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What can we do to tackle diversity at board level?
Insights - What We Think

[Link Group] [Company Matters]

Steve Playford | Senior Manager, Company Matters

What are the barriers to social mobility within organisations? And how might they be overcome in the future to ensure that leadership represents a wider base of society, from all walks of life.

Earlier this year, we hosted a thought leadership discussion as part of our Ahead programme which was centred around social mobility at board level. The discussion focused on the importance of diversity and inclusion within corporate organisations and what Company Secretaries can do to raise awareness of these factors to company boards. Our hosts from Company Matters, Kathy Cong (Managing Director) and myself Steve Playford (Senior Manager) welcomed our featured session panellists; Ann Francke OBE (Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute), Suzanne Courtney (Associate Partner, Aon), and Ruth Odih (Assistant Company Secretary, Centrica plc). Thanks to the expert panellists, we understood the different ways company boards can benefit from keeping social mobility at the forefront of their minds and how the emotional wellbeing of an organisation’s workforce can improve when applying certain diversity initiatives.

As a collective, the expert speakers have plenty of experience in campaigning for diversity and equity within businesses, improving companies’ management, and providing boards with different ways they can approach corporate governance to improve the wellbeing of their workforces.

“Diversity drives productivity and business results”

Employees from minority groups and adverse backgrounds aren’t the only people who reap the tangible benefits of workplace inclusivity. But creating an inclusive workplace is about more than ticking a box.

When a genuine sense of belonging within a company is established, employee engagement increases, as does employee job satisfaction, leading to higher business results. Businesses can also expect to see more innovation due to the wider range of input from diverse perspectives.

Alternatively, a lack of diversity can lead to “group thinking”. This happens when a large amount of people from similar backgrounds makes decisions that impact an entire company. Such a lack of alternative perspectives can lead to corporate failure.

"Equality or preferential treatment?"

There’s often a misconception that people from diverse backgrounds are given preferential treatment regardless of how qualified they are for the opportunity they’re being given. Creating equity anywhere can make people question if it’s fair to give people “fast tracks” to opportunities simply because of their adverse background while others had to work hard or had family spend a lot of money to ensure they’re qualified for high-level opportunities.

It’s extremely uncommon for people from adverse backgrounds to be given opportunities they are unqualified for. However, it is common for men to be promoted over women who are equally qualified for a higher position.   

An uneven playing field has created a need for equity within our working population. In the US, black women make up roughly 17% of entry level positions in America, but only 5% of senior positions. Whereas white men make up roughly 35% of entry level positions, and 70% of senior positions.

“Secretaries have the ears of the board”

We came to learn that at Aon’s shareholder meetings, they’re being asked more questions about diversity now than in previous years.  

Here are some ways that Company Secretaries can remove barriers to create a more socially diverse organisation from a board level, and ease the path to the top:

  • Keep the board aware of the relevant diversity metrics within the company
  • Push for a diverse board recruitment pool
  • Ensure the business has the right diversity policies
  • Look at diversity from a cultural perspective instead of a “tick-box compliance” task
  • Make an effort to show shareholders how important diversity is to the business

This Ahead discussion was a great chance to hear from a panel of experts about why diversity and inclusion can be so empowering for employees and how it can allow businesses to excel. It’s important for company boards to accurately reflect the diversity of their workforce so it’s easier for them to make decisions that benefit everyone in their workforce equally. It’s also more important now than ever to show shareholders that they’re investing in companies that value diversity and providing opportunities equally. Our changing world and economic climate calls for more innovation, and promoting diversity is a great way to start preparing for the future.

To avoid missing out on our next Ahead event, click here and sign up to be added to our Ahead community.  

You can also listen back to a recording of this session via our LinkUp360 podcast by clicking below.

🎧Click here to listen on Amazon Music 

🎧 Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts

🎧 Click here to listen on Spotify

Steve Playford

Senior Manager, Company Matters