“You have to be transparent, so you no longer cast a shadow, but instead let the light pass through you.”
I’ve been following the BBC pay saga, along with the supplementary stories around equal pay and the gender pay gap earnestly and I especially enjoyed watching Carrie Gracie share her story with the digital, culture, media and sport select committee. She didn’t hold back and for that I am glad. Her story along with many, many others is finally beginning to shed light on this issue, which has been going on for so long, and which in my experience, having worked in reward for over twenty years internationally, other than one or two CEO’s who I had the privilege of working with who actually did something about it, it’s about time its hitting the headlines, and staying there I hope!
In the UK the Equal Pay Act came into force in the seventies, when I was a child. Yet it’s only really been in the last ten years, there has been any kind of movement in this direction, even when it’s been so very clear to many that it’s an issue and a big issue at that. Not only does it contribute (along with many other factors) to gender inequality, but it also impacts everyone else involved, including the companies who allow pay disparity to occur.
When I first became aware of the pay issues prevalent in most organisations and started talking about them, I was naïve enough to think bringing it to the attention of my senior leaders and executives would be enough. They would immediately see not only the injustice of it, but the commercial imperative, and would seek to address the issues there and then. Even when I was bringing blatant disparate pay decisions to their attention, I started becoming horrified at how little attention was being given to remedying them. Often the senior leaders would back their middle managers and so any hope I could make any kind of real difference in this space died a death in my eyes.
But I kept on. Talking about it, bringing it up when and where I could, including gender pay in annual salary review reporting, which would be reviewed with my executives, in the hope that someone somewhere would see how not only were we being unjust, but that poor decision making to save money was actually costing us a hell of a lot more money in the long run. And whilst more reporting was being carried out and more reports being provided, other than one or two ‘issues’ being dealt with, most it was swept under the carpet.
In my mind, all I could think is one day this is all going to bite these organisations in the bum BIG time, and they’ll end up forking out more money because of lawsuits than if they’d just been fair and honest in the first place. The thing that would stick the biggest ‘in my craw’ as it were, is how often we would (and I include myself in this, given I was working in reward, so I hold myself just as responsible) roll out how ‘transparent’ we and our pay strategy and policy were.
The truth in the end is that we weren’t transparent. Not at all. Sharing your pay strategy and policy is not transparency. Sharing your role evaluation methodology (the ‘simplified’ version) and grading structure is not transparency. Sharing your pay scales is not transparency either. Not really.
Real transparency is when you dare to share all pay data (and I mean all, though not names and personal information) and all decisions around pay to everyone, in a way that makes sense for all concerned.
However, an interesting thing occurred to me as I mused on this notion. It something I’ve pondered on many times over the course of my career, and now not being in a corporate environment, my contemplating has turned to something quite different.
I remember being at a reward conference several years ago, sharing a drink and canape with my fellow colleagues talking about the lack of real transparency in pay and a colleague made a comment, which now sits at the forefront of my mind. Her comment was that in her experience in the pay and reward field and in her life in general, she’d often found people were more than willing to share intimate details about their private lives, but the minute conversation turned to money, pay and bonuses etc, most people closed down faster and harder than a bad mussel. As we thought about it, we all agreed we too had had very similar situations.
And it wasn’t just at the senior and executive levels. This behaviour ranged from the lowest to the higher ranks. Money has always been an emotive topic, more so than other aspects of our life and it doesn’t surprise me at all when people refuse to talk about it, even when it may be in their best interests to do so. Behind our relationship with money lie many beliefs that serve and many, many more that hinder, but one truth seems to be prevalent no matter who you talk to.
Few people are willing to be as transparent about their money life, as they are with other aspects of their life. If this is how we as people generally live, why on earth do we expect organisations to be any more transparent than us, given its people running these organisations?
You may reply that as organisations they have a responsibility to be transparent; after all they may be breaking the law. I’d agree, and I’d also say we can’t expect our organisations and the people running our organisations to be any more clearer and transparent with something that has such energy and constructs behind it (money and wealth) than how they are with it in their personal lives.
We have created a society that significantly values money over people, makes it very clear how ‘valuable’ you are based on what you do and subsequently earn/generate/create and has over centuries deemed which activities are valuable and which aren’t. Not surprisingly there is a slant to this that highly contributes to inequality across the world and impacts one gender significantly more than the other, thereby impacting everyone concerned.
There are movements happening all over the world to address this and I for one, am passionate about being a part of those movements, and one thing is very clear to me.
To live a life of transparency for myself, in whichever way I deem that to be for me, I must be willing to LIVE that transparent life, before I can expect anyone and any organisation to be and do the same. Otherwise, I am continuing to be part of the problem, not a part of the solution.
Neale Donald Walsch, in his bestselling book, ‘Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Book 2’ talks about the five levels of truth telling;
“Start telling the truth now and never stop. Begin by telling the truth to yourself about yourself. Then tell the truth to yourself about someone else. Then tell the truth about yourself to another. Then tell the truth about another to that other. Finally, tell the truth to everyone about everything. These are the 5 levels of truth telling. This is the five-fold path to freedom.”
When I read this, I knew I was barely at level 1, and still feel I am barely at level 1. This is one of the toughest missions you can take on and many a time in life I have wondered about the truth of myself to myself. I have now come to know that until I master this level, not only will I not be living a transparent life, but I can’t expect anything or anyone else to.
For in the end, you and I and all that exists is One and we are a mirror to All.
So, the challenge in the end is whilst we can legislate and push for transparency and we must and should, it may also serve us to look in the mirror to see how much we live that which we propound for all others.
Not a simple nor easy gig, but one which has the power to truly change our world, starting with our own lives.