The answer to that question is “A great deal, when that woman has already scaled high walls to get where she is.” The woman in question here is Fiona Woolf, new Lord Mayor of the City of London. She has wasted no time since taking office. At the start, she made it clear that her tenure would be about restoring the values and the reputation of London’s financial sector. Unsurprising then, that seeking to widen diversity is also an imperative.
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“London will lose out if it does not capture the benefits of diversity – fresh perspectives, originality and innovation – by enabling talented individuals to get to the top” Ms Woolf says. While it is not solely about gender, there is a general sense that the lack of women in top roles in The City is beginning to look a little embarrassing.
“There has always been a moral case for inclusion, but there is now a clear business case. Recent research found that women hold 6 per cent of executive committee and board positions – a stark statistic that we must address. The world has changed since I became the first female partner at my law firm CMS 30 years ago. Today, there are 50. But it has not changed fast enough, and we need to make sure far fewer women and people from diverse backgrounds get left behind” the 686th Lord Mayor (and only the 2nd woman to hold the post) wrote recently in the Financial Times.
She acknowledged that such change would not “happen overnight.” But she added: we need to ensure that businesses employ a true meritocracy, so that the best succeed, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or nationality. Only then will statistics on diversity better reflect modern society.”
Every woman at the top of her field has a voice that is magnified by the sheer number of all the others who stand behind her.
The Lord Mayor’s ‘Power of Diversity’ programme has just been launched (January 7) to collaborate with 34 major City firms to widen the UK business talent pool. They are Arup, Baker & McKenzie, Bechtel, BNY Mellon, Bouygues, Capital Group, Catlin, CBRE, CIPD, CMS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Eversheds, Harvey Nash, Hogan Lovells, HSBC, ISS (Facility Service Ltd), Lloyds Banking Group, Lloyd’s of London Market Place, Lucas Fettes, Morrison & Foerster (UK) LLP, National Grid, Newton Investment Management, Nomura, Odgers Berndtson, Pret, PwC, RBS, Reed Smith, State Street, Sthree,Thomson Reuters, TFL, Willis.
As with anything, there is strength in numbers. But a woman at the top of the City of London is already showing what she can do, and Ms Woolf is well aware that people don’t “fob off” the Lord Mayor when asked to make an effort. Fresh, innovative thinking on boardroom appointments are more likely when someone else goes first. Make it the congratulated thing to do, and you get momentum.
At Lloyds of London, the world’s largest insurance market, another male bastion has been stormed as Inga Beale was appointed its first female CEO in 325 years.
As Ms Beale has said in the past: “”Until we get more women around the decision-making table women are unlikely to get enough encouragement to really aspire to reach senior positions in the industry.” At the start of 2014, on this side of the pond, there are signs of a push for diversity in business so that, as Ms woolf says, “it better reflects modern society.”