It’s the nasty surprises that do the damage. The publication of top BBC salaries has caused an almighty furore over the last week but what light does it shine on Gender Pay Gap Reporting?

Companies, universities, hospital trusts and local authorities already publish what their highest earning director or chief executive gets paid, and are well aware of the sensationalist coverage releasing this information can generate.

When league tables of top salaries are presented in the national media they know how to respond. The £450,000 paid to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath is a recent example that caused a little surprise but the bigger surprise was the large number of senior managers at Bath paid over £100,000 which outraged Lord Adonis, the former education minister, and will likely have caused real resentment among academic and non academic staff on more limited pay grades.

This is the lesson from the BBC. Yes everyone guessed there would be a Gender Pay Gap at the BBC. Yes we all suspected that the likes of Chris Evans, Gary Lineker and Graham Norton would be at the top and that John Humphries was probably the highest paid among the Today programme presenters.

The BBC lesson is that the nasty surprises lie in the scale and the detail. Clare Balding is a national treasure by any definition but learning she was on a fraction of the top earners – it took my breath away.

Most people will already have a good idea of which categories of staff are paid more in their companies and where the gaps exist. It is the difference between knowing in general that there is a gender pay gap and finding out the scale and the specifics which will be a shock.

It is the surprises that do the damage and lead to negative reactions. Expectation management is the challenge and having a clearly defined plan of action looks like the answer.

Many organisations are wisely planning to publish their gender pay gap statistics to their own timetable, rather than waiting for the April 2018 deadline, and whilst some plan to go into more detail than required looking at age and race as well, everyone I speak to is finding tricky surprises that even they did not quite appreciate or expect.

There are huge numbers of consultations and workshops to work out how to explain this and how to address it. Most are deciding that transparency and a commitment to action is the best way to show staff and clients that management are taking it seriously and have a plan to do something about it.

Many of these approaches will be on show at the Fawcett Society annual Gender Pay Gap Reporting broadcast conference on the 12th October, showcasing, benchmarking and catching up on the wide range of responses and innovations in reporting and tackling gender pay gaps.

It is important not to confuse the BBC process with gender pay reporting in general but among the lessons from the BBC announcement is that the press and trade press are gearing up for a feeding frenzy when results are published and there will be few places to hide.

So a proactive, transparent and prepared approach to gender pay gap reporting is the message from the BBC experience. And remember you have to come back and do it all again next year.