The case for pay transparency

The Samira Ahmed case highlights the need for pay transparency and for being open to questioning the way things have traditionally been done.

Folder with label saying 'salaries'


The ripples from the Samira Ahmed case are starting to be felt, at least within the BBC. The case centred on whether the presenting work of Ahmed on BBC’s Newswatch programme was equal to that of Jeremy Vine on Points of View, warranting a pay difference of 600 per cent.

The BBC is now reported to be having to decide whether to settle with around 50 other people or risk further tribunal cases.However, the impact of the case is much wider. Employment lawyers say the case shows the need for employers to adopt clear processes for determining pay and to record all decisions made.

Transparency over pay is the name of the game and in a world of performance-related pay and confidential individual deals that is going to cause some upheaval.

The media, like most employers, often argues that it is a special case and to a certain degree that is true. Every sector has its own traditions, quirks and ways of operating. But that does not mean they are right or should not be subject to questioning.


Ahmed’s case in part turned on personality and popularity, the idea that Jeremy Vine had some extra pizzazz that Ahmed did not possess that meant he deserved to be paid more. The popularity argument is often used to justify presenters’ high wages. In Ahmed’s case it didn’t wash because the viewing figures for her programme were higher than for Vine’s, although Points of View has traditionally been viewed as having more pulling power.

How do you measure personality and popularity in a world characterised by bias? If you promote one presenter by giving them more profile is it fair to pay them more because they are better known?

Discussions around gender issues related to pay, in part put under the spotlight by the gender pay audits, have explored various different factors, from promotion bias to pay negotiating skills. Do women lack the confidence to ask for the kind of pay rises men do or are they just more likely to be knocked back? Do men expect, ask for – and get – higher amounts? Do employers expect men to ask for more and act accordingly?

How do you correct for social expectations and attitudes? Should it be about giving women the skills to ask for more or should employers have clearer pay bands to address this bias? Why do men get left out of the discussions? Maybe their expectations also need to be addressed. It’s a hard one when we are still in the middle of a whole tornado of social change, where women still do and are expected to do most of the childcare, to work flexibly around this and to let their career take a back seat despite more couples wanting to share things equally and despite the economic need for parents, male and female, to work full time.


There are a whole raft of equal pay cases going through at the moment which turn on jobs of equal worth being either undervalued if they are done by women or overvalued if they are done by men. This matters hugely, not just for equality in the workplace, but for equality in retirement.

It can only be addressed if we talk about all these questions openly, have a better understanding of the factors that determine pay and subject those factors to scrutiny and ask: is this fair?

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