City Matters: We need to unlock London’s full diversity to tackle its future challenges

Fiona Woolf
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I TOOK my seat in the golden state coach on Saturday, to join the world’s oldest street pageant and be shown to the world as the 686th lord mayor of London. It’s a role that’s over 800 years old, and comes imbued with a huge amount of history. Every lord mayor brings something different to the job, but every lord mayor is also just one link in a chain that stretches eight centuries into the past – and on into the future as well.

The lord mayor’s role builds on the foundations laid by predecessors, and I will be continuing Roger Gifford’s work by travelling abroad for around 100 days a year, encouraging closer ties with the international business community, and facilitating commercial diplomacy. But I will bring my own experience, passions and focus to the role as well.

After taking the oath at the Silent Ceremony on Friday, I became the second female lord mayor (the first was Mary Donaldson in 1983). It’s very exciting being the first female “something”, but I think in many ways it is almost more gratifying to be the second. It shows that we are moving closer towards a “new normal” of female leadership, as we gradually unblock the pipeline of female talent. I am only the second woman in my role, but the City is now a hotbed of global female talent, as will be evident at the Women in the City Awards later this month.

Awards ceremonies like these rightly celebrate the achievements of women across all City industries, but we must do much more to promote diversity of all kinds. London will face huge challenges over the next few decades – in housing, transport, energy, infrastructure and in many other areas – as its population grows. If we are going to succeed in tackling these problems, we will need the best possible minds available, and that means creating a truly meritocratic business environment in which the best and the brightest from all walks of life are able to contribute to securing London’s future. This is a unique opportunity for the cluster of City services to come together, innovate and provide what society needs to do to respond to these challenges.

As lord mayor, I aim to spearhead the City’s contribution to this response through some of the many programmes we are organising. These schemes include the distribution of thousands of grants to “Get Young London Working”, emphasising our work in education to help all young people reach their potential, raising the profile of our pioneering social investment fund and “Investing in Londoners”, the new programme from our charity the City Bridge Trust, and improving the partnerships we already have with businesses in the City of London to open doors to opportunities and careers in the City for ambitious young people from neighbouring boroughs.

It is a privilege to be lord mayor, and it is my hope that, through some of these programmes, we can unlock the talent pipeline to extend the privilege of working here in the City to more of London’s diverse people.

Fiona Woolf is lord mayor of London.