City Matters: Business and innovation thrive when they’re underpinned by diverse talents

Fiona Woolf
Fiona Woolf is lord mayor of London.

IF LONDON and the UK are to remain at the cutting edge, it is vital that students today acquire the skills needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

In a fast-moving globalised world, that increasingly means adapting to the realities of the digital revolution. Over recent decades, technology has transformed how industries ranging from financial services to manufacturing operate. This has only served to increase already intense competition for recruiting young people with the relevant technical expertise.

It is crucial, therefore, that the business community engages with students from all backgrounds, and at an early stage, to ensure they have access to the widest pool of talent. That is why the City of London Corporation is hosting a STEM Careers Fair, in partnership with the Science Council, this Friday at Guildhall for over 500 students from neighbouring boroughs.

STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – have traditionally been dominated by men, but we hope this event will help to broaden the intake. In particular, we hope it will inspire many young girls to pursue careers in this field, as currently only around 20 per cent of A-level physics students are female.

These subjects can open the door to a huge range of career options, but one obvious example is the digital sector. London is home to a fast-growing cluster of tech firms and they will need more talented graduates as they expand. The City Corporation is supporting programmes such as Code First: Girls, Entrepreneur First’s women-specific scheme to help more women succeed in this industry. This will hopefully help Tech City be the home of not just the next Mark Zuckerberg, but also the next Sheryl Sandberg.

Of course, the UK has a lengthy track record of tech pioneers. Indeed, in the 1930s, Alan Turing helped to introduce some of the computing concepts, such as algorithms, that we now take for granted. He also played a vital role in breaking the Nazis’ Enigma code.

Yet despite his successes, Turing was ostracised and convicted for homosexual activity in 1952, before receiving a posthumous royal pardon last year. Thankfully, the world we live in today has changed considerably in terms of attitudes, but we cannot afford to be complacent. That is why I am delighted to be hosting the first Pride Dinner at Mansion House this week as a clear statement of support for the LGBT community.

We will also be hosting the launch of Lord Browne’s new book, The Glass Closet, later this month as a way of showcasing positive role models and explaining how capturing the benefits of diversity makes good business sense. People in the City and beyond can take inspiration from the stories showcased by individuals who came out at www.glasscloset.org

Diversity underpins the innovation that the City is rightly recognised for around the world. Maximising the potential of the workforce – regardless of race, sexuality or gender – is crucial if we are to continue delivering sustainable solutions to the major global challenges on the horizon.

Fiona Woolf is lord mayor of London.

City A.M.'s Opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking opinions and views. These are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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