THE City of London today is a far more diverse place than when I started out my career as a lawyer. The workers spilling out of the tube stations, flitting between offices, grabbing coffees and enjoying the Square Mile’s vibrant hospitality venues are now a rich cosmopolitan blend, representing every corner of the globe. Strikingly and contrary to when I started out in the legal profession, many of them are women.
Not only are there more women in the City’s workforce, but they are also making their mark at the highest levels of financial and professional services. A recent review backed by the government shows that women now hold almost 40 per cent of the UK FTSE 100 board positions, compared to just 12.5 per cent only a decade ago.
But while this progress towards creating a more level playing field is welcome, there is one area in which diversity is seriously lagging: socio-economic diversity.
Far too few of the City’s top positions are held by people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and this is a terrible waste of talent.
Research from the Bridge Group shows that, in financial and professional services sectors, fewer than one in ten senior level roles were held by people from lower socio-economic backgrounds (as defined by parental occupation) and that they took 25 per cent longer to progress through each stage of their careers, despite no evidence of poorer performance.
There is a clear business – as well as moral – case for ensuring that progression takes place on the basis of performance rather than fit or polish. Unfortunately, this does not appear uniformly to be the case across the sector today.
In order to tackle this issue, the Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce was launched in 2020, commissioned by the Government and run by City of London Corporation. It now represents more than 100 employers across the industry.
Everybody must have an equal opportunity to climb the corporate ladder in financial and professional services on their own merit regardless of their background or personal connections. But to ensure this is happening, we need to have a baseline for socio-economic diversity in the sector – to know where we’re working from and what we’re working too.
In my capacity as Chair of the Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce in the City, I urge employees and employers to take part in an anonymous survey to help us do this.
Once it closes on March 31 this week, the results of the survey will act as a benchmark for progress across the financial and professional services sector and will be an essential tool to measure efforts aimed at ensuring that professional advancement is based on performance and not background.
Breaking down socio-economic barriers to progression in our financial services sector is key to ensuring the Square Mile becomes even more competitive on the world stage. Improving diversity in the boardroom helps to prevent groupthink as well as foster innovation.
All firms should take up the opportunity to make our city richer and more diverse, to help their own businesses recruit and promote staff on that basis of merit.
Creating a level playing field where the brightest talent can rise is vital to ensuring the City continues to thrive in future.