Diversity must be a priority in business, not an afterthought

 
June Sarpong
Follow June
London Eye Turned Into Classrooms For International Day Of The Girl
Diversity does not come at the expense of other business successes – it drives them (Source: Getty)

London is by many measures the most diverse and vibrant city in the world.

The city’s winning formula has seen us land an Olympic bid, and attract businesses and talent from across the globe.

But while London creates wealth, many Londoners see little of it.

Read more: Why the regulators care about diversity

The divide between Londoners can be as visible and emblematic as the Thames itself. The disparity in boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea is now etched into our consciousness by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but there are other less visible divides too. The physical inequality people experience – through access to housing, transport, and food – is driven by inequality in the workplace.

London may be “open” to talent, but for some people the doors remain firmly closed. I put this down to an unwillingness to embrace diversity. All too often workplaces fail to recruit, retain and promote those of us who are not white, male, middle-class, middle-aged, and straight.

Some may argue that London employs the best talent from the top universities in the world, and that it is this that has fuelled the city’s economic growth.

So, why should we change?

The answer is that we are wasting the talents of diverse individuals with different experiences and skill sets, which would hugely benefit London’s economy, culture and standing as a leading global city.

New research from LSE revealed that, if the incomes of women in general and men from ethnic minority groups matched those of white British men, they would have extra incomes totalling an an additional £127bn per year, averaging at £9,300 per person.

These findings are bleak. They point to the fact that we are systematically failing most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in British society, from cradle to grave.

The good news is that many employers are taking positive steps to diversify their teams.

By engaging comprehensive schools and colleges, they are offering work experience and employment opportunities for young people who choose not to go to university, and those from less affluent backgrounds.

This helps to expose young people to a workplace culture, making them more adaptable in future, but it also helps employees experience the untapped potential of people from outside usual elite talent pools.

I believe that more people – from directors to cleaners to office managers – need to feel comfortable with more diverse workplaces.

Taking part in volunteering initiatives such as mentoring, open days, or visiting a school can help change perceptions. These sorts of programmes should be championed and expanded in businesses across London.

But beyond these programmes and initiatives, we also urgently need to diversify the individuals around the decision-making table. We are missing out on different and much needed solutions by excluding them.

London has a choice: refuse to adapt and become a diminished city, with divided and unequal communities; or create a new story and thrive as a diverse, inclusive and truly global capital.

Today, I will be joining city leaders at The London Conference discuss new ideas and practical steps to help us create a fairer and more inclusive London. Organised by the capital’s dedicated think tank, Centre for London, I’ll be drawing insights from my new book, Diversify, to explore how we can overcome some of the barriers to inclusion and drive greater diversity in society and business.

Because diversity does not come at the expense of other business successes – it drives them.

Read more: City watchdog takes backward step on its own diversity targets

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

Related articles