Lessons Learnt? Understanding data and changing culture at the BBC

team gapsquare

Thoughts from a gender pay gap data scientist


The last five days must have been somewhat of a headache for Tony Hall, BBC Director-General. First, the damning list of salaries that showed that lack of female high earners and gender pay disparity, followed by some of the BBC’s most high-profile female personalities writing a frank open letter calling him to “act now” to tackle the gender pay gap, rather than waiting until 2020 for it to be eliminated. It has certainly made headline news and spread to extensive conversations from within the BBC, the general workplace, to the pub with friends on the weekend.

My inner cynicism shows an element of lack of surprise to the figures. Women have continuously been under-represented at the BBC, with Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic women, older women, transwomen, disabled women and LGBTQ women even further under-represented. Experience within gender pay gap data analysis unfortunately has informed me that under-representation tends to go hand in hand with pay disparity too.

The public appears to be shocked, as the BBC have a reputation to lead the way and represent the nation as to our values and principles. Yet, as a nation, we are plagued with gender inequality in the workplace, from harassment and abuse (E.G. the Saville era), to sexism and misogyny. A day doesn’t go by without word of a male colleagues’ inappropriate comments about a female member of staff reaching my ears, examples of everyday sexism, our female CEO being asked to “clear away the cups” by a nonchalant businessman in our business lounge or instances when friends are overlooked for a promotion and miss out on pay rises after returning from maternity. As a nation, we are far from gender equality and the news coming out of the BBC in the last few days appears to mirror what we as women experience across the country.

However, this media-storm is a great opportunity to learn some valuable lessons and move toward greater equality in the workplace. Tony Hall is right in saying that “we need to do more to close the gender pay gap.” The BBC itself has a pay gap of 10%, so yes, more needs to be done.

As a pay gap data scientist, working with HR and payroll data across a number of organisations in the UK, I am seeing daily data on the issues that are actually causing the gender pay gap. I work for Gapsquare, a tech start-up that has created a piece of self-use software that allows companies to go into in-depth analysis of their gender pay gap. The tool looks beyond the mere reporting figures and delves deeper so we can see, using actual data, if occupational segregation, the glass ceiling or the motherhood penalty actually are factors that create, perpetuate and exacerbate the gender pay gap. Using data, companies can build data-driven action plans to genuinely tackle the gap, and using artificial intelligence, put in place measures that will genuinely reduce the gap, which, the majority of the time, all involve an actual culture change.

Tony Hall says that he is “committed to closing the gap by 2020” – my experience looking at other companies’ data is that if we genuinely want to achieve this, we need to look beyond the reporting figures. Hall needs to look into the big data of the BBC, analyse by department, by job level, by ethnicity, by age and how this impacts the company culture. Only then will he actually be able to stand up and say that closing the gap by 2020 is achievable. When the BBC reports before next April, I am expecting to see more than just the figures needed for government compliance. I am expecting a full and comprehensive analysis of pay and inequality at the BBC and using this analysis, achievable targets to measure and track change.

If Tony Hall truly wants the BBC to be regarded as “an exemplar on gender and diversity” and accelerate change, he needs to use big data, and accept that the BBC needs to change a lot in the coming months and years. And quickly if he wants to meet his 2020 target.

Lessons Learnt? Understanding data and changing culture at the BBC

The 5 Causes of the Gender Pay Gap

By Sian Webb – Partnerships Manager at Gapsquare

At Gapsquare, we use technology to find out and explain what causes your gender pay gap. There is never one clear cut reason about why a company has a gender pay gap, and is usually caused by several factors, which can essentially be categorised into five causes.

Read More On The Equality and Diversity Website



The 5 Causes of the Gender Pay Gap

Closing the Gender Pay Gap: How your business can reap the benefits


Insights from Manchester by Sian Webb – Partnerships Manager at Gapsquare

I had the pleasure of attending a joint event with PwC and the Government Equalities Office in Manchester on Tuesday 17 July. It was an interesting event because we heard from the GEO and two early pay gap reporters – PricewaterhouseCoopers and the first public sector organisation to report, Doncaster City Council.

PricewaterhouseCoopers discussed the complexities involved in processing data collection, number crunching, reporting and importantly, communicating your message. PwC has a long history of reporting on their gender pay gap, and so this was not a new task for them to complete, however, they expressed the importance of communicating your message carefully and transparently with your staff, especially when media outlets can be sensationalist. It then becomes critical to ensure that your staff understand the numbers that are being projected, the narrative behind them, and consequently, what actions you are taking moving forward to reduce your gap.

Doncaster Council has only just reported their figures and discussed two key areas – the difficulties and length of time it takes to get to the point where you need to report and then the importance of understanding what your data tells you about your organisation. Doncaster Council has numerous different and complex pay structures and even after having to pull and cleanse their data, they have had to run their calculations through about five times! Learning from Doncaster Council, gender pay gap reporting has not been an easy and fluid process for them.

Three interesting questions emerged in the Q&A session following the two presentations:


  • What was the rational for excluding partners?

    The Government Equalities Office recognise that there are many different complex pay structures in different companies, and trying to find a way of including partners who often don’t take salaries would be too challenging for some employers. Whilst it was acknowledged that often, partners salaries are the ones in the higher paid positions and gives a fairer reflection of the gender pay gap, there is hope that there would still be some transparency over revealing partner salaries amongst large companies. Watching how large companies report their gender pay gap and whether they include partner info will be interesting in the coming months. At Gapsquare, we recommend running your data through our tool both with and without partners, to look at how your numbers compare and so that you can take clear, demonstrable action to tackle the gender pay gap across your company, and encourage more women to become partners.


  • How do you make metrics matter?

    Around the room, it was acknowledged that it wasn’t about the numbers, but about making them matter. Doncaster Council had gone beyond just the numbers, and analysed by pay grades to allow them to understand what makes up their gender pay gap and what they can do to reduce it. They also acknowledged that this takes time.

    The great news is that this is where Gapsquare comes in – we take your data and get instant insights on more than just compliance – we analyse by department, job level, education, location as well as ethnicity, meaning that you can spend time tackling the difficult bit – working out what you need to do to reduce your pay gap.


  • What will the Government Equalities Office do in terms of verifying our data is correct?

    There seems to be a lot of concern and worry that companies may make mistakes – what happens if we make a mistake with the formula? What if we exclude or include the wrong elements of pay or employees?

    Luckily, Gapsquare can help with this too! We have a free tool that allows companies to upload their data and run their numbers through to see if their mean and median pay gap numbers are correct! This allows for some comfort and peace of mind.



Check out our free tool at www.gapsquare.com today.

Closing the Gender Pay Gap: How your business can reap the benefits