The Debate – Diversity in business

Equal opps equal achievement

Jacqui Smith

Last year’s Female FTSE100 Index report showed a strong relationship between companies with women directors and their market value. It is clear that female senior executives add value to business.

Yet 32 of the FTSE100 companies have no female directors, only one FTSE100 board is chaired by a woman and only 9% of FTSE100 board members are women with 4% of those in executive roles.

Accountancy firms are no different – of the top 50 only 8% of partners are women. How can we change that?

I’ve been talking to firms such as KPMG, Shell, BT and Asda, and the message is clear: we need to motivate and encourage women to apply for senior positions. HSBC is an excellent example, insisting all shortlists for senior appointments include at least one woman.

My tip to get more women in business is to look closely at your recruitment methods for senior positions. Encourage mentoring within the organisation and publicise your role models effectively. These sorts of initiatives send a really positive message from the top, so gaining both employer and customer loyalty, and in turn, competitive advantage.

Research by Accountancy Age indicates that minority ethnic partners make up just 4% of partners within the top 50 firms. Again, what can we do to improve these figures?

Research from the Institute of Employment Studies has shown that, despite an increase in the number of minority ethnic graduates, the unemployment rate among them is higher than their white counterparts.

It may be that the recruitment process itself indirectly discriminates against them. Consider offering the test in the candidate’s first language and ensure there is cultural diversity among your assessors.

Much can be done within the workplace. Mentoring schemes and employee networks for staff are vital for increasing motivation, building confidence and valuing individuals.

Isn’t it about time we cultivate that talent for the benefit of everyone?

  • Jacqui Smith is minister for industry at the Department of Trade and Industry, and deputy minister for women.

Global firm needs glbal outlook
by Sukhbinder Heer

As professional services firms, it is important that we align our people and their development to the needs of our chosen markets. And as international firms, it is vital that we understand not only the local market places we serve, but also the complexities and cultures of international markets.

To meet those needs, the accountancy profession must recruit and retain the right people with the right attitude and aptitude, and give them a stimulating work environment with the best development programmes.

RSM Robson Rhodes recruits from a range of sources from universities to international business schools and industry. In our graduate programme, we look beyond the traditional accounting disciplines and cast the net wider so that we recruit from a range of specialisms including science, humanities, management and the arts.

Our development programme includes a tailored course at INSEAD – one of the leading international business schools with campuses in France and Singapore – to help our people better understand international business requirements and sensitivities. There are also opportunities for secondment within our international network.

Our growth and market reputation have meant that we attract a great team and mix of people to the firm. We have, for example, the greatest percentage of female partners among the top 20 firms, and the ratio of male to females in our graduate intake has been evenly balanced for some time.

As technology continues to shrink the world and businesses operate increasingly in international markets, our challenge is to understand business needs and reflect that in the calibre of our people. Of course, it also gives the opportunity to attract candidates from a wider pool of people.

Ultimately, we remain committed to employing the best people and rewarding and promoting the very best. At the end of the day, diversity enhances and enriches an organisation and we intend to cultivate an environment that encourages this and, in doing so, continues to attract the best by offering the right platform for development.

  • Sukhbinder Heer is chief operating partner of RSM Robson Rhodes.

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