Female BBC manager offered £12,000 less than male counterpart

A BBC manager has turned down a promotion after finding out that a male colleague was offered £12,000 more for the same role.

In an email to members of BBC staff, Karen Martin expressed her dismay that she had been “asked to accept a considerably lower salary” than her male counterpart Roger Sawyer, “despite being awarded the same job, on the same day, after the same board, during the same recruitment process”.

indirect discrimination

She said she would no longer be taking up her role as one of the two deputy editors in the BBC’s radio newsroom after discovering the discrepancy in pay.

Martin revealed to colleagues: “I’ve been assured our roles and responsibilities are the same. I’ve also been told my appointment was ‘very well deserved’. It’s just that I’m worth £12,000 less.”

Experience not gender

In response to this latest pay controversy, the BBC stood by its offers, stating that several factors, including experience, were factored into its decision.

Gavin Allen, the BBC’s head of news output, told staff: “We took into account the fact that Roger has worked at or above this level for several years, whereas Karen was offered this role as a promotion, with a significant pay increase.

“We think most people would understand that these factors would result in some difference between their individual pay.”

Allen added that the BBC is unable to disclose individual salary figures but that the salaries offered to both Martin and Sawyer were “considerable and entirely appropriate”.

Importantly, he maintained that correct processes had been followed and that the BBC’s principles on fair pay had been adhered to.

BBC gender pay gap controversy

This is not the first time that the BBC has been criticised over equal pay.

In July 2017, an annual gender pay report on the broadcaster’s highest-earning presenters sparked outrage when it revealed that significantly more men than women made the top of the list. This was the first time the corporation was forced by MPs to disclose how much it paid to its top talent. The report uncovered that Chris Evans, the highest-paid male celebrity, made between £2.2m and £2.25m in 2016/17, while Claudia Winkleman, the highest-paid female celebrity, earned between £450,000 and £500,000.

This sparked some of the BBC’s most high-profile female personalities to call on the corporation to “act now” to deal with the gender pay gap. Clare Balding, Victoria Derbyshire and Emily Maitlis subsequently signed an open letter to Lord Hall demanding equal pay in full.

More recently, in January 2019, MPs criticised the BBC for refusing to admit that it has an equal pay problem. Following an inquiry by the House of Commons culture committee, the BBC admitted that procedures to prevent the risk of unequal pay had been inadequate in the past but claimed that new systems had been put in place to stop the problem arising in the future.

Despite this, MPs published another report in which they claimed that the BBC is still failing to acknowledge the “structural problem that exists regarding equal pay” in the corporation.


After requesting that the BBC reconsider its offer, Martin was offered a new salary on the grounds of historical under payments, bringing the gap closer to £7,000.

However, she has publicly declined the revised offer, stating that the issue for her had “never been about the actual salary… but about equal pay”.

James Tamm

Director of Legal Services

Expert Comment

There is no law that requires every employee, carrying out the same job, to be paid the same salary. However, differences in salary based on gender are prohibited. Equal pay legislation and claims are complex, as there are three distinct types of claim that an employee can bring.

Perhaps surprisingly, even workers carrying out vastly different roles – say a female cleaner in a local authority school who wanted to compare herself to a male refuse collector – could bring an equal pay claim if she is able to show that their jobs have been rated the same under a job evaluation scheme or that they are of the same intrinsic value to the employer.

The most straightforward type of equal pay claim is a so-called “like work” claim, where both the claimant and their nominated comparator carry out the same role. That would appear to be the case with this example at the BBC. However, even in a case like this, an employer can still avoid liability if it can show that the difference in pay is genuinely due to a material factor which is not the difference in sex. There are many potential material factors that could be available to an employer. Common ones include length of service/experience, market forces (such as previous salary or specialist industry knowledge) or location.

Even when a genuine material factor can be identified, employers still need to be wary that it is not tainted by sex discrimination, as that can negate it. For example, a higher rate of pay for working unsociable hours could be indirectly discriminatory against women who, statistically, are more likely to have childcare responsibilities at those times.

As ever in cases like this, if you are concerned about unequal pay, or an employee raises a grievance in this regard, you should seek expert guidance from an Employment Law specialist immediately as these sorts of claims can be very expensive.