Lessons Learnt? Understanding data and changing culture at the BBC

team gapsquare

Thoughts from a gender pay gap data scientist

@gapsquare

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