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Diversity is not simply something which looks good in the annual report or which is simply there in order to meet some externally imposed quota
It’s always dangerous in business to generalise! When we talk about industry successes or failures, when we examine statistics and trends we have to at the same time remember that behind all of those figures there are real businesses, each with their own individual story.
However, one business generality which has hit the headlines in recent months does appear to be a cause for widespread celebration. Five years ago Lord Davies set a target of 25% female representation at board room level in the top FTSE 100 companies and this is not only been achieved, it has been exceeded.
In fact, at the end of Lord Davies five-year mission into improving female representation in the boardroom, FTSE 100 companies now boast an average of 26.1% female representation whilst FTSE 250 companies have improved their statistics to 19.6%. Whilst Lord Davies’ challenge is at an end, he has marked his departure with a further challenge of a 33.3% representation level for all FTSE 350 companies by the end of the next five years.
But diversity in the boardroom does not necessarily translate into diversity across all levels of an organisation. Naturally it is hoped that the more women who sit at the top of an organisation, the more women will be encouraged to play their part in boosting diversity levels but this can take time. Particularly so in sectors which are more traditionally male orientated. For example, whilst 50% of GPs are women, only one in 10 engineers in the UK are female.
This fact was highlighted by Naomi Climer who recently became the first woman president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). With the UK having the lowest level of female representation in engineering in Europe, Naomi Climer has announced a project aimed at developing guidance on recruiting, promoting and retaining women in science, technology and engineering roles. She has also called on industry to consider the use of quotas as a way of boosting female numbers in the engineering profession. Commenting on her initiatives Naomi Climer said: “Diversity is good for the bottom line because mixed teams, whether of race, gender or age are naturally more creative and therefore better able to come up with solutions for the problems engineers face.”
Her comments lead straight to the heart of the diversity debate. Diversity is not simply something which looks good in the annual report or which is simply there in order to meet some externally imposed quota. Studies have shown that organisations which celebrate and embrace diversity can be far more innovative and can far better represent the needs of their customers. And this means that diversity is not simply an organisational problem, it is a societal one in which everyone stands to gain from improving levels of diversity.