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Innovation Is The Missing Ingredient On Diversity

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 9:40 AM

I have been lisening to a lot of clever women. Some of what I have absorbed is relevant to the boardroom, all of it is relevant to business. We should not always rely on existing processes for change when they are clearly incapable of generating it. This is why we need innovation in recruitment for the UK's plc boardrooms.

Let's start with diversity. Hiring a diverse set of people is not just about gender, it's about looking for individuality, original thinking and perspective. It's also about reflecting the customers you serve. There has been a spate of media coverage in the UK recently about LGBT diversity, including my piece for a recent FT Special Report on executive diversity.

Hard on the heels of that  America's Out On The Street campaign came to London at its Europe Summit 2013. Baroness Hale of Richmond, the most powerful woman in Britain's judiciary, said it was "fitting indeed that London should be bringing together the energy of the world of finance and the vitality of the LGBT community" as the UK has been at the forefront of equality legislation in Europe. It was the first time that CEOs pledged to work together for LGBT initiatives, even when from rival organisations.

Look closer and you will see that innovation almost always precedes legislation.

The list of attendees at the summit was impressive, and it was heartening to see increasing numbers of women in particular comfortable about being open about their sexual identity while working in financial services. I spent some time talking to Julia Hoggett, Managing Director Head of Short-Term Fixed Income at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

She pointed out that banks like JPMorgan (where she first worked) led the way when it comes to diversity of sexuality. In America, laws continue to vary by state - which means that if you are choosing which bank to work for, it's very important to feel you are respected and protected by its individual unique culture. There is still no US national law saying you cannot be sacked for being gay.

It's an important reminder of the way in which financial institutions can show innovation - in the way they treat employees, not only in the profit-making instruments they devise.

Ms Hoggett is unusual, in that she 'came out' very early, just two years into her career. "It's a trust-based industry. If you have built a relationship of trust not revealing your sexuality becomes a 'what else haven't you told me' problem when you work long hours with other people" she told me.

She also pointed to a very important feature of companies actively seeking diversity. At a bank recruitment session aimed at the LGBT community, a (clearly heterosexual) Pakistani woman came up to talk to her. When asked why she was there, she said: "If you're inclusive of this community, I know you will be inclusive of me - that is why I am here."

It's an important lesson for business to learn - and to continue to lead the way, regardless of whether laws have caught up.

Since then I have been privileged enough to attend the first ever Global Women In Parliaments Forum at the European Parliament, bringing 450 female parliamanetarians together to share ideas and work to bring more women into public sector leadership roles.

More than 50% of the world’s population is female, but not even 20% of political representatives are women.


The ones who were there were pretty amazing. If they can find a way to work together and support one another going forward through networks, it will be a powerful force for change.

I was moderating a panel on corruption for EY - it was a closed session, but the honesty with which global parliamentarians shared the practical issues they faced at home and looked for answers was refreshing.

At the end there was a slight danger of a wonderfully female riot, when it appeared that the proceedings were about to end without the opportunity for input and questions. But reason prevailed - and speaker after speaker in assorted global languages  spoke passionately of their experience of being in Parliament, and how they got there.

And you know what? The story there with a resounding global echo was the introduction of quotas to ensure gender balance at the top of decision-making in government. Even with quotas, it takes time - but as one delegate memorably put it: "All that quotas do is to make you search harder for the candidate of merit who might be appropriate." (my emphasis)

In this - as in all societal change - we need many different arrows to the bow. We still need to bring up little boys to understand - as an African delegate said: 'Be careful how you talk to your sister - she may be Prime Minister one day.' We need schools to lift aspirations for both sexes and the home and society to reinforce that.

But I came away with a pretty strong feeling that when it comes to the public sector, there is no reason we can't teach real 'citizenship' in schools that makes women aspire to working in government. And if we can do that, then maybe the truly appalling but popular UK 'Business Studies' courses should also be revamped to get more women into business - and into our boardrooms.

And if you're so inclined, have a look at some of what was said at the #WIPSummit2013 on Twitter.

Categories: Corporate, Behaviour, Appointments