings. BBC director-general Tim Davie pledged to implement EHRC recommendations. 

He said: ‘We note that the commission has made no unlawful findings against the BBC and recognises that there have been significant improvements to BBC pay practices in recent years.

‘However, we have to work even harder to be best in class. Trust is vitally important and, as an organisation that serves the public, the BBC must continue to lead the way on pay transparency and fairness. We are committed to building a truly inclusive culture.’

He recently told MPs that there are 20 gender discrimination cases outstanding at the corporation. 

‘Glint in Jeremy’s eye’ that earned him thousands extra

The BBC tried to justify the pay difference on the basis of Vine being ‘cheeky’ and having a ‘glint in the eye’ Pictured: Jeremy Vine

The BBC risked making ‘stereotypical assumptions’ about the value of men and women at their work, the report says.

It cites the employment tribunal case of Samira Ahmed, who said she was owed more than £700,000 in back earnings after being paid far less than Jeremy Vine, pictured, when they were presenting similar shows about viewer feedback – he Points Of View and she Newswatch.

The BBC tried to justify the difference on the basis of Vine being ‘cheeky’ and having a ‘glint in the eye’. 

The tribunal found unanimously against the BBC and Miss Ahmed received a six-figure payout.

Yesterday the EHRC said it accepted the BBC explanation that factors such as ‘profile’ and ‘audience recognition’ can justify pay differences, but added: ‘There is a risk that such factors conceal stereotypical assumptions about the value of both men and women and their work.’

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