England & Wales Welfare and equalities

Viewpoint: Missing (half) the picture


Lack of diversity is stopping organisations – in every sector – from performing to their full potential, writes Jane Sankarayya.

Most people in the country are probably unaware that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has just appointed three new special advisers, much less what their names are.

As reported by LGC (£) last week: ‘A Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government spokesman said: “We can confirm that Liam Booth-Smith, Peter Cardwell and Lee Scott have been appointed as special advisors at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.”’

Now yes, it is true that all three of them have proven experience and expertise and there is no reason why any one of them should not have been appointed, and I am only picking on CLG because the article happened to catch my eye. But was it really completely impossible for one, two or even all three of the vacancies to be given to a woman?

And of course I can hear the clamour of voices saying ‘but why should a woman be appointed?’ But I think the real question is why shouldn’t a woman be appointed?

Well because, comes the reply: “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience…” or “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up” or “We have one woman already…” (All these quotes of course come from the report issued by another government department – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – into diversity or lack of at the top level in FTSE 350 companies).

How can a country hope to achieve all that it possibly can when it refuses to utilise 50 per cent of its workforce? Drill down and the same applies to any business, institution, government department or local authority. Given that, since 1995, more women than men have – year on year – completed higher education programmes and the academic underachievement of boys in this country is causing concern, the exclusion of women from senior positions and positions of influence is pernicious.

LGiU worked with the Fawcett Society on a study of women in local government. The results of that study reflect the picture that we see across many different sectors. Just one in three councillors is a woman; women are outnumbered six to one in finance and economic development roles; only 17 per cent of council leaders are women.

All sectors need to not only value different perspectives but also to fully grasp the value of that diversity to their organisation – to their bottom line however that is calculated. The quality of the advice that the new MHCLG appointees will offer is not in question, but the totality of that advice will always be lacking. Many studies over the past few years have indicated that more diversity at a senior level in an organisation leads to better performance. Society needs to harness the experience of everyone – yes of course that includes men from many different backgrounds and walks of life, but not just men. Organisations – business, government, public sector – will never achieve 100 per cent of their potential if they exclude 50 per cent of the talent.