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BBC debacle shows wage transparency agenda must be pushed

As a CEO who very publicly shed light on salaries at his own company, Charlie Mullins believes wage transparency is a must for any British business.
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For our financially prudish nation, talking salaries is still one of the biggest taboos. In fact, according to a study from 2015, the British public are more likely to discuss their sex life than reveal the size of their pay packet. So, it’s no surprise that the BBC’s pay list was going to break the internet, especially when we’re footing a chunk of the bill.

As the CEO of a company that went through this exercise very publicly in the Channel 4 television experiment “Show Me Your Money” in 2012, I can tell you that many noses are put out of joint, but more of that later.

At the BBC, most of those noses belong to talented women who are being paid significantly less than their male counterparts. It doesn’t look good when the top seven earners are men and only one third of 96 stars earning more than £150,000 are female.

BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, answered the public wrath with a statement saying: “By 2020 we will have equality between men and women on air, and we will also have the pay gap sorted by then too.”

Whether Hall keeps his promise or not is yet to be seen, but the release of BBC’s pay list has opened Pandora’s Box for the corporation. It’s no wonder the bosses are in serious bother for failing to practise what they preach – a business with truth and fairness supposedly at the heart of its operation.

This whole wage war now seems to be a building pressure to bring salaries down to an even level.

It begs the question, would all businesses benefit from transparency when it comes to pay? I know that when I signed up to “Show Me Your Money” it was risky, and could well have been disastrous for the company. But, in all honesty, I think it did us the world of good.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few unhappy people to find out that their co-workers were earning more, but it left us in better stead. We redistributed some of the wages and it’s ultimately left us with a fairer pay structure in place. It’s good to know that there aren’t any skeletons left in our wage-packet closet.

The issue is not necessarily how much these guys are earning, after all Chris Evans and Gary Lineker could pocket even more from a commercial broadcaster, it’s about parity for capabilities and performance. Ask any economist and they’ll tell you that transparency is key to any properly functioning market, and wage deals done in secret are open to abuse.

Of course, the gender issue has quite rightly been at the forefront of this debate, but whatever sex the person is, their wage should be equal with colleagues doing the same job and to the same ability.

It’s cutting to see that a company you’re devoting your life to can seemingly assign more value to the person sitting next to you who is doing exactly the same job. Hopefully, with the salaries out in the open, the BBC can bring some sanity and parity to pay salaries, and fairly recognise the abundance of talent the corporation has across the board.

I know, from my experience of taking part in the Channel 4 show, that wage transparency is essential. Whether you’re a state broadcaster, a large plumbing company or a growing tech firm, it should be a principle at the heart of the business.

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About Author

Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins, also an OBE, is the archetypal entrepreneur – having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, he left school with no qualifications, but after a four-year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £30m and boasts many well-known names among its many clients including Simon Cowell, Helen Mirren and Richard Branson. He has been a regular contributor on Real Business since 2011 and is particularly about apprenticships.

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