I suspect there are many companies out there who would be thrilled if their gender pay gap was as low as the BBC’s 10% – eight points below the national average. A week ago, it was almost impossible to drum up any enthusiasm about pay parity but now just about everyone has a view on equal pay and whether one presenter should be paid more or less than another. The phrase #GenderPayGap got more publicity in a few days than the Equal Pay Act or the recently implemented Gender Pay Gap reporting regime have had in four decades.

For all the other employers out there with 250 or more employees, are there any lessons to be learnt from the BBC experience in the run-up to the publication of their gender pay gap data? The biggest take-away is that the narrative around the numbers is just as important as the numbers themselves. Some or all of the BBC’s published salaries may be justified on non-gender grounds because they relate to, for example, multiple programmes/roles, or they reflect market forces, or there are other non-discriminatory material factors at play. Publishing the figures without more explanation opens the door to speculation about pay inequality.

Any company hoping to publish their gender pay gap data without significant interest from current employees, potential future employees or the media might need to think again. Everyone is an “expert” now and engagement levels are likely to be elevated.

To pre-emptively manage the message to stakeholders:

  • Explain that the gender pay gap is not the same as pay inequality
  • Where an equal pay audit has been conducted in part or all of the business, and your are comfortable that there are no pay parity issues, say so
  • Provide contextual information to explain discrepancies in pay and bonuses – are there sector-specific explanations?
  • Outline the action points to address any issues with timescales.