CBI Carolyn Fairbairn: Progress towards inclusive workplaces must pick up pace

CBI Carolyn Fairbairn: Progress towards inclusive workplaces must pick up pace

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn has called on businesses to work harder to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces as the UK heads into a perfect storm of changes.

Fairbairn warned leaders to continue to prioritise diversity and inclusion, especially in the face of Brexit anxieties, the looming General Election and technology advancements.

She stated that firms with the highest levels of gender and ethnic diversity are in a stronger position to outperform competitors as the country goes this period of major change. 

 Addressing attendees at a CBI event at Simmons & Simmons in London, Fairbairn said, “Progress towards inclusive workplaces must pick-up the pace.”

“And I’m not just talking about gender. I’m talking about every kind of diversity – ethnicity, social background, sexual orientation, age.

“We need to use what we know works and make it the norm in all our businesses.

“Not as a footnote to other priorities, but as a top strategic priority for our country.

“It is only going to become more important, as we head into a perfect storm of changes in demographics and technology that will make talent the number one worry for our firms. For many it already is.”

“In part, it’s a simple numbers game as labour supply in this country is tightening. Whatever the impact of leaving the EU, there are likely to be fewer EU migrants coming to work in the UK than in the past.

“At the same time the UK’s domestic labour force is shrinking as the baby boomers retire, making it even harder for firms to find the right people.”

“It’s also in part a skills game as having the right skills for the future is firms’ leading source of competitive advantage. Automation and digital technologies are a real chance to improve our productivity, currently the third lowest in the G7.”

Fairbairn said that government has a role to play, but the onus rests on businesses to speed things up.

Commenting on the risk of regressing on progress made, Fairbairn acknowledged that priorities compete and things can go backwards during times of great change, but leaders should remember diversity is about “hard-nosed competitiveness”, not just fairness.

“We are seeing some early warning signs that should concern us. The Davies Review did a great job increasing the share of board jobs going to women from one in seven to one in three. But in the last year this has fallen back to one in four.”

“And while there were 18 women CEOs in the FTSE 350 in 2015, today we’ve slipped back to just 16.”

“I worry progress in other areas may reverse if economic headwinds grow. In tougher times, a search for experience might well end up being a search in a traditional pool, closing the door on greater inclusion.”

“Only committed leadership can win against this and is why it matters so much.”

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