Female staff at the BBC let the gender pay gap happen "because they weren't doing much about it", a government adviser on equal pay has said.
Businessman Sir Philip Hampton told the Evening Standard newspaper in London that in contrast to men, he had "never, ever had a woman ask for a pay rise".
BBC presenter Jane Garvey said he seemed "peculiarly out of touch".
The corporation has faced criticism since it revealed last week that its top earners were largely men.
The list showed that Chris Evans was the the top-paid male star on between £2.2m and £2.25m, while Claudia Winkleman was the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000 last year.
It also revealed that two-thirds of the 96 presenters and celebrities paid more than £150,000 were men, and director general Tony Hall admitted there was "more to do" on the gender pay gap.
Sir Philip, the co-author of the government's Hampton-Alexander review looking at ways of increasing the number of women in top paid jobs, was asked about the situation by the newspaper.
He said: "How has this situation arisen at the BBC that these intelligent, high-powered, sometimes formidable women have sat in this situation?
"They [the 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."
Sir Philip, who is chairman of global drugs company GSK, where he earns £700,000 a year, added: "It's just a difference between men and women: men go for promotions and leadership roles, women are less proactive in asking for more money.
"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. I have never, ever had a woman ask for a pay rise.
"There isn't a list long enough for all the men who've asked. Lots of men have trooped into my office saying they are under-paid but no woman has ever done that."
But Ms Garvey, who presents Radio 4's Woman's Hour and organised a protest letter from the BBC's top female stars to Mr Hall, 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."
And Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson accused him of heaping "insult on injustice", adding that his comments were "at best, astonishingly ill-judged".
"His remarks that the BBC women 'let this happen' display a worrying lack of understanding of the structural gender, race and class bias across all of society at all levels, including the BBC," she added.