Helena Morrissey: diversity can drive progress in other key business areas

The past five years have seen great progress in one symbolic area of diversity: a more-than-doubling of the representation of women on the boards of the UK’s 350 largest companies.

But what really fills me with optimism is that over this — relatively short — timeframe there’s been a complete change in the mindset around diversity – beyond the boardroom and beyond gender. Diversity in all its dimensions and at all levels is now widely perceived as integral to a healthy organisational culture, good corporate governance and modern forward– looking businesses.

This is therefore no longer a ‘women’s issue’ or a ‘special interest issue’ but everyone’s issue. No longer a ‘battle of the sexes’ but instead, men and women working together towards a shared goal.

And that goal is not simply to see a few more women (or other under-represented groups) ‘at the top’. In the past, there seemed to be an assumption that with more women in those visible but scarce senior positions, everything would be sorted.

But the point is not just to allow women into a men’s club. It is about enabling women to be women as we develop our careers so that — working with men — we can create a more inclusive, collaborative, less confrontational world – not just in business, but in society.

“This is not about a few new faces grappling with the same old corporate problems, but about changing what’s discussed”

Put another way, this is not about a few new faces grappling with the same old corporate problems, but about changing what’s discussed, about influencing the prioritisation of issues, of bringing new topics to the agenda. Neuroscience — not gender stereotyping — suggests that women tend to be more empathetic, men more systematic.

It’s not a coincidence that there are more women involved or even just more interested in governance, in climate change, in corporate social responsibility. Progress in one area — more women in senior roles — can therefore help us achieve much– needed progress in other areas important to the future success of our businesses and society.

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