Reflections on Carillion, the BBC and more…
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “integrity” as:
“The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change.”
That sentence speaks to our times. We already know about the collapse of construction giant Carillion, with £1.5 billion of total debt and the threat to thousands of jobs, whilst former executives greedily continued to enjoy huge severance payments and bonuses. A parliamentary briefing has now revealed that, between 2012 and 2016, the company ran up debts and sold assets worth £217m, in order to finance payouts for shareholders. While the group paid dividends of £376m over the period, it generated just £159m of net cash from operations. According to a Financial Times article this week, if it is found that Carillion paid dividends out of capital, without prior court approval, this is illegal under UK company law.
Do those actions reflect the meaning contained in the definition above? I checked various FTSE 100 companies’ websites and the word “integrity” now crops up surprisingly rarely under their “Values” section: “Leadership”; “Trust”; “Respect”; “Accountability” and “Openness” all feature more.
When I first graduated from University, without any idea of what I wanted to do, I found myself being interviewed for a job by the Principal of Birmingham Careers Service. The interview was in the grandiose Victorian offices of Birmingham City Council, just round the corner from the Town Hall. I was daunted not only by the surroundings but also by this large, imposing man in a suit and tie, who stared at me from behind glasses, flanked on either side by two acolytes.
At one point, Herbert Heginbotham (that really was his name), placed his hands on his magnificent desk, leaned forward and asked: “What is the one essential quality you need as a Careers Officer?” I proceeded to give various answers -honesty, sincerity, trustworthiness, fairness – to each of which he replied, “Yes. And?” I never got what he was looking for. In the end, he leaned forward even further and stated, “Integrity. That’s what you need. Integrity.”
The world has changed beyond all recognition in the intervening years and you can argue that shining a light on shady practices has become easier with the advent of technology. But is the quality of “integrity” something our society no longer values? Is self-interest now the supreme god of our time?
This week six leading male presenters at the BBC “offered” to take a pay cut so that their salaries were more equal with their female colleagues. As a former BBC employee, I have the greatest respect for the talents of these male colleagues but do I think they would have offered this pay cut without the bomb which exploded in the form of the resignation of Carrie Gracie as the BBC’s China editor? No. And their combined successes certainly do not measure up to the definition used by the former First Lady in the White House in her speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2012:
“We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters… that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules…and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.”
It was this speech which gave rise to calls for Michelle Obama to run as the next President. How much do men and women, whose actions have called their integrity into question, measure their successes against their failures? And, more importantly, take actions to address them? Unfortunately human nature is such that the truth is far too uncomfortable to live with. Veils are drawn over our omissions and our brains distort the past to suit our present.
Of course, acting with integrity mean involves sometimes going against the flow and most decisions have distinct grey shades to them. A friend of mine was part of the senior management team of a FTSE listed company for many years before retirement. Quizzing him about integrity, he responded with this example:
“The company of which I was an executive director had for some years been “trade loading”, which means that to achieve its sales and profit targets, it was offering goods at discounted prices just before its financial year end, if customers were willing to take more than their normal requirements, knowing that the result would be reduced sales in the early part of the next financial year. The objective was to maintain confidence in the company and, in particular, its share price. This is not uncommon and not illegal, but it can give a false impression of success. After a few years, I advocated “making a clean break” by discontinuing the practice, meaning we would have a bad year’s result and accepting the consequences in terms of the share price. However, my fellow directors voted against the change and, as a result, the company got into serious difficulties some years later. Should I have resigned when outvoted? Possibly, but I had no other reason to question the integrity of my colleagues.”
“Sticks & Stones may break my bones but names can really hurt me”
My partner works in Glasgow. He’s also registered blind, although to look at him, you wouldn’t know it. He has a genetic condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which, in very simple terms, means he has no peripheral vision. This makes negotiating the streets of the city centre, as he goes to and from work challenging, to say the least.
Earlier this week he came home visibly shaken. A cyclist was riding fast down one of the many steep pavements (yes, I did say pavement) close to the University and went careering in front of my partner, missing him by inches and only stopping when Stephen challenged him. At this point the cyclist went right up to Stephen’s face and started hurling abuse at him and pushing him on the shoulder. This continued for a few minutes, with the man totally ignoring Stephen’s explanation about his eyesight, let alone acknowledging that he, the cyclist, should not have been on the pavement in the first place.
What has this story got to do with hate crime? Well, my eyes have been opened this week to what actually constitutes a “hate crime”. Last month an Independent Advisory Group, set up by the Scottish Government, delivered its report on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion. This report was at the centre of discussions at a Holyrood Events conference I attended in Edinburgh on Tuesday: “Tackling Hate Crime and Sectarianism in Scotland”.
The term “hate crime” is misleading in that there’s currently no formal offence of “hate crime” in Scotland. Rather, criminal law deals with “prejudice” rather than “hate”. Did my partner consider his experience was driven by hate? Of course not, and therein lies the problem, because it means that neither victim, in this case my partner, nor perpetrator, recognise the incident to be motivated by hate.
This goes some way to explain why the most recent statistics from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for the largest hate crime category i.e. racial hatred, actually decreased by 3% from 2014/15 to 3,712 cases. This despite the global events we observe daily on our TV screens.
So, can we pat ourselves on the back and bask in the belief that people in Scotland are much more tolerant? The latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey suggests we can, painting a generally positive picture, with one or two notable exceptions.
But this completely ignores a recurring theme of the conference, that of under-reporting. Sarah Crombie from Victim Support Scotland recounted how she had recently been on a train from Glasgow to Barrhead and the conductor had been the subject of significant verbal abuse from a passenger. When she asked him whether he was going to report the incident, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s not worth the hassle. On this route, it’s a regular occurrence.”
Samina Ansari, from Amina, the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre, played a recording of a young Scottish Muslim mother who was in her local park with her four sons and some of their friends. Her youngest son fell over and hurt himself just as a man was walking past with a pushchair. He made a loud comment about it “not being on” and the woman thought he was referring to her son crying so went over to explain. Instead the man started shouting at her about her clothing (she was fully covered) and asking her questions like, “Where are you from? Iran?” He continued shouting abuse and obscenities for five minutes as the woman tried to comfort her sons and their friends who were by now very upset and fearful. This was an educated woman who not only knew about 3rd party reporting centres but also advocated for them and yet her response was the same: “What’s the point?”
Third party reporting allows you to tell the police about an incident without contacting them directly. Many people, for a variety of reasons, including fear, don’t want to speak to the police. These are designated places where you can talk to someone in confidence and they will report on your behalf. Glasgow alone has over 60 of them.
Both of these are good examples that hate crime can include name-calling, as well as intimidating or threatening behaviour. It’s not just the more obvious incidents of, say, physical assault or blackmail. And, as my own partner’s experience testifies to, these occurrences are not isolated. But, rather than face the prospect of reporting it, victims internalise this behaviour as “normal” and develop coping strategies to deal with it. Trust can become more difficult and whole families and groups can withdraw into smaller and smaller circles of safety as a result, with huge consequences for the overall level of trust and social capital across the whole of society.
Until we get to the point where victims believe that it is worth the risks associated with reporting, these incidences will continue to be tolerated. And to those who think we are already too much of a “nanny” state and that people should just “put up & shut up”, this group is not homogenous – they’re human beings, they’re “us”, not “them”. This could be your daughter, your husband, your parent.
Fear can play a huge part in discouraging those affected. But there are initiatives and educational resources which offer real practical help, such as designated “Keep Safe” places. These are local shops, cafes or libraries which have signed up to the simple idea that if a disabled or elderly member of the public is distressed, they will offer help & support. There are now over 200 Keep Safe places across Scotland and it’s expanding all the time. One older lady in Paisley hadn’t left her house for years because she was so fearful. Now, with her Keep Safe card, she knows the places she can go to if necessary. She’s gained confidence and it has, quite literally, transformed her quality of life.
“No. There’s no sectarianism here. No, there’s no Catholics here.”
This response is one which Sarah Robinson, from YouthLink Scotland, encounters all too frequently when she’s out talking to the public. Huge strides have been made on the sectarianism front in Scotland over the last 30 years. But if you think it’s only confined to Rangers and Celtic fans and football, think again. For the first time, Action on Sectarianism brings together all the resources relating to sectarianism, most of which are free for youth workers, teachers and others, to download.
So there are resources and initiatives out there, each seeking to ensure our society is as open and welcoming as we’d like to think. But there’s another recurring theme of the conference which each one of us must take on board: the next time you’re witness to someone on the receiving end of verbal abuse, or worse, don’t just stand there or look away, get out your phone to video what’s happening, so that if the victim has the courage to report the incident, there’s visual evidence of what happened. Or if you feel uncomfortable doing that, why not go up to the person afterwards and just ask if they’re ok? There are many ways and means that we can each take more personal responsibility so that hate crimes are reported and dealt with, rather than remaining an open, festering sore in our train stations, our workplaces, our parks, our shopping malls, as well as our football stadiums.
 Crown Office Hate Crime in Scotland 2015/16: http://www.crownoffice.gov.uk/images/Documents/Equality_Diversity/Hate%20Crime%20in%20Scotland%202015-16.pdf
The recently refurbished Theatre Royal was the superb venue for Glasgow’s most recent TEDx event at the beginning of June. The theatre’s signature central spiral stairway, which climbs towards the heavens (as well as to the stunning outdoor terrace, but that’s another story) seemed to me to encapsulate the vision for the day: first, the new staircase is wide, allowing a broad range of people to traverse it. Secondly, at each level the staircase opens out to light-filled space, with different rooms to engage in ideas and conversation. And let’s not forget the theatre itself. It’s the oldest in Glasgow: a performance space where words, imagination and creativity have been challenging attitudes and inspiring audiences to think differently for almost 150 years. A suitably fitting venue to discuss the day’s theme: “A Disruptive World”.
It was an interesting choice of word. If you google the meaning of “disruptive”, the connotations are virtually all negative: separation, disintegration, cessation, severance, chaos…the list goes on. And yet the day was the complete opposite: it was about engagement, connection, synergy, harmony, teamwork. Every time I started up a conversation with a stranger, it was as though I’d found a new friend with whom I wanted to continue the conversation for far longer than our allotted time. There was an immediate connection, despite being from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds. And the conversations were wide-ranging, everything from geo-politics and medical devices to poverty and inequality.
If you look beyond the surface meaning of the word “disruptive”, you can see where the organisers were coming from. New ideas, new approaches to the world’s problems, new ways of doing things are always going to be “disruptive”. One of the day’s many excellent speakers, Ellis Watson, the CEO of one of the UK’s largest media organisations, DC Thomson, gave an inspirational talk on “Disrupt Yourself or Die Trying”. As human beings, we have a tendency to dislike disruption or change. We prefer routines, even simple ones like knowing which cafe sells the best espresso on your way to work. I’m someone who has had a lot of “disruption” in her life, sometimes forced on me but also actively sought out. Neither of my parents were risk-takers. Indeed, I remember their look of total horror when, in another incarnation, I informed them that I was declining the offer of a senior local government post, with all the associated benefits, and I was accepting a job with a small, independent theatre company, with no security or benefits whatsoever. I even took a pay cut. But if I hadn’t taken that step, I would have remained a square peg in a round hole and I certainly would never have gone to work for the BBC.
When I came to live in Glasgow in 2006, I was amazed at how many people still lived close to, or even in, the area they were born. Part of me, I confess, was slightly envious of the fact that they knew people they’d been to primary school with and many of their friendships went back 30, or even 40, years. This lack of movement is particularly noticeable in the West of Scotland but it’s reflected across the world, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s completely different from my life experience, which has seen me change career twice in order to find the right niche and to realise my potential. It’s been very uncomfortable at times and hasn’t been without cost but I don’t regret it at all.
And this brings me back to “disruption” at TEDxGlasgow. A lack of challenge, or not being prepared to take a risk, only increases that innate fear of taking a major step into the unknown. If your work/home “bubble” means you only speak and engage with the same people you’ve engaged with since childhood, the consequence is that you don’t experience the stimulation of different ways of thinking and being, which challenge your accepted norms and values. You don’t get that enticing, exciting and, yes, sometimes scary, glimpse of how things could be different. All the inspirational TedxGlasgow speakers were characterized by having stepped out from their comfort zone and engaged with different thinking. The results are cutting-edge ideas which are, literally, changing our world. I came out from the Theatre Royal into the Glasgow sunshine (yes really!) inspired to continue “Disrupting Myself or Die Trying”.
Image ℅ TEDxGlasgow Linkedin
Here are my Top 10 Tips for the best Radio Interview (relevant for TV too)
When you get the call from the producer or researcher, find out whether the interview is live or pre-recorded. Which programme it’s going out on and when? What’s the context for the interview eg. news item, part of a wider discussion. Are you the sole interviewee? And who’s doing the interview – the presenter or someone else from the production team?
2. GIVE YOURSELF 15 MINUTES
Unless you are 100% certain that this is right for you, ask the producer if you can get back to them in 15 minutes: long enough for you to consider the pros & cons but short enough for the hard pressed producer to wait for you to get back to them.
3. AM I THE BEST PERSON FOR THIS INTERVIEW?
Will this help you further your own work or personal objectives? If you know someone who you think would actually do a better job, call the producer back, suggest your colleague AND explain why. i) you increase your credibility with the programme and ii) you can be sure they will come back to you in the future with further requests.
4. WHERE, WHEN, HOW LONG?
If you DO decide to do the interview, find out when and where the interview will take place. Do they want you to go into a studio? If so, is it live in the main studio with the presenter or is it from a remote studio, where you’ll be doing it “down the line”. And how long will the item run for?
5. WHO’S THE CONTACT ON THE DAY?
Check whether the producer you’re talking to will be working on the day you’re doing the interview. Make a note of ALL relevant phone numbers, particularly mobiles.
6. WHAT ARE YOUR TWO KEY POINTS?
The interviewer will have their own “angle” on the story but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you as well. Work out ahead of the interview, the 2 or 3 key points that you’d really like to make. This may include something that hasn’t yet been covered in relation to the story but YOU think is really important.
7. ON THE DAY
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the studio. There’s nothing worse than being more focused on where you’re going to park, than on what you want to say & how you’re going to say it. Turn off your phone or put it into airplane mode before you go into the studio. Particularly if it’s live, check again how much time has been allocated to it.
8. HEADPHONES OR NO HEADPHONES?
if you’re the sole interviewee, don’t bother putting the headphones on. Unless you’re used to them, they’re simply a distraction from what you want to say. Make yourself comfortable and sit upright in the chair with your back supported – that way you can breathe better and it helps with nerves.
9. WHAT’S THE 1ST QUESTION?
If it’s a news programme, there’s even less time between items but once you’re seated in the studio, try to check with the presenter what their first question is. That will give you an idea of what direction they’re taking.
10. THE INTERVIEW
By all means have your key points noted but only use them as reference. Do NOT read from them. Remember this is a “conversation” and, if you’re looking down, your voice will sound flat. You want to sound lively and “engaged”. And if you find the interview’s going in the wrong direction, reply with something like, “Before I answer that question, there’s a key thing here which I think has been overlooked” and proceed to make the points that YOU want to get across.