NEWS
08/01/2018 1:52 AM IST | Updated 08/01/2018 9:34 PM IST

BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie Quits Job Over Broadcaster Paying Men More Than Women For Same Job

Journalist accuses corporation of 'secretive' gender pay structure and 'breaking equality law'.

BBC
Carrie Gracie: 'For far too long, a secretive and illegal BBC pay culture has inflicted dishonourable choices on those who enforce it'.

A top BBC journalist has quit her job with the broadcaster in protest at men getting paid more than women for doing the same job.

Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, blasted the Beeb for having a “secretive and illegal pay culture” in a damning open letter.

Gracie left her role as editor of the corporation’s Beijing bureau last week - which she described as “the greatest privilege of my career” -  but will remain with the BBC, who she has been with for 30 years. 

She has made the stand after it was revealed two-thirds of BBC stars earning more than £150,000 were male.

Speaking on the Today programme on Monday, Gracie said she had been moved by the reaction to her stand: “It’s been very moving actually. Two things have really struck me and moved me most is the scale of the feeling, not just among BBC women but also across the country and internationally - the support that I’ve had.”

She added: “I think the scale of feeling, not just amongst BBC women, but more widely across the country and internationally... the support that I’ve had in the last few hours over this, it does speak to the depth of hunger for an equal, fair and transparent system.”

An open letter, detailing her concerns over the “secretive” gender pay structure at the corporation, has been published on her website, and she reveals men doing the same job were paid 50% more than her, and has since turned down an “unequal pay rise”.

She wrote: “With great regret, I have left my post as China editor to speak out publicly on a crisis of trust at the BBC.

“I believe you have a right to know that it is breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure.”

She added: “It is not men earning more because they do more of the jobs which pay better. It is men earning more in the same jobs or jobs of equal value. It is pay discrimination and it is illegal.”

Gracie continues that “for far too long, a secretive and illegal BBC pay culture has inflicted dishonourable choices on those who enforce it”. “This must change,” she adds.

She also made clear her protest was in support of the “brilliant young women” she works with.

“I don’t want their generation to have to fight this battle in the future because my generation failed to win it now,” she wrote. 

Quitting the role she has held since 2013, Gracie said she would stay with the BBC and return to her former role in the BBC News Channel newsroom.

As #istandwithcarrie started trending after news broke, The Times reported more than 130 women working for the BBC had signed a statement of support in solidarity with Gracie.

Several of Gracie’s BBC colleagues tweeted their support for her stand, including presenter Emma Barnett and Today host Sarah Montague. 

Clare Balding also put out a statement on behalf of more than 130 broadcasters and producers, saying: 

 Clare Balding, one of the the BBC’s best paid female broadcasters, wrote: “This is a letter to everyone who loves and values the BBC from one of its finest journalists. @BBCCarrie has resigned as China editor. Please read and retweet. It’s time for #equalpay.”

In July, some of the BBC’s most high-profile personalities demanded the corporation tackle its gender pay gap after it revealed the on-screen staff who earn more than £150,000 and exposed unequal pay between men and women.

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, Today programme hosts Mishal Husain and Sarah Montague, journalist Victoria Derbyshire and presenter Clare Balding were among 44 women who signed an open letter to director general Tony Hall urging change.

Jeff Overs via Getty Images
Carrie Gracie with BBC News colleague Simon McCoy in 2008.

Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans was the top earner at the BBC on more than £2m, while the highest paid woman was Strictly’s Claudia Winkleman in the substantially lower £450,000 - £499,999 pay bracket.

A BBC spokesman said “fairness in pay is vital”, adding: “A significant number of organisations have now published their gender pay figures showing that we are performing considerably better than many and are well below the national average.

“Alongside that, we have already conducted a independent judge led audit of pay for rank and file staff which showed ‘no systemic discrimination against women’.

“A separate report for on air staff will be published in the not too distant future.”

Speaking on the Today programme Mariella Frostrup attempted to move the equal pay debate away from the BBC, as it “certainly isn’t the worst offender” - but admitted it was “very disappointing that Carrie has been forced into this situation”, not least because it has been 48 years since the Equal Pays Act came into force. 

“Women are still earning considerable less than men for doing the same jobs, of course it is a situation that can’t continue, and I think Carrie’s actions just proves that people have got to the point where we are just sick and tired of it.”

Empics Entertainment
Mariella Frostrup spoke on the Today programme about Gracie's decision

When asked about recent pay reviews that showed the BBC did not have a “systemic” issue with equal pay, Frostrup said she did not want to “talk specifically about the BBC” but went on to say she knew of “many, many other women” who are “suffering exactly as Carrie... and are unable to change what continues to be the status quo”.

“The reason it (Gracie’s resignation) has grabbed many headlines is that the BBC is an example in so many ways of what it fair and just and right” and called for the broadcaster to get its “house completely in order and lead the way as it has done in so many other” areas.

“The time has come for this kind of thing to come to a stop, whether it is equal pay or sexual harassment... it is just depressing to read that headlines,” Frostrup said.

“It’s just depressing to read the headlines. I’ve grown up the child of a 70s feminist and in my working life I can honestly say the situation hasn’t barely improved.”

Meanwhile, people questioned why Carrie was not able to speak on the Today programme, but was scheduled to appear on Woman’s Hour. 

The BBC is yet to respond to a request for comment on that, but Today host John Humphrys told listeners that the broadcaster had rules on “impartiality which means that presenters can’t suddenly turn into interviewees on the programmes they are presenting”.

The Fawcett Society backed Gracie for being “brave, dignified and principled in her stand”.

Its chief executive, Sam Smethers, called on the BBC to be proactive and resolve the equal pay dispute: “There will be more BBC women taking action - some of them legal action. It’s important for the corporation to address any unequal pay now. The law requires employers to pay women and men equally for doing the same job or work of equal value. They have to be able to objectively justify any differences; the onus is on them.

“What we lack in our pay systems is transparency. But given that the BBC has published at least some individual pay information, it has no choice but to address any unequal pay or leave itself vulnerable to legal claims.”

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) praised Gracie for being as “fearless” in her pursuit of equal pay as she is in her reporting. 

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said:  “Her (Gracie’s) letter to licence fee payers makes it clear what a difficult decision it has been to speak out about what she calls a crisis of trust at the BBC, but why it is vital that the British public are clear about why she has been forced to resign her post as China Editor and return early to London. 

“Carrie is one of many women journalists at the BBC who are angry and frustrated that a swifter resolution has not been reached to this scourge of unequal pay at our public service broadcaster. The NUJ is determined to hold the BBC to account and reach proper settlements on behalf of women who have suffered a deficit in salary and pension contributions over many years.”

Read Carrie Gracie’s full letter here or below.

Dear BBC audience, 

My name is Carrie Gracie and I have been a BBC journalist for three decades. With great regret, I have left my post as China Editor to speak out publicly on a crisis of trust at the BBC.

The BBC belongs to you, the licence fee payer. I believe you have a right to know that it is breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure.

In thirty years at the BBC, I have never sought to make myself the story and never publicly criticised the organisation I love. I am not asking for more money. I believe I am very well paid already – especially as someone working for a publicly funded organisation. I simply want the BBC to abide by the law and value men and women equally.

On pay, the BBC is not living up to its stated values of trust, honesty and accountability. Salary disclosures the BBC was forced to make six months ago revealed not only unacceptably high pay for top presenters and managers but also an indefensible pay gap between men and women doing equal work. These revelations damaged the trust of BBC staff. For the first time, women saw hard evidence of what they’d long suspected, that they are not being valued equally.

Many have since sought pay equality through internal negotiation but managers still deny there is a problem. This bunker mentality is likely to end in a disastrous legal defeat for the BBC and an exodus of female talent at every level.

Mine is just one story of inequality among many, but I hope it will help you understand why I feel obliged to speak out.

I am a China specialist, fluent in Mandarin and with nearly three decades of reporting the story. Four years ago, the BBC urged me to take the newly created post of China Editor.

I knew the job would demand sacrifices and resilience. I would have to work 5000 miles from my teenage children, and in a heavily censored one-party state I would face surveillance, police harassment and official intimidation.

I accepted the challenges while stressing to my bosses that I must be paid equally with my male peers. Like many other BBC women, I had long suspected that I was routinely paid less, and at this point in my career, I was determined not to let it happen again. Believing that I had secured pay parity with men in equivalent roles, I set off for Beijing.

In the past four years, the BBC has had four international editors - two men and two women. The Equality Act 2010 states that men and women doing equal work must receive equal pay. But last July I learned that in the previous financial year, the two men earned at least 50% more than the two women.

Despite the BBC’s public insistence that my appointment demonstrated its commitment to gender equality, and despite my own insistence that equality was a condition of taking up the post, my managers had yet again judged that women’s work was worth much less than men’s.

My bewilderment turned to dismay when I heard the BBC complain of being forced to make these pay disclosures. Without them, I and many other BBC women would never have learned the truth.

I told my bosses the only acceptable resolution would be for all the international editors to be paid the same amount. The right amount would be for them to decide, and I made clear I wasn’t seeking a pay rise, just equal pay. Instead the BBC offered me a big pay rise which remained far short of equality. It said there were differences between roles which justified the pay gap, but it has refused to explain these differences. Since turning down an unequal pay rise, I have been subjected to a dismayingly incompetent and undermining grievance process which still has no outcome.

Enough is enough. The rise of China is one of the biggest stories of our time and one of the hardest to tell. I cannot do it justice while battling my bosses and a byzantine complaints process. Last week I left my role as China Editor and will now return to my former post in the TV newsroom where I expect to be paid equally.

For BBC women this is not just a matter of one year’s salary or two. Taking into account disadvantageous contracts and pension entitlements, it is a gulf that will last a lifetime. Many of the women affected are not highly paid ‘stars’ but hard-working producers on modest salaries. Often women from ethnic minorities suffer wider pay gaps than the rest.

This is not the gender pay gap that the BBC admits to. It is not men earning more because they do more of the jobs which pay better. It is men earning more in the same jobs or jobs of equal value. It is pay discrimination and it is illegal.

On learning the shocking scale of inequality last July, BBC women began to come together to tackle the culture of secrecy that helps perpetuate it. We shared our pay details and asked male colleagues to do the same.

Meanwhile the BBC conducted various reviews. The outgoing Director of News said last month, “We did a full equal pay audit which showed there is equal pay across the BBC.” But this was not a full audit. It excluded the women with the biggest pay gaps. The BBC has now begun a ‘talent review’ but the women affected have no confidence in it. Up to two hundred BBC women have made pay complaints only to be told repeatedly there is no pay discrimination at the BBC. Can we all be wrong? I no longer trust our management to give an honest answer.

In fact, the only BBC women who can be sure they do not suffer pay discrimination are senior managers whose salaries are published. For example, we have a new, female, Director of News who did not have to fight to earn the same as her male predecessor because his £340 000 salary was published and so was hers. Elsewhere, pay secrecy makes BBC women as vulnerable as they are in many other workplaces.

How to put things right?

The BBC must admit the problem, apologise and set in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure. To avoid wasting your licence fee on an unwinnable court fight against female staff, the BBC should immediately agree to independent arbitration to settle individual cases.

Patience and good will are running out. In the six months since July’s revelations, the BBC has attempted a botched solution based on divide and rule. It has offered some women pay ‘revisions’ which do not guarantee equality, while locking down other women in a protracted complaints process.

We have felt trapped. Speaking out carries the risk of disciplinary measures or even dismissal; litigation can destroy careers and be financially ruinous. What’s more the BBC often settles cases out of court and demands non-disclosure agreements, a habit unworthy of an organisation committed to truth, and one which does nothing to resolve the systemic problem.

None of this is an indictment of individual managers. I am grateful for their personal support and for their editorial integrity in the face of censorship pressure in China. But for far too long, a secretive and illegal BBC pay culture has inflicted dishonourable choices on those who enforce it. This must change.

Meanwhile we are by no means the only workplace with hidden pay discrimination and the pressure for transparency is only growing. I hope rival news organisations will not use this letter as a stick with which to beat the BBC, but instead reflect on their own equality issues.

It is painful to leave my China post abruptly and to say goodbye to the team in the BBC’s Beijing bureau. But most of them are brilliant young women. I don’t want their generation to have to fight this battle in the future because my generation failed to win it now.

To women of any age in any workplace who are confronting pay discrimination, I wish you the solidarity of a strong sisterhood and the support of male colleagues.

It is a century since women first won the right to vote in Britain. Let us honour that brave generation by making this the year we win equal pay.