City chair leading campaign for more female executives says BBC women ‘let pay gap happen’

Sir Philip Hampton is the co-chair of a government-commissioned review into increasing the number of women in executive roles

Sir Philip Hampton, the co-chair of a government-commissioned review into increasing the number of women in senior executive roles, is facing widespread criticism after accusing women working at the BBC for ‘letting the pay gap happen’.

Speaking in the wake of the BBC pay row, Hampton questioned how the top female workers had “sat in this situation”, in a contentious interview with the Evening Standard.

“How has this situation arisen at the BBC that these intelligent, high-powered, sometimes formidable women have sat in this situation?” he said.

“They [female broadcasters] are all looking at each other now saying: ‘How did we let this happen?’ I suspect they let it happen because they weren’t doing much about it.”

The public broadcaster was forced by government to publish a list of its top earning staff last week, upon which a significant gender disparity materialised. The highest paid star, Chris Evans, was paid at least £2.2m by the BBC last year – more than four times the corporation’s highest earning woman Claudia Winkleman. Of the 12 men listed as earning more than £400,000, there are only two women on this pay bracket.

The City grandee, who is non-executive chairman of pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline and has held chair roles at the Royal Bank of Scotland and J Sainsbury, also noted that he had “never, ever had a woman ask for a pay rise”.

“I’ve had lots of women reporting to me or coming in to talk to me about their careers – either for general guidance or employees of companies where I’ve been working,” he said. “There isn’t a list long enough for all men who’ve asked. Lots of men have trooped into my office saying they are underpaid, but no woman has ever done that.”

He said it is "far more common for men to ask for more money than it is for women", and that he believed many chief executives would echo his comments.

His comments have sparked backlash from women both inside the BBC and the wider industry, who claim he is “peculiarly out of touch” given his role as co-chair of the Hampton-Alexander review into increasing the number of executive women in FTSE 350 companies.

Jane Garvey, BBC Woman’s Hour presenter, told the Standard: “The likes of Sir Philip Hampton can never begin to understand. He seems peculiarly out of touch given the task he has. Many women have learnt to question their position in the workplace, partly because of the dominance and success of people like him.”

Nicky Morgan, the chair of the Treasury committee, who appointed Hampton to carry out the review, added: “Surely we have moved beyond it being about who marches into the boss’s office asking for a pay rise. That’s why the gender pay gap disclosures put the burden on senior management to think about pay differentials in their organisation."

“Presumably the [BBC] presenters relied on the fact that the BBC was a world-renowned organisation and would treat people equally. Clearly that has proven to be a mistake," she added.

Responding to the criticism, Hampton said: “I’m not blaming women – not remotely. It’s just acknowledging the differences [in behaviour between men and women].”

In a statement the Hampton Alexander review said: “There was an unfortunate comment in reference to the BBC gender pay debate. In no way does Sir Philip think that it was the responsibility of women at the BBC or in any organisation to have done more.”

Members of the press have asked the government whether it is appropriate that Hampton keep his advisory role after the comments, but it is understood he will still be asked to deliver his report on women in business later this year.

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