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A Call to Measure Success "In Miles, Not Inches"

Posted on April 30, 2013 at 3:00 PM

We hear a lot in the UK about 'toning from the top." But - dare I say it - we hear less from the top about the way things should be than we could.

I'm not shy about saying that Ernst & Young regularly stands out in the way it is forging ahead, not just on clever ways to work flexibly as unique human beings  with different preferences on many things including sexuality, or in working for gender diversity, but on broad ranging inclusivity. This is  far more long-term and even more about competitive advantage as we look hungrily to those emerging markets. And that means it is also far more about embracing true equality in a global world, rather than replicating old elite networks with new ones.

So, although I am sad not to have been there in person I am pleased to report that tonight Steve Varley, UK Chairman of Ernst & Young, speaking at a women's network event for FTSE chairmen, did not mince his words or hide his frustration.( Bear in mind the guest speaker was Sir Roger Carr, chairman of Centrica, President of the CBI and founding member of the 30% Club.)

Mr Varley expressed frustration over the pace of change so far on women in the boardroom and in the executive pipeline for business, saying that getting people to think - and act - differently on diversity was difficult. 

"is this just one of those areas where change comes slowly, where we have to be patient/" he asked guests. "I hope not, because I don't want to be patient; we shouldn't be measuring progress and success in inches, but instead in miles."

Mr Varley acknowledged all the good work being done by organisations such as the 30% Club. As for Sir Roger Carr, it's very hard if you keep running into him to resist the urge to just go up and ask if you can adopt him as a necessary member of your supportive family ( I know - lots of women have echoed that view to me at events around women in the boardroom in two years).

But now it is going to take many others to spell it out. Mr Varley did that, talking about 'targets with teeth.' 

E&Y has more female UK partners (17%) than any other Big Four accountancy firm. Last October it decided publicly to announce targets for both female and black and minority ethnic new partner admissions - which has not yet been replicated by any other professional services firm. It is due voluntarily to report on its progress in the autumn of 2013.

But 'targets' are only part of the answer, and the truth is it's attitudes that need changing, as Mr Varley indicated. "Really to me the starting point of changing behaviours is changing attitudes. And that means changing the ways we think about diversity" he said.

E&Y was also not afraid to do something I keep trying to do, as a lone voice. And that is putting real pressure on headhunters to povide greater diversity on candidate shortlists.

Joanna Santinon, a tax partner and sponsor of the EY Women's Network, said: "Too frequently we hear from FTSE chairs that they are receiving shortlists that are less gender diverse than they would like. Given the wealth of female talent in the marketplace, there should be no reason why every shortlist for senior baordroom level positions cannot have gender balance."

I would add to that - everyone else in the UK is worried about retaining their job or adjusting for lower compensation - why are headhunters exempt when they cost business so much money ?

It is excellent that after two years in this country we may finally have some momentum not just about more women on boards, but about building businesses that represent this country - and its advantages - a whole sight better than they do at the moment. But that means other businesses following the E&Y example so that it is a real push and not just a small elite leading the way.

Otherwise, as Mr Varley said: "Unless there is real progress on equality, there is a danger we are all just colluding in a fantasy. We really all want a place where equality is not just a stated principle but a universal reality."

Categories: Representation, Appointments, Equality