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.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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