BBC director general Tony Hall has told female employees that the move to close the gender pay gap at the public broadcaster will be “accelerated” and that there would be a “marked difference” when salaries were published next year. Hall was responding to an open letter from the BBC’s female stars on Sunday which urged a quick end to the gender pay disparities at the company, which were highlighted last week after an annual BBC salary report revealed two-thirds of its highest salaries were dished out to men.

The letter, which was signed by the likes of Strictly Come Dancing star Claudia Winkleman, The One Show host Alex Jones and BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay, urged the BBC to address the pay inequality “now” rather than by Hall’s self-imposed 2020 timescale.

In a letter, Hall wrote that closing the pay gap had been “a personal priority over the last four years” and that changes would be made to ensure next year’s annual salary report would show a big change.

“I have committed the BBC to closing the gap by 2020 and if we can get there earlier then we will,” he wrote. “We are not, however, making a standing start. Work is already well underway across the organisation to help achieve this. There will be wider consultation meetings over the next two months so we can accelerate further change in the autumn.

“I would obviously value your contribution and thinking as part of this process. When figures are published next year I am confident they will look very different. Over the next three years I want the BBC to be regarded as an exemplar on gender and diversity.”

Hall went on to point out improvements made at the pubcaster across the last four years, and cited an increase in the number of women on local radio breakfast shows up from 14% to 50% while the company’s goal for a 50/50 split on all presenting and lead roles remained a key aim by 2020.

Yesterday’s letter from BBC female employees to Hall said that the pay details released last week “showed what many of us have suspected for many years…that women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work. Compared to many women and men, we are very well compensated and fortunate. However, this is an age of equality and the BBC is an organisation that prides itself on its values. You have said that you will ‘sort’ the gender pay gap by 2020 but the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now.”

Last week’s pay gap revelations showed that former Top Gear presenter Chris Evens took home more than £2 million ($2.6 million) while its highest-paid female star Winkleman earned anywhere between £450,000 ($586,790) and £499,999 ($651,941).