Diversity is rightly on the agenda when it comes to building public confidence in business. It’s about making sure that businesses understand and meet the needs of the people and the communities they serve.
A diverse workforce is not just the right thing to do — it’s good for business too. Having a range of staff from different backgrounds and with different experiences can provide a more rigorous and challenging approach to decision making. It can also help firms better understand their customers – and stop them from missing out on tapping into the ideas and skill sets of a large portion of the population.
Real progress has been made on workplace diversity, particular when it comes to gender. In June we saw the disappearance of all male boards from the FTSE 100 and the gender pay gap now just stands at 19.7%, down from 26.6% in 2000.
Business can and should drive the agenda
Flexible ways of working can help support people with families to stay in the workforce. There have been a number of encouraging developments that will shake up our approach to working parents. For example the new Shared Parental Leave system that will, from next year, allow mothers to share their leave with fathers and there’s also the new extension of the right to request flexible working.
But there is further to go on gender diversity and on ensuring the UK workforce reflects the diverse country that the UK is. Business can and should drive this agenda, with the support from government. The CBI is calling on more businesses to commit to meaningful diversity policies and set themselves aspirational targets. Other things firms can do include training their managers to avoid unconscious bias and establishing women networks and mentoring, especially around career break points.
But if the UK is to tackle the gender pay gap, which to a large extent is due to cultural and occupational factors, more must be done to make sure there is a wide range of people coming into all careers and professions. Firms can help by speaking to young people and taking on occupational stereotypes in schools – science is a subject for girls too and boys can become just as good carers as girls. And the next government should set a target for narrowing the gender pay gap to focus minds on this issue.
What’s the CBI doing?
The CBI has been an advocate of greater diversity across British firms for some time now. We’re continuing to push the issue in our policy and lobbying work, but we’re also taking steps to make sure we’re walking the walk when it comes to gender diversity.
That’s why we have set a target of 30% female involvement for all of our boards and events on a ‘comply or explain’ basis. It’s been hard for us in some areas, but we are determined to achieve our goal. And in an effort to help our members, we have created a toolkit compiled from case studies to help explain best practice successes as well as demonstrate methods that are not as successful.