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In Pursuit of Growth: Changing the Faces in British Business

Posted on April 11, 2013 at 4:55 PM

I started that day off at #FemaleFTSE and I ended it at Ernst & Young at an inclusion event around the PowerList Foundation.

Harry Gaskell, among others spoke to a room with talented - and young - people "of colour" in this case, mostly black. Everything I see and a great deal of what I read makes me mystified as to why UK plc does not 'get it' when it comes to better representation at senior levels in business.

But they definitely 'get it' at Ernst & Young and at the professional services firms more than at the plcs, it seems (two generalisations in one evening - apologies).

"Unless we become a more diverse busines we will go out of business" said Harry Gaskell (who is very white) explaining to them why they were in the room. Tyrone Edwards (up and coming partner I understand) was also clear : "Until we get some colour into a sea of white faces at the top of power our young people don't know that it's possible" he said.

So there was a strong call "not to pull the ladder up behind you." " Whether you like it or not, you are a role model" said Mr Power, and that means you have a duty.

I'm a bit of a cheerleader for the concept of role models - it is a very powerful means for change. But I also think UK plc could benefit from understanding how the E&Ys and PwCs of the world are doing it - changing their face. Because when it comes to gender diversity, PwC Head of Diversity Sarah Churchman says "In 18 months we went from zero to 27% females on our executive board" - you'll have to contact PwC for details.

And as the Ernst & Young partner said to me: "Why are we good at changing the faces in our business ? Because our business relies on sales. If we can't sell to the Chinese and the Indians, we will go out of business. And selling to them from a sea of white faces is not going to happen."

And one last point. I see the CBI, the UK's top business lobbying organisation (by its own definition), is pushing on The Only Way Is Exports - and unveiling a new package of export-boosting measures to help British firms unlock overseas opportunities.

Its website says: "Although the UK is making progress in the fast-growing economies of Asia and Latin America – specifically the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – it still lags behind some of its international rivals. Only this week, official trade figures showed that the UK’s deficit on trade in goods and services was £3.6 billion in February, the largest in six months."

The plan involves a significant boost. Which presumably means people talking to people, across borders to open those opportunities.

Good luck with that, given the current dominant face of British business at the top.  

Categories: Representation, Leadership, Appointments