By Debra Allcock Tyler, CEO, DSC
I recently watched Mr Bates v the Post Office and shortly afterwards a programme with the interviewer Michael Parkinson. Both told me something important about the character of the men involved.
Apparently, the real Mr Bates was offered a higher honour but turned it down on principle.
Quite apart from saying he couldn’t take the credit for the work of hundreds of other folk, he also said he couldn’t in good conscience accept an award that had also been given to the CEO of the Post Office, who was accountable for the decisions being made which caused so much damage to human lives.
He is clearly a man of integrity and authenticity. He matches his words with his deeds.
Which brings me to Michael Parkinson who was watching old footage of his interviews. He was shown the infamous one of him with a young Helen Mirren where he asked her if her ‘physical attributes’ had contributed to her success. It was so sexist and creepy a question, even for the time.
Upon replaying it, and other interviews of a similar nature, he didn’t justify or defend his behaviour, he absolutely owned it. He basically admitted that he’d been an arrogant, sexist dick and that he hoped he had grown and learned.
Watching this programme reminded me of the power of someone not just saying ‘I’m sorry’, but also saying ‘I got it wrong. I cocked up. It’s my fault. I will do better’.
It seems to me that many of the challenges we have faced in our sector around inequality, racism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-semitism, disability discrimination, and so on, are because we say the words, both as people and organisations, but don’t do the deeds.
How many of us have statements about what we purport to value (equality, justice, fairness, inclusion) – but don’t follow through by making sure that our policies, procedures, culture and behaviours match those statements?
How many of us say we are pro-inclusion, but don’t change our work practices to accommodate the needs of people not like us?
How many of us assume folk ought to understand and know how to deal with the complexities of human emotion and societal conditioning without creating a space for learning?
How many of us say that we are anti-inequality but accept honours that perpetuate unequal power structures?
How many of us say that we value integrity and authenticity but don’t publicly own up to our own mistakes; or admit it when we’ve been inappropriate in our behaviour or our remarks?
Both these people, in my view, demonstrated the integrity and authenticity we need so badly, not just in our sector but in society as a whole. The one turning down a symbol of power and status on principle, and the other publicly owning his own poor thinking and associated behaviour.
We are human. We are fallible. But we are also privileged to serve a sector where other human beings rely on us to lead by example: to not just say, but to also do.
As Maya Angelou said, ‘Do the best you can until you know better.? Then, when you know better, do better. ‘
Let’s know better and let’s do better in 2024.