April 27, 2017 Diversity on the back foot
The director-general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairburn, has warned businesses that workplace diversity is in danger of going backwards in the face of competing priorities. Speaking at a recent CBI event in London Carolyn Fairburn called diversity “one of the defining issues of our age.”
However she cautioned that in times of great change it can be easy to let priorities slide or to seek comfort in the familiar. Should that happen the progress which the UK has made in respect of promoting diversity could easily come to a halt; in the process losing the competitive advantage which diversity can bring. For example, the director-general highlighted the fact that firms with the highest levels of gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their rivals, whilst those with the highest levels of ethnic diversity gain a 35% advantage. Perhaps more importantly, a diverse organisation is more likely to be able to innovate and deliver products and services which best meet the needs of a diverse constituency. So diversity and inclusion can lead to a strong product base and loyal customers which in turn can lead to an improving reputation and a greater ability to attract funding.
This concern over diversity levels isn’t simply confined to the CBI however. A report by reform group Justice has also highlighted the lack of diversity in the higher echelons of the judiciary. The report calls the failure to appoint judges who reflect the UK’s ethnic, gender and social composition as giving rise to ‘a serious constitutional issue.’ It makes a number of recommendations including “targets with teeth” to be set for courts which have yet to step up to the diversity challenge.
Whilst undoubtedly some progress has been made towards improving levels of diversity, these two reports highlight the fact that there is still a long way to go before diversity can be moved from the positive action agenda and into everyday business practices. Diversity isn’t simply a matter of sex or ethnicity or age or any other criteria. True diversity means seeing people as individuals and helping them to bring their talents to the benefit of the organisation. This is unlikely to happen as long as there is a lack of diversity at the top of any business or profession.
In her speech Carolyn Fairburn lays the diversity challenge squarely at the door of business leaders calling on them to deliver constant and unflinching leadership in pursuit of the diversity goal.