The value of diversity for businesses – particularly in a post-COVID world – was the focus of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Annual General Meeting for 2020, which took place on Friday 2nd October 2020 with two renowned speakers joining delegates for the online event.
With a focus on why diversity is more is more important than ever for success, key leaders from the public and private sector heard what could be done to tackle the diversity, inclusivity and racial quality agenda, especially in the context of economic recovery. The session demonstrated how diversity can make a difference for all businesses and organisation across the South East as variation in thought and experience goes hand-in-hand with business success.
Keynote speaker Denise Wilson OBE, Chief Executive of the Hampton-Alexander Review, shared what is being done by businesses who are having the most success in this area and highlighted the work done by the review in improving the balance in FTSE 350 organisations. She urged businesses to maintain diversity strategies, saying: “We need to take extra care to make sure we don’t lose the hard-earned gains and that’s about data, about monitoring in a very detailed way, the ins and outs of your organisation so that women, and anyone who presents differently to a white man, isn’t over-represented in furloughs and redundancies.”
Best practice business tools, she noted, include a clear plan of action overseen by senior leaders; putting money behind diversity strategies; tackling gender myths and micro-aggressions; and providing upstander training.
Denise added: “The thing that will take us to banishing this subject [inequality] forever is getting all of our business leaders to play their part in creating an inclusive culture. You do that by informing yourself as a leader and by creating an environment in which everybody, irrespective of their differences, can give it their best and feel comfortable. That starts with small steps, but you have a huge opportunity.”
Kit Ahweyevu, Founder and CEO of MindWeaver – and Diversity Lead for the South East Digital Skills Partnership – highlighted how diversity “slipping off the agenda” was a further casualty of Coronavirus. With groups such as women and BAME communities disproportionately affected, she noted: “We need a conscious focus on moving diversity, equality, inclusion and anti-racism forward, even in this time of crisis. Otherwise we are going to miss the opportunity to make real and lasting change and impact the recovery of groups that are typically left out of the conversation.”
There was a silver lining to the pandemic, she noted, in the move towards new technologies but added: “This means the pace at which new opportunities can be created is accelerated, but conversely it means the rate at which people can be left behind has also accelerated; the current skills gap could be widened.”
Kit identified four initiatives: retraining; education and training for the jobs of the future; more pathways into higher-skilled tech opportunities for people who are under-represented; and support to link digital and diversity, equality, inclusion and anti-racism strategies so organisations have time, space and funding to implement them.
More than 130 delegates attended the event, held online for the first time, to hear how businesses in the South East could play a role in ensuring diversity and inclusion did not become casualties of COVID-19, as well as learn how the LEP would be continuing its support of the region’s economic recovery.
Speaking after the meeting, SELEP Chair Christian Brodie said:
“Thanks to our speakers we were able to focus on the important issue of diversity and highlight what good looks like. We all have a role to play in ensuring this appropriate agenda is given prominence – change will not happen without action.”
Brodie ended the session by challenging everyone with the task to speak up, noting that, in today’s society, those who are silent are complicit and part of the system. He added that it is the role of all to take this agenda forward and ensure it does not get left behind in a post-COVID world.
SELEP Deputy Chair Sarah Dance added:
“I am proud that we as a LEP are using our platform and position to bring awareness to these crucially important topics. We must do everything in our power to ensure that these issues do not fall by the wayside in our post-COVID economy. In fact, our AGM has highlighted just how important diversity, inclusivity and racial equality are to driving the economy forward and creating a new business landscape that benefits all, and in turn allows everyone in our communities to receive equal opportunities, regardless of race, gender or disability status.”
Adam Bryan, Chief Executive of SELEP, looked back over the LEP’s achievements in 2019/20 and highlighted the ways in which SELEP has aimed to help the South East’s business community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. SELEP’s Growth Hub, the South East Business Hub, played a key role in the region supporting businesses through lockdown, receiving 3,000 calls per day at its height as well as connecting businesses to more than 50 national, regional and local schemes that were offering further advice and loans to affected businesses.
CEO Adam Bryan outlined SELEP’s 2019/20 achievements, from increased diversity to strengthened private-sector leadership. The almost-completed delivery of the five-year, £580 million Growth Deal benefited projects such as the new M20 junction 10a and Colchester Campus Innovation Centre, while the Government’s Getting Building Fund supported a further 34 schemes including the new railway station in Thanet, Kent, and digital connectivity in hard-to-reach areas.
Bryan continued: “We now want to make sure we produce a [post-COVID] recovery strategy that’s closely linked to the specific needs of our local economy, closely linked to our capabilities as an organisation and, most importantly of all, reflects the aims of our partners across the area.”
Mark Bretton, Chair of the national LEP Network, joined delegates during the AGM to chair the event’s Q&A session with SELEP Directors. Members of the audience asked directors about how young people can be better supported during and after the pandemic; and what businesses can be doing to prepare for the UK Transition among others
Christian Brodie concluded:
“This was an inspiring and powerful session highlighting to all that we need to tackle this agenda head on by seeking out alternative voices and opinions. Diversity and variation in experiences and expertise in the workplace can ensure teams are stronger, more creative and diverse – which can only benefit businesses.”
Annual Report 2019/20
To view the full recording of the SELEP AGM 2020, go to southeastlep.com/meetings/selep-annual-general-meeting-2019-20
Improving gender balance in FTSE leadership: The Hampton-Alexander Review (the Review) is an independent, business-led framework supported by the Government set recommendations in 2016 for FTSE 350 companies to improve the representation of women on their boards and in leadership positions. The Review set a minimum 33% target for women on FTSE 350 Boards and in the two layers of leadership below the board, the Executive Committee and the Direct Reports to the Executive Committee, by the end of 2020. Find out more at ftsewomenleaders.com