Increasing diversity in business is not only morally right - it's the key to success

Research has found that companies whose boards were made up of at least a third by women are 42 per cent more profitable - it makes perfect sense.

A fortnight ago I stood up to deliver a key note speech at the Women’s Business Forum conference. I took up the opportunity to discuss the importance of promoting diversity in the workplace with relish, as it is a topic that has been at the forefront of my mind throughout my career.

Women and their promotion to top flight positions is an important part of the picture. Despite the notable announcement a few weeks ago that Janet Yellen will become the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve - the first woman to occupy the post - there remains a lot of work to be done if women are to have the same opportunity to acquire executive positions as their male counterparts.

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that female employment rates in the UK continue to lag behind those for men, despite the recent rise in the state pension age for women pushing the figure up slightly. Furthermore the study found that women are increasingly disappearing from executive jobs - women only occupy a quarter of the highest paid top ten per cent of posts.

That there is a dearth of female talent represented at board level in the UK is a truth universally acknowledged. White papers have been drawn up to address this dilemma. In the Davies Report, published in 2011 and penned by Lord Davies of Abersoch, Lord Davies proffers a solution to redress the current gender imbalance of UK boards, calling for strong voluntary action in the shape of FTSE100 companies signing up to the voluntary target of having 25 per cent of their boards comprising women by 2015.

Recommendations such as this are laudable and achievable and I believe are a more organic way of bringing about effective change than using the blunt instrument of legislation to introduce mandatory quotas. However, it is unequivocally true that rapid change is essential.

The issue of women on boards is part of a wider debate about encouraging diversity in the workplace. This matter is more essential and greater than the need to increase the number of female CEOs and board-level executives, although this is important it leaves itself open to accusations of "tokenism". Diversity is about effecting a cultural change in organisations and industries, transforming businesses from close-minded institutions to those that embrace diversity in all formats. The reasons for bringing about change are manifold but are more complicated than mere sexual politics and political correctness.

A recent piece of research found that companies whose boards were made up of at least a third by women are 42 per cent more profitable. Diversity in the work place is not only a healthy, laudable corporate ideal to embrace, it is also profitable. The 30 Percent Club, founded by Newton Investment Management's CEO Helena Morrissey, has a strapline under its tree logo that I think is particularly important: "Growth through diversity". It is this message - growth through diversity - that is so important. Simply put, companies are more likely to thrive with a diverse workforce.

It is my sincere belief that diversity should form the backbone of a well-rounded and robust business plan. This business tenet stems from a desire to create a culture whereby the best and brightest talent can lead regardless of gender, religion, race or sexual orientation. It is this objective, this vision, that has been the principal driver of the last 35 years of my life as a business-building lawyer.  

Diversity is a source of competitive advantage; a better business is a more diverse business. Assembling diverse teams enables more innovation, greater customer awareness, and generates better results. People, cultures and states are not homogeneous, they are heterogeneous - this is particularly true in today's global society. Consequently businesses should strive to be as diverse as the countries and regions they operate in. Creating this workplace balance is part of building a successful firm, but actions, not just words, are required to bring this about. Those businesses that do not encourage diversity should start doing so now, or else face quotas or, even more likely, falling revenues as more dynamic, diverse competitors steal a march.

The all-male board of Fisons Ltd in 1960 - how much has changed in 2013? Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images.

Co-CEO of DLA Piper

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.