In my view, good business today needs to be full of wonderful diversity and, in 2015, I led a government initiative to remedy gender diversity in Financial Services.
This work resulted in the Women in Finance Charter and I’m delighted to say that over 122 firms, employing over half a million people in the UK and covering almost 50% of the financial services sector, now signed up.
But that means that 50% have not.
Some CEO’s of these businesses tell me that they are fully supportive of the gender agenda – but they need the best people for the job. As if women are second rate employees!
That attitude dismisses 50% of the population who could drive better business outcomes and support more rounded business decisions. Because my experience – for example sitting on the Mayor of London’s Business Advisory Group – tells me that better decisions are driven through diversity.
The Advisory Group is a fantastically diverse group and illustrates perfectly to me that when men and women from multi-racial, multi-cultural and diverse backgrounds and different businesses meet to discuss big issues – the conversations crackle. There’s dialogue not debate and we make progress.
Walking the walk
Talking of progress – one area we must tackle is pay. There is understandable focus on the amount that CEO’s are paid. Some are paid eye watering amounts of money but we also need to look at pay for everyone and make sure that rewards are fair at all levels of every organisation.
That is why I was a big supporter – and one of the first signatories – of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘Business Pledge’ in Scotland. It requires signatories to pledge to pay the living wage to all their employees.
And shame on those who do not.
Sadiq Khan is attempting a similar commitment for London – that businesses pay the London living wage. How can businesses not commit to this?
We cannot build the success of some on the exploitation of the majority. In my view, the distribution of business benefits needs to be fairly allocated based on the job we do.
Is this all a pipe dream? Well it will be if we don’t align together to make clear the responsibility that business has to society, to hold business leaders to account for delivering social good as well as for the bottom line and to restore trust in business that will once again drive our economy and bring growing prosperity.
For me businesses need to agree to a few key requirements in order to have the privilege of employing our people and serving their customers. There will be much debate about what these requirements should be, but for me they are:
- Pay your taxes
- Pay your staff the living wage
- Ensure your business meets diversity targets
- Commit your business to a strong community link
- Earn your respected position in society by what you contribute
And only then focus on the economic outputs that drive shareholder value. I remain convinced that those businesses that operate based on social values will achieve lasting economic success.