BBC’s China editor resigns over gender pay gap dispute

BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie speaks to the media outside BBC Broadcasting House in London, Monday January 8, 2018 after she resigned from her position in Beijing in protest over what she called a failure to sufficiently address a gap in compensation between men and women at the public broadcaster. ( AP )

Claire Gracie says her departure was prompted by BBC’s failure to address a gaping difference in salaries for men and women.

The BBC’s China editor has resigned from her position in Beijing in protest over what she called a failure to sufficiently address a gap in compensation between men and women at the public broadcaster.

Carrie Gracie’s departure is the latest aftershock from the BBC’s forced publication last year of pay levels for its top earners that showed two-thirds of those in the top bracket were men.

Presenting the corporation’s flagship Today programme on Monday alongside John Humphrys, the BBC’s highest-paid news broadcaster, Gracie said on Monday the support she’d received for her decision had been “very moving” and showed the degree of frustration among many over the issue of equal pay.

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

“And the other thing I’d like to say is that what is lovely for me is that people are mentioning my China work, because I would not wish to be remembered forever as the woman who complained about money.”

A 30-year veteran of the BBC who speaks fluent Chinese, Gracie said in a statement on her website addressed to BBC viewers that she could no longer perform her job at a high level while battling with bosses over pay equality.

Equal pay for equal work

Gracie said she learned that two of the BBC’s four international editors – both men – made at least 50 percent more than their two female counterparts. She said she was not seeking more money for herself, but only demanding that the BBC observe British law requiring equal pay for equal work.

Gracie said she would stay with the BBC and “return to my former post in the TV newsroom where I expect to be paid equally.”

“The BBC must admit the problem, apologise and set in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure,” Gracie wrote.

Rather than waste money on an “unwinnable court fight against female staff, the BBC should immediately agree to independent arbitration to settle individual cases,” she wrote.

The BBC was forced last year to reveal the salaries of its highest-paid employees.

The disclosures showed “an indefensible pay gap between men and women doing equal work,” Gracie said in a blog post announcing her resignation.

“These revelations damaged the trust of BBC staff,” she added, stating that up to 200 women employed by the broadcaster had made complaints over pay discrimination in recent months.

Two-thirds of BBC staff earning more than $203,000  were shown to be men, according to the figures published in July.

Gracie warned that a “bunker mentality” by managers so far “is likely to end in a disastrous legal defeat for the BBC and an exodus of female talent at every level.”

Auditing the BBC

The BBC on Monday quoted a spokeswoman as reaffirming its commitment to equal pay and saying a separate report on pay for on-air staff would be issued in the “not too distant future.”

“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 an independent judge-led audit of pay for rank and file staff which showed ‘no systemic discrimination against women,'” the statement said.

Gracie, who took on the newly-created job of China editor four years ago, said women at the BBC were running out of “patience and good will” in the face of what she called a “divide and rule” approach and a continuing refusal by the corporation to admit to discriminatory policies.

She said those who complained faced the threat of retaliation and even dismissal, while others were either bogged down in arbitration talks or offered new pay packages on condition the terms remained secret.

“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,” she wrote.

Gracie’s move received voluble praise online from her colleagues, with veteran BBC journalist their chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet tweeting, “Brilliant Brave.”

More than 130 journalists who are part of the BBC Women group backed her decision.

“It is hugely regrettable that an outstanding and award-winning journalist like Carrie Gracie feels she has no option but to resign from her post as China editor because the BBC has not valued her equally with her male counterparts,” they said in a statement published by Doucet.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, said the body was “determined to hold the BBC to account” and reach settlements on behalf of women who have suffered a salary deficit.