Red Flag Day: BBC opens its books to shame us all

I am delighted to feature a guest post from my co-director in The Trusted Executive Foundation, Mac Farquhar. Here is Mac’s valuable insight into the recently published BBC pay report:-

The BBC pay report caused outrage last week after the publication of salaries of on-air talent earning more than £150,000 revealed glaring discrepancies. Emily Burt’s feature for People Management “Four Red Flags for HR from the BBC Pay Report” highlighted how the report had become yet another lightning bolt aimed directly at the rapidly collapsing and ‘no-longer-fit-for-purpose’ business model that trusts in power (and male power in particular) rather than one that relies on the power of trust.

The report highlighted discrepancies that included women comprising only a third of the BBC’s high-earning staff, the highest-earning man earning more than four times the salary of the highest-earning woman and no one with a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background in the top ten earners. Yet, even with this blotted copybook, Auntie is still doing better than many of the UK’s top businesses! A red flag indeed.

The report acts as a timely example of the power of transparency to catalyse a shift in our leadership culture. Readers who have seen the film “The Matrix” will recall the moment when the film’s hero, Neo, is offered a choice by his leadership mentor, Morpheus; the red pill or the blue pill. If Neo takes the blue pill then he will wake up in his bed and ‘believe whatever he wants to believe’. If he takes the red pill, he will ‘wake up’ to the uncomfortable truth i.e. that he has been living in a comfortable illusion.

With the publication of last week’s report, the BBC has experienced a red pill moment. Transparency is a wake-up call. Whether it be United Airlines, Uber, the BBC or Boots, transparency reveals the opaque lives of organisations and that same transparency is a threat to those blue pill leaders who have traditionally used their authority to game the system in their favour, whilst simultaneously claiming the moral high ground. That we all fell for such a smart con trick for so long simply fuels the anger of those that were left behind, but are now rapidly catching up.

Yet those blue pill leaders are not going to give up their power willingly. This red pill of transparency will be swallowed reluctantly, so it’s a good thing that the gender pay reporting rules now require companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of their gender pay gap and gender bonus data. “Not all organisations are required to publish top-earner pay like the BBC has done, but the principle of greater transparency and taking stock of high pay is right for any business,” said Charles Cotton, reward and performance adviser at the CIPD. “We won’t shift the dial on greater fairness in pay, or on issues such as gender equality, until we see more organisations step up and take a reality check on how they reward their people – and, importantly, whether this can be justified.”

Equally clear is that it is time for all red pill leaders to step forward and show their blue pill counterparts, in business as well as in politics, that focussing upon ability, integrity and benevolence is the only way that trust in our institutional life will be restored. Those modest leaders who are quietly getting on with doing what is right need to be on the front foot; ready to evangelise the following message: Being transparent translates directly into improvements in the triple bottom line of results, relationships and reputation. Being transparent is not only good for your soul, it is good for business in a world that is tiring of hidden inequalities, shameless privileges and gross acts of self-obsession.

Emily’s article has raised four red flags for HR, and sent out a clarion call for organisations to follow the ‘principle of greater transparency’ in the way they conduct their business. The BBC’s well known female presenters have been quick to add their strong voices for change. The red flags, the red pills and the strong voices are powerfully combining together to hasten the transformation of a treasured institution. What then is your response to the transparency challenge? What then might be your red pill moment?

John explores the nine habits that inspire trust in his book, ‘The Trusted Executive’ which has been shortlisted as the CMI book of the year. Available to order now via Amazon UK.

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