11 DECEMBER 2019

In spring, I reached a settlement with the BBC to withdraw my Employment Tribunal claims for equal pay and constructive dismissal. There was no victory for me; I felt nothing on signing the agreement, no relief, no closure and I had not been made equal by it. I had become unwell as a result of an equal pay battle which I had always felt was fundamentally not about money. So what was it that made my experience so damaging?

Money is only one measure of a person’s value. Unequal pay is a product of a culture that sees women as having less value than men, not just financially but in terms of our knowledge, skills and contributions. Like many people, I didn’t work for money alone. I joined the BBC because I believe the work it does has value; it is important. If my pay was the measure of my value to the BBC, then underpaying me meant they did not value me in the same way that I valued them. The fight for equal pay is not just a fight for money, it’s a fight to be valued in the fullest sense of the word.

In autumn 2017, the BBC shared salary statistics showing I was paid significantly less than my peers. This was both a shock and hurtful, but it didn’t cause the damage that ultimately led me to resign. So what did?

Challenging for equal pay is an intensely isolating experience. The confidentiality of the internal grievance process and my employment contract prevented me from seeking support from others. The BBC isolated me from information that would have helped provide clarity in our dispute – it refused to provide the actual salaries of my comparators. It became clear that this information would only be released if I proceeded to a final Employment Tribunal hearing, when legally they would be forced to disclose it. I was advised a trial would have been a further 1-2 years away and I could not afford to continue, financially or emotionally.

There was a maddening disconnect between the BBC’s words and its actions. They claimed to be committed to equal pay and to have introduced a transparent pay review process. As a result of this process they awarded me a 25% salary increase but refused to say why or how the decision had been reached – hardly the definition of transparent. When I finally got hold of my pay review, after requesting it under data protection law, I read that they did not propose to bring my pay “directly in line with [my] peers” and were seeking to “pre-empt a solution” over back-pay owed. Later the Department of Culture Media & Sport published a damning report stating the BBC had “failed” on equal pay. The report accurately described my ongoing experience but BBC Director General Tony Hall denounced it as “looking backwards”.

During my grievance, information was selectively ignored. They excluded the description I gave of my role until I insisted that it be included. My exemplary performance review record was omitted but my comparators LinkedIn profiles were included. My role was repeatedly described using half-truths which diminished the scale and significance of my work. Accounts of conversations were altered, the most emotive and damaging words which had been used to me were changed for the record and some conversations were denied altogether.

In formal governance documents my work was described as being “transforming”, “strategic” and “critical”,  but after raising the issue of equal pay it was trivialised as “a hygiene project”, “getting the house in order” and “cleaning up” - descriptions provided by a man who had previously alternated between complimenting me and angrily rebuking me in an entirely unacceptable manner.

By winter 2018 my doctor had signed me off sick and I faced a dilemma. I knew that every internal process was rigged against me but if I went public, I would likely damage things I cared about - the BBC and my career.

Suppose I had not written this article about my treatment at work and instead described a relationship with a family member or partner. If I described that person as deliberately isolating me, repeatedly saying one thing and doing another, alternately building me up and tearing me down, lying to me and doing all of this knowing that I was trapped unless I took actions which threatened the things I cared about - most people would not shy away from calling this emotional abuse.

Much of what I experienced were microagressions; too small to challenge individually but having cumulative impact, taking place slowly, subtly and systematically. The effect was to create confusion and self-doubt. It served not just to undermine my confidence but also my perception of reality, my ability to distinguish the truth and all of it done in order to control me. This destabilisation changed me. I lost my sense of self, my judgement and my ability to trust others. It caused anxiety and I was diagnosed with depression including symptoms generally described as chronic fatigue.

My experience is not an isolated one and I am dismayed by the number of similar stories I have heard from BBC women both past and present. As Samira Ahmed took the BBC to employment tribunal over equal pay last month, the BBC’s pattern of behaviour was laid bare as they resisted disclosure of documents until the judge ordered them to be provided. Emotional abuse has no place in society; we need to start talking about this problem and recognising the behaviours, because in doing so, we can start to rob it of its power.


Former BBC employee. Writing about women, discrimination in the workplace and the battle for equal pay.

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