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The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has written to the BBC over the resignation of the BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie who stepped down from her post citing gender pay inequality as the reason.
In an open letter to tv licence payers Gracie said there was a “crisis of trust” at the BBC over gender pay issues and claimed the corporation was “breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure”.
She said that last year’s publication of the pay of top presenters showed an “indefensible pay gap” between men and women, but said managers were denying there was a problem.
She wrote: “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.”
Grace, a fluent Mandarin speaker, said that she had been asked to take the China editor post four years ago. “I knew the job would demand sacrifices and resilience,” she writes. “I would have to work 5,000 miles from my teenage children, and in a heavily censored one-party state I would face surveillance, police harassment and official intimidation.” She believed she would be paid on an equal footing with men doing a similar job.
She states: “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…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 that pay rise down, she has been through a grievance procedure.
She says: “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…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.”
Grace calls for the BBC to admit it has a problem and for it to set in place a system that guarantees transparency over pay at all levels, not just senior levels. She claims up to 200 women have made pay complaints and have been told that BBC has done a pay audit and that there is no pay discrimination. “Can we all be wrong? I no longer trust our management to give an honest answer,” she says, calling for independent arbitration to settle each case. She claims that in the last six months the BBC has operated a divide and rule policy on women’s pay, offering “pay revisions” to some and “locking down other women in a protracted complaints process”.
Grace [pictured right] says other media organisations have similar problems and should reflect on how they tackle them. She ends: “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.”
Reports on Monday suggested journalists who had tweeted support for Gracie were not being allowed to handle the story on air with the BBC citing its editorial guidelines on impartiality as the reason.
Gracie’s resignation came on the night of the Golden Globe Awards where the audience members, including top actors and actresses, wore black in support of women who have spoken out about sexual harassment and abuse in the industry. Oprah Winfrey, who became the first black woman to win the Cecil B DeMille lifetime achievement award, gave an impassioned speech, saying: “I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”