Pay if you want talent

I was recently approached by a leading organisation to chair their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiative. I have exactly zero bandwidth to take on anything else right now but I am fortunate to know a large number of exceptionally talented people whom I can refer, so I have these conversations anyway.

The role requires a not insubstantial commitment of time from a person who needs to bring great presence, social capital in business and policy circles, political nous as well as the willingness to drive some operational activities, which would hugely benefit the organisation’s standing in D&I.

Naturally before recommending either people for the role or the role to the people I know, I asked what the role would pay.

That question elicited a set of strange comments that are not unfamiliar but somehow always manage to be depressing in their lack of touch with reality.

We expect that this role will be served best by someone who already has a sizeable income from their other endeavours.” And in the next breath, “We think this role will raise the person’s profile substantially so the pay is not really the thing here and we have rejected many candidates who asked first about pay.” Further “This is a role requiring real commitment so we expect they bring their heart to this“. And then, “We are also approaching celebrities for this role, people who are already famous.

All very good. But really now!

The muddled thinking of the organisation’s leadership being put forward by a staffer, who did not have power to change things, was quite evident. I then decided to do my good deed, perhaps of the month, and give the interlocutor some free advice to take to her leadership for consideration.

  • What people already earn through their portfolio of activities is none of your business, but to offer a fair value fee in exchange for all you are asking them to do is.
  • You cannot ask people to do philanthropy just because your organisation does not know how to value the activity you are asking them to take on.
  • D&I is not a charitable activity but something for which the economic case is strong and well-known.
  • Nobody, who is worth having, needs your “profile raising for them” through this role.
  • Nobody, who can do a good job, will do it for free.
  • If anybody does agree to doing it for free, I would love to hear how you are holding them accountable in case they decide not to do much else beyond putting this role on their public profile or CV!
  • A credible person in this role would be someone who understands D&I not just as a concept but as an experience, and therefore it will be helpful for your organisation not to hurt monetarily someone who is already likely not being paid a fair income in their day job or jobs. The offer is just another cruel joke which should not be taken seriously.

I added that I had the perfect person in mind to refer for the role but I would not insult her by suggesting she do it for free.

Needless to say my interlocutor quickly admitted that the leadership had not thought of these things, and that as a woman herself, she was likely not paid what she should be paid, and that she would take these points to their leadership and would like to come back to me for referrals to people I know who may fit the bill.

So yes, let’s see what she hears from them and whether I hear back from her.

As business leaders, if we want talent in a role we say we value, we have to pay fairly and commensurate with the value we attach to the role.

Talk is free.

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