There was an absolute tweet storm yesterday when the BBC’s gender pay gap was revealed. Two sides of the argument emerged: the first pointed out that the gender pay gap had been on the conversational table since 1946 and that there was no justifiable reason why women and men, in the same job, should be paid differently.
Jane Garvey, the BBC radio presenter, wrote on Twitter “I’m looking forward to presenting BBC Woman’s Hour today. We’ll be discussing #genderpaygap. As we’ve done since 1946. Going well, isn’t it?”. The counter argument took a more individualised approach arguing that the likes of Gary Lineker deserved to be paid more because of his illustrious past- and current pulling power. In other words, things were more complex, harder to calibrate, less binary.
Either way the BBC came out of the day bruised. Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, went into damage control mode by stating that he felt “reinvigorated in one of the things I really believe, which is by getting by 2020 equality on the air between men and women and in pay as well”.
Doing the right thing for the wrong reason
A more cynical person than I might ask whether he would have come out so strongly if the BBC hadn’t had to share this data? Newspapers are littered with articles about companies who do the right thing only AFTER they have been exposed for doing the wrong thing. The fear of getting caught surely shouldn’t be the motivator for being fair to employees, for treating consumers well, for being conscious of the environmental damage that can be done and by looking at a contribution beyond what is expected by shareholders?
An organisational conscience
An organisational conscience should be driving the right decisions even if there is little chance that any special kudos follows. But what is an organisational conscience? Are there some people in an organisation that have a greater conscience than others? How do leaders nurture and build an organisational conscience to do the right thing? Of course, we all have different versions of what the right thing is but at the heart of the right thing might be something along the lines of fairness and equality, of inclusion rather than exclusion, of doing no harm to consumers, to the environment, to employees, and in this case, to women.
An organisational conscience certainly doesn’t evolve fully formed.
As the wonderful Rebecca Solnit describes it :
“Hope locates itself in the premise that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act...It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same.”
Being an adult
The most troubling part of being an adult in the world is the realisation of the fact that there is no one person in charge who will do the right thing, make the right decisions, lead the world into the right place. It is up to all of us in small and large ways. Organisations need to design in ‘conscience building’—design in ways to check and then check again so that institutions like the beloved BBC don’t end up being recognised for one thing: saying the right things, only when they were caught out doing the wrong thing.