Keeping London at the forefront of global business
working with and for the whole UK
Jasmine Whitbread's speech at the Bloomberg Equality Summit
16 May 2019
Full speech below:
Thanks John, I’m really pleased to open today’s summit.
We’re here because we agree with today’s premise: that equality is the single most important ethical issue for businesses today.
But we’re also here because we agree that warm words aren’t enough.
What’s needed is action.
For every role I’ve had – regional director for Oxfam … Board member of Standard Chartered … CEO of London First – equality has been in my mind.
I’ve seen a lot of good work in that time. Increasing recognition for the need to change.
By the time I stopped going to Davos, inequality had risen to top of the list of worries cited on the entry poll.
But as Prince Zeid, the UN’s outgoing Human Rights chief recently said, it’s the same every year – five days of soul-searching followed by 360 of business as usual.
Our challenge is to make businesses act different during all 365 days.
And I think we can.
Of course, it isn’t easy – but if businesses can see embracing diversity and inclusion as enlightened self-interest, we might have a chance.
Tackling inequality on a global stage
I wanted to share with you something that Bill Winters, Group CEO of Standard Chartered, and I have discussed often.
Bill believes passionately that an inclusive working environment is good for colleagues and clients – Standard Chartered’s purpose statement commits the bank “to drive commerce and prosperity through our unique diversity”. That’s why we have embarked on an ambitious programme this year to upskill all 16,000 people leaders in inclusive leadership.
Bill also believes that we can’t take this for granted; that although Standard Chartered is on track to have 30% women in senior roles — a key metric for our progress — we need to double-down.
And I agree. Business needs to recognise that we’ve made a start, but then commit to do more.
Of course, the need for action is clearest on the front line. When I was at Oxfam, I saw huge inequalities, not least the impact of not having any access to education.
But the point is that equality, and doing business with integrity, isn’t just a matter for organisations like Oxfam.
It is a matter for all employers.
Because they can only exist if employees choose to work for them.
And today, the ethical outlook of an employer is priority number one for a prospective employee.
Employees want to work for purposeful businesses. Businesses that take their social responsibilities seriously.
I chair the sustainable business committees at both Standard Chartered and BT.
In both cases the CEO sit on this committee, and drives real change throughout their organisation.
At Standard Chartered, this means building a culture of inclusion that will enable it to be the best place to work, the best place to bank and contribute to creating prosperous communities.
The bank sees its role in supporting emerging economies – by financing trade and investment to help foster economic growth and development – as a key part of its societal responsibility.
Another example of that was when we announced that we would no longer fund new coal-fired power plants anywhere in the world, going for sustainable energy instead.
And internally, the bank launched a Fair Pay Charter that commits to paying a living wage for all its employees across the world. Enlightened self-interest. Yes, these things improve our reputation. But they also make a clear positive impact on the world.
People will be breathing cleaner air, building stronger communities and earning fair wages because of decisions we made. That’s not about PR. It’s about doing the right thing. And you become a more attractive employer as a result.
A similar shift is taking place when it comes to women in business.
Part of my job at London First is to keep my finger on the pulse of London’s employers. Two years ago when I first visited all our member CEOs, none mentioned diversity as a top issue – now they all do.
The requirement to publish your data. What gets measured gets managed, and it gets propagated. There’s no way that pay gaps would have been news five years ago. But today, reporting has built pressure.
And if you take diversity as seriously as it deserves to be taken, you reap the rewards.
My view is that it’s a leadership issue, a performance issue. You succeed if you create an environment where everybody is able maximise their potential.
Where everyone is valued and respected for the unique diversity they bring.
The best leaders I’ve known have been unafraid to surround themselves with people who are better than them. But also, they have been the ones who understand that they shouldn’t be focusing on the next quarterly report but on the long-term picture that they leave behind.
A little closer to home…
Speaking of the long term, another issue that preoccupies me is keeping London the open, diverse and vibrant city we love.
To do that, we need to look at what enlightened self-interest looks like at city level.
It is having the best schools. Great transport links. Decent housing. But most of all it is about opportunities for people.
People make London what it is; and a third of Londoners were born abroad.
We must ensure that Brexit doesn’t get in the way of maintaining this diversity. I could give another whole speech on that!
But… in any case, skills gaps still exist.
So at the same time as keeping London open, we must provide the best education and training for people who already live here.
We need a plan that does both, something we’ve done a lot of work on at London First. Here are the basics:
One: admit that migration is desirable. But handle it sensibly – better data collection, a more realistic salary cap, variable visa lengths, and unrestricted entry for exceptional talent.
Two: recognise the temporary nature of study and the contribution of London’s 100,000+ international students, and classify them as visitors, not permanent migrants.
Three: make education more skills-focused, so local people have the best chance of getting even the most specialist jobs.
On that last point, one of the things London First does that I am proudest of, is Skills London – the UK’s largest annual career and jobs fair.
It’s an inspirational event that last year showcased over 50 thousand opportunities for school leavers – it is interactive, and you can try everything from brick-laying to banking.
It is life-affirming to see that world-of-opportunity open-up for students from across London, many from London’s poorest areas.
And that too is enlightened self-interest.
You get to see people living their best lives. Seeing young people’s eyes widen as they learn about career paths that they had no idea even existed.
And then, a few years down the line, you get more skills, from a wider pool, helping British business to thrive.
Enlightened self-interest is the way forward. For our capital, our businesses and our entire economy.
And we can start with diversity. Doubling-down, as Bill would say.
Making our employers genuinely representative. Genuinely open. Genuinely attractive to the workforce of the future.
Not just because it’s the right thing to do.
But because it’s good business. Thank you – and enjoy the conference.
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