BBC director-general Tony Hall denied there is an “old boys’ network” at the corporation as he addressed the issue of equal pay.
Appearing before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, Lord Hall also said he believed he had not let the BBC down in his nearly five years at its helm.
He said he had done “quite a lot” in getting more women on the air and into more senior positions.
His comments came after Carrie Gracie gave evidence to the committee following her resignation as China editor in a row over unequal pay.
Gracie told MPs she had been offered £100,000 in back pay by the BBC, who she said explained her lower salary as being because she had been “in development” in the role.
Lord Hall said: “I don’t believe there is an old boys’ network, I believe in equality of opportunity.
“Wherever I can, properly, we have been trying to appoint women to key roles at the BBC – key roles in news, key roles as correspondents and reporters in news.”
He added: “The idea of some old boys’ club, I abhor. That is not the way I believe that BBC should be or is.”
Earlier in the committee, Lord Hall had said the BBC did not discriminate against Gracie, but that there were “differences in the work” between her post and that of the North America and Middle East roles filled by men.
During her evidence, as well as saying she had been told she was “in development” in the China role, Gracie said she had only received the outcome of a grievance over her pay last week and that the BBC had said it had “inadvertently” underpaid her since 2014.
Lord Hall said: “We will not discriminate on gender between anybody but there are differences in the work, the nature of the work and the amount of work between say North America and China.
“The range between those two has been too big and I’m sorry about that but there is a difference in the scope and the scale of the two jobs.”
Gracie – whom Lord Hall said he has “the greatest regard” for and whom he admires for taking a stand – said the BBC had not described her pay discrepancy as gender pay discrimination.
Gracie said: “The thing that is very unacceptable to me is they have basically said in the previous years 2014, 2015, 2016, I was in development.
“It is an insult to add to the original injury. It is unacceptable to talk to your senior women like that. I would have never agreed to China on those terms.”
The BBC was forced, last summer, to reveal the salaries of all stars earning more than £150,000 a year.
Gracie was not on the list, while other international editors were, including North America editor Jon Sopel, who was in the £200,000 to £249,000 bracket.
Carrie Gracie (UK Parliament/PA)
Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen earned between £150,000 and £199,999.
It has since been revealed that Sopel, alongside other broadcasters John Humphrys, Huw Edwards, Nicky Campbell, Nick Robinson, and Jeremy Vine, has taken a pay cut.
A review, commissioned by the BBC and published on Tuesday, found there was “no evidence of gender bias in pay decision-making”.
Lord Hall defended his tenure at the BBC when challenged by Giles Watling on whether he felt he had let the corporation down.
Lord Hall insisted he is “not reactive” and that the BBC has been “proactive in bringing in these reforms”.
The BBC boss was also pressed by Julie Elliott, who asked why he had “done nothing” to sort out the pay discrepancy sooner.
Lord Hall said: “No, I think that’s completely wrong.
“I really believe in getting women’s place in the workplace right, I’ve been really helping to promote more women into senior positions, working to get more women on the air – Carrie was one of those – that is what I’ve been pushing for.
“It’s misrepresenting what I’ve been doing, quite the reverse, I’ve done quite a lot.
He added: “That’s not saying I’m happy with where we are.”
Gracie had been joined for her evidence session by Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) which has been supporting many of the journalists challenging the BBC over pay issues.
Gracie spoke of what she said was a “toxic work atmosphere” and warned BBC management: “It is going to get worse, we have women leaving, the credibility of management is diminished and damaged and they will lose in employment tribunals.
“They are stumbling towards a Greek tragedy where they make happen their own worst fears. They need to stop now, pull up and trust their staff.”
Lord Hall was joined by the BBC’s director of news and current Affairs, Fran Unsworth, the corporation’s deputy director general, Anne Bulford and Sir David Clementi, chairman of the BBC.