WHAT IS “FAIR” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s like beauty. And right now, what is seen as “fair” and “equitable” is being recalibrated.

The growing wealth imbalance between the haves and the have-nots is triggering new conversations about minimum corporate tax and the offensiveness of tax havens. Blatant racial discrimination has been the catalyst for diversity and inclusion targets in organizations. The unjust impacts of climate change and energy transition are being talked about and quantified.  

And the COVID-19 pandemic shone a bright light on very real injustices and disparities. People predicted that the novel coronavirus would be the great leveller, but it wasn’t; disease (like other crises) finds the vulnerable and aggravates existing inequalities.  

Has your organization ever offered the assurance, “We aim to treat everyone fairly”? Of course you want to be fair. But it’s a tall order when your enterprise has so many interests to take into account—employees, shareholders, debtholders, suppliers, contractors, customers and clients, partners, and the communities and countries where you operate. Plus, hundreds of advocacy campaigns aimed at delivering just and fair outcomes, like reining in CEO pay and enhancing pay equity, diversity, and women on boards.  

It’s wise to pay attention to shifting “fairness” expectations of your internal team and ask better questions, for example:

  • How can we rationalize wage freezes for workers and bonuses for management; how will this choice be seen by our stakeholders?

  • Gig workers don’t have access to sick days or holiday pay; is that fair when they are doing the same work as employees?

  • Is this policy equitable; does it exploit any constituency? Who it at risk of being left behind?  

And these fairness questions are not just internal to your enterprise; what’s seen as fair is being redefined across whole industries and sectors. For example, how is it “fair” when your just-in-time supply chain hits a log-jam and suppliers cut off your enterprise’s allocation of toilet paper, computer chips, timber roof trusses—whatever—while your larger competitors continue to get unconstrained access to much-needed supplies?  

Not all dinosaurs want to dance, and you should expect pushback from some people when you pose these questions. [Link to Alberta Views article on the Banff Centre issue]  But it’s essential that fairness issues be put on the table, at minimum, to put colleagues on notice of their accountabilities and the imperative to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

Chapter 4: Get to a Fair Deal, Teaching the Dinosaur to Dance: Moving beyond Business as Usual