BBC bosses’ pay sacrifice is the way to diversity

In an unprecedented move, senior executives at the BBC have elected to forgo hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of bonuses because they failed to meet the corporation’s diversity targets.

It’s a timely announcement, since ‘fat cat’ pay is back in the headlines thanks to some jaw-dropping, high-profile private equity deals, and public tolerance appears to be reaching breaking point.

In PR terms, it’s an extraordinarily bold and attention-grabbing decision that makes the BBC look good from almost every angle (other than the admittedly major fact that it missed its diversity targets in the first place). The directors seem suitably humble, they appear to be taking responsibility for their failings, and they give the impression of not taking licence-payers’ money for granted. Most importantly, they are signalling that diversity is important to them and the organisation.

But the public sector’s target-driven commitment to diversity is one thing generally speaking, private sector attitudes are something altogether less impressive, as this week’s news analysis reveals.

While the public sector is bound by duties to promote disability, race and gender equality, businesses face very little compulsion to monitor, let alone improve, their diversity performance – unless they are major suppliers to government bodies.

Many free-market advocates would argue against imposing more legal diversity duties on the private sector – claiming that if, as everyone seems to argue, having a diverse workforce makes business sense, companies will naturally respond to the challenge. But this process is proving slow, and there are undoubtedly still major examples of inequality in the workplace.

The BBC’s approach highlights a potential solution. If businesses are serious about championing diversity and reflecting that in the make-up of their workforce, then tying their senior managers’ remuneration to that agenda might just catalyse the process.

Good managers don’t miss their bonus targets without trying desperately hard to meet them – so maybe this is the motivation they need to get a grip on diversity. And perhaps then their organisations will reap the promised rewards of having a talented, diverse and engaged workforce, as well as some of the positive PR that the BBC has enjoyed this week.

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