By Mark Di Stephano, 17 January 2019
The BBC is under fire from its own staff for hiring an employment consultancy to help tackle its gender pay gap because the firm’s own gender pay gap is twice the size of the public service broadcaster’s.
Croner was brought in by the BBC in Autumn 2018 to handle the flood of complaints from the organisation’s female employees claiming they were being paid less than their male peers for doing work of equal value.
Since then, Croner has become a central player in the BBC’s efforts to get its gender pay gap problems under control. Consultants from the company sit on the BBC’s equal pay panels and have the casting vote in the most contested cases.
Following criticism over the BBC’s handling of the gender discrimination case of presenter Samira Ahmed, female staff have raised concerns over Croner’s role in settling the broadcaster’s equal pay cases. BBC insiders say confidence in the company has been undermined by its own gender pay problem.
Croner’s median gender pay gap between male and female earnings was 18 per cent in 2018/19, more than twice the BBC’s gap over the same period of 7.6 per cent. Since legislation was introduced in 2017 all large companies in the UK have had to make their gender pay gap public.
“We have not found the involvement of Croner to be independent or to have improved outcomes for women,” said one person from the BBC Women’s group, which represents female staff at the broadcaster. “Often the Croner approach is hostile.”
Despite criticism of the BBC over gender pay, it performs much better than other large media organisations in the UK.
When asked about its work for the BBC and its own record on gender pay, a Croner spokesperson said: “Croner recognises that currently, we do have a gender pay gap.” However, the firm added it was “committed” to achieving a “gender balance at all levels of our business.”
On accusations from BBC staff that its panel members in the grievance process were “hostile”, the spokesperson said: “It is denied that any Croner consultant has ever been hostile. Croner consultants have always been impartial throughout the process and as members of each grievance panel, have jointly upheld, or partially upheld grievances where appropriate.”
Ms Ahmed’s victory in her sex discrimination case against the BBC last week could open the way for more costly claims from female employees.
In November last year, a tribunal heard there were up to 70 cases involving female employees who had made official complaints over alleged discrepancies in their pay compared with male staff. The BBC insists there are “significantly” fewer left to resolve.
When female employees enter the BBC internal grievance process, they need to make their case in front of a two-person panel, consisting of a senior BBC manager and a Croner consultant. The outside consultant gets the casting vote if there is a disagreement.
One female BBC employee who had been through the process described it as “a show-trial put on for the employer’s benefit”.
A 2018 report by the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sports committee also highlighted concerns from female staff at the role played by Croner.
“We were told in confidence that BBC women did not feel that Croner was acting impartially,” the report said.
Former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie, who triggered the equal pay crisis by quitting her job when she discovered she was paid significantly less than senior male colleagues, told the committee the women going through the process did not trust those involved.
“Grievances don’t work because we don’t trust them,” Ms Gracie said, adding the process had to change.
Conservative MP Damian Collins, who chaired the culture committee, said the BBC should now conduct a review into the contract with Croner.
“The BBC failed in its equal pay policies and has created a protracted and stressful complaints procedure,” said Mr Collins. Croner, he added, had “clearly failed to recognise the seriousness of the situation” and to ensure “swift redress for those who had lost out.”
The BBC declined to reveal how much it was paying Croner for its work on equal pay.
“This process was established and agreed with the BBC’s joint unions,” a BBC spokesperson said. “Croner’s experts reach an independent conclusion in line with relevant legislation including the Equality Act and Acas codes of practice, as well as the BBC’s own pay principles.”