Host Julia Streets is joined by Sir Kenneth Olisa, Founder and Chairman of Restoration Partners, Founder and Chairman of the Aleto Foundation. Freeman of the City of London, Liveryman and Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, Patron of Thames Reach and Paul Sesay, CEO at Precedent Group, Founder and CEO of Inclusive Companies Limited, Black Leaders, the National Diversity Awards and the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List. In this wide ranging discussion they discuss the importance of prioritising the recruitment, selection and promotion of alternative talent – particularly in tech – as key to navigating challenging times and rebuilding the economy. They talk about the risks of bias in redundancy decision making, the significance of black male role models in the context of tackling institutional racism, the value of board diversity and the competitive advantage that social mobility can bring.
Sir Ken Olisa OBE
Ken is Founder and Chairman of Restoration Partners, the boutique technology merchant bank and architects of Inogesis formerly known as The Virtual Technology Cluster model. Ken’s technology career spans over 30 years commencing with IBM from whom he won a scholarship while at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. In 1992, after twelve years as a senior executive at Wang Labs in the US and Europe, Ken founded Interregnum, the technology merchant bank. He was elected as a Fellow of the British Computer Society in 2006. He is currently Chairman of Interswitch (Africa’s largest e-payments company). He is a former Director of Thomson Reuters, a former deputy Chair at the Institute of directors and Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) where he coined the famous epigram “More Soviet than City” to describe the manner of his departure. Ken is a Freeman of the City of London, Liveryman and Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, Patron of Thames Reach (for which he received an OBE in 2010), and Chairman of charity Shaw Trust. He was an original member of the Postal Services Commission (PostComm) and the Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority (IPSA) and is the Founder and Chairman of the Aleto Foundation. He is a past Sunday Times Not for Profit Non-Executive Director of the year and was named Number 1 in the 2016 Powerlist’s roster of the UK’s most influential black people. In 2013 Ken and his wife, Julia, endowed the Olisa Library at his alma mater Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. In 2015, Her Majesty the Queen appointed Ken as Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Greater London and he was knighted in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List for services to business and philanthropy. In September 2018 Ken was appointed as the director on the board of Huawei a Chinese multinational networking, telecommunications equipment and Services Company. Sir Kenneth is President of London Youth, a member network of 450+ community youth organisations working across London, supporting tens of thousands of young Londoners each year through their sports, arts, employment and social action programmes and outdoor learning at their residential centres in East Sussex and Buckinghamshire.
Paul Sesay is the Founder and CEO of Inclusive Companies Limited, Black Leaders, the National Diversity Awards and the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List. Paul’s business acumen has mainly been with a social focus. With over seventeen years’ worth of experience within the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion sector, Paul has worked with some of the largest organisations in the world on their diversity and inclusion profiles. He has also worked holistically with communities to help individuals and groups from various backgrounds to achieve and empower disadvantaged groups across the UK.
Series Ten, Episode Five Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equality, inclusion, and diversity in financial services. On the podcast we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer lots of ideas to help drive change.
Before we get started today, I just wanted to take a moment to thank our friends at CityAM for their continued support of DiverCity podcast. Publishing and promoting both our episodes and our supporting blog series, so their readers can stay on top of the very latest D&I debate. You may want to check out CityAM’s own podcast called the City View for all the latest news and opinion for the city, because we at DiverCity podcast are huge fans.
Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE, and Paul Sesay.
Kenneth is the Founder of the Aleto Foundation, Founder and Chairman of Restoration Partners. A boutique technology, merchant bank, and has enjoyed a technology career spanning more than 30 years. He started at IBM having won a scholarship while studying at Cambridge and in 1992, after 12 years as a senior executive at Wang Labs in the US and Europe, Ken founded Interregnum, the technology merchant bank. He was elected as a fellow of the British Computer Society in 2006 and is currently chairman of Interswitch, Africa’s largest E-payments company. He has held many board positions, as a former Director of Thomson Reuters, Deputy Chair at the Institute of Directors, and he serves as a Director on the board at the board telecommunications firm, Huawei. He’s also president of London News, a member network of more than 450 community youth organisations. In 2015, the Queen appointed Kenneth as Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Greater London, and he was knighted in the 2018 New Year’s Honours list. Kenneth, welcome to the show.
Sir Kenneth: Pleasure.
Julia: Paul Sesay, is the Founder and CEO of Inclusive Companies Limited, Black Leaders, The National Diversity Awards, and The Inclusive Top 50 UK employers list. His business acumen that has spanned many years has always been with a social focus. With over 17 years worth of experience in the diversity equality and inclusion sector, Paul has worked with some of the world’s largest organisations on their Diversity and Inclusion profiles. He’s also worked with a wide range of communities, helping individuals and groups from a variety of backgrounds, all to achieve and empower disadvantaged groups, right the way across the UK. Paul, welcome to the show.
Paul: Fantastic to be here, Julia.
Julia: I’m really looking forward to this conversation because I’m going to start with, here we are in 2021, I’m very keen to hear, what’s your main focus for this year? Sir Kenneth, let me come to you. First of all.
Sir Kenneth: As the chancellor pointed out last year, this year is going to be an amazingly stressful one for probably most people in the UK. Particularly there’s going to be a problem with youth unemployment, but what I’ve observed during the year of COVID is those people at the marginalised end of society are struggling a much, much greater deal than those who are relatively well off or very well off. And that will get worse as well in the year. From a charity perspective, I will be very much focused on pulling the levers available to me to try to help particularly the micro charities, the ones for whom £5000 will be life-changing, to be able to survive and to prosper, to do the sort of things that they do, ranging in my experience from, lending toys to disadvantaged children, to providing safe sanitary products to the daughters of refugees and immigrants and so on. Those charities are spread across London, and London depends on them, and they’re not really on the radar screen of society, so they need extra help. So, from a Lieutenant seat charitable perspective, that’ll be my principal focus.
I’m also Chairman of The Shaw Trust, which very much works to help people get employment and we’re a vast charity working with the government to run big programmes for employment. I can see, this year is going to be one where we really put our foot to the floor, and commercially, that was a bit negative really, but very important. Commercially, I have to say my various activities are going throughout well, touch wood, and I have a couple of flotations of businesses in the pipeline, which I hope to be able to land during this year. So I will jump between those two, the yin and the yang of my day job.
Julia: The economic focus for this year is going to be really fascinating in terms of seeing the role of large organisations and then also the grassroots requirements and how we can support grassroots as well. Paul, I know this is something you think very keenly about, particularly, as I mentioned in your biography, your remit is very much across the UK, working with organisations many might well be floating, exactly, just building on what Sir Kenneth was saying, I’d love to hear what you’re focused on at the moment.
Paul: My focus has always been about inclusion as a whole, since I set my business up in 2006, and I think it’s really important that organisations really do get it right in regards to their rhetoric when they’re doing different benchmarks or they are doing inclusion initiatives simply because, when you individualise it, it can be seen as, what about me? So if you’re concerned LGBT, or you’re concerned about race that year, there could be staff who go, “What about us? What are we going to be doing this year? Have we still got a voice and we still feel that we’ve been discriminated against.” The Inclusive Top 50 and National Diversity Awards, as you know, is about inclusivity as a whole, and we’re really pleased that we can highlight so many communities, and in 2021, it’s so much more important now to highlight these communities, because it’s going to be a hard road in 2021 for our communities because funding is obviously going to go, we’ve got to pay this massive debt off from the government.
I really want to work closely with the National Diversity Awards Communities, but also to highlight to organisations that, I think there’s going to be a lot of redundancies, I am trying to be positive, but there is. And so when you’re doing the redundancies, please make sure that you are diverse when you make these so that it’s not just the marginalised people in society that are going to lose their jobs first and be fair in that. But on the plus side of that, when jobs are going to start being created, I think there’s a real opportunity to get diverse teams at senior level up there, and start to again, maybe do a reset button and say, “Well, how can we do this properly?” This is another thing that I really want to get into some of the organisations that we work with, with the Inclusive Top 50 and Inclusive Companies Membership,
Julia: Can I just say how much I appreciate both of your nods to the positivity. We’re very keen to be very realistic as well. This is not seeing the world through rose tinted glasses in any way, shape or form.
Sir Kenneth: Julia, can I just come back to something, because I think I can bring the two messages together earlier on. When I talk to people about where we are at the moment as we develop, I would say it’s a bit like winter, and as nature goes into winter, things that are weak and frail and old die off, and the things that are vibrant and strong survive, and the things that will eventually burst forward, getting that opportunity, and they burst forward. I see lots of the commercial industrial landscape, which essentially is going to die off, and sad though that is for the people who will lose their jobs for whatever at the time, it is inevitable that this happens, it happens all the time in business. It’s going to be accelerated, it’s a seasonal shift, but the good news about the UK in particular is, it’s knee deep in people trying to do exciting new innovative things, technology, which is my subject will fuel much of that and so will energy. And then the government policy in the UK, seems to be focused on precisely those things.
I make one point though, as I am sure we’ll return to later, but when I rant, as I do frequently handed any opportunity about diversity and inclusion, I say, actually, everybody’s thinking about this, the wrong way. Everybody’s thinking about this as a social justice issue, which of course it is, but that’s not the right way to think about it. In the commercial world, think about it from a competitive advantage perspective. If you don’t understand and empathise and relate to your customers, your supply chain, your staff, your recruitment pool, your regulators, if you have a regulator. The stakeholders that were required to focus on by law in the UK, if you don’t relate to them, you will be at a competitive disadvantage to some organisation which does. Therefore, when you’re thinking about laying people off, hiring new people and so on, think about your competitive advantage and not just retaining mates or recruiting mates.
Julia: I couldn’t agree more. In fact, the entire editorial focus of the podcast is that our listeners, regular listeners will know, it’s very much looking through the commercial lens and absolutely the advantage that is laid bare for all to take. I think one thing I’m most positive about is that enlightened leaders are getting that joke. They’re really seeing that this is an amazing opportunity to be re-imagining your organisation in the context of the future of work as well as workplaces, and to be thinking about this very much through an inclusion perspective, Paul welcome your thoughts at this point.
Paul: I’ve got to agree with Sir Kenneth, I think throughout these difficult times of Donald Trump and the right-wing media coming through, I think organisations have really set the precedent as regards to their regimens and how they want to be more diverse and that’s a seed that being been sown for the spring winter, hopefully with a new presidency in America. I know it’s totally related to the UK, but hopefully spring comes and now organisations can really, like I said before, get the rhetoric right, with regards to inclusivity as a whole, neurodiversity , BAME especially with the black agenda coming forward as well, just making sure that they get the message right. We can really move forward quite quickly I think, as regards to inclusion for all in the public sector, private sector, housing education and charity.
Julia: Thank you for the nods to everything that’s happening on a geopolitical level, because not only do we have listeners all over the world, but we operate particularly in business, in an international climate. So all of this is very much interrelated. I would like to, if I may just, just to reflect on 2020. We’re talking about the black agenda, we’re talking about the black conversation at the moment. That’s something that we as a podcast have taken very seriously as well. You’re both great leading black role models in the industry in your own right as well. I’d love to hear your reflections on 2020, particularly obviously with the significance of race, Paul, can I come to you first of all?
Paul: With the death of George Floyd, it really hit home to a lot of people. It was the first time that I’d seen here, on LinkedIn and various other mediums that organisations would barely take notes on black inclusion. I didn’t really want that to go away. So I phoned a good friend of mine called Fiona Daniel, who used to be the Head of D&I for UK HSBC. And she said to me, “Well, what can we do about this?” So I said, “Well, let’s sell black leaders.”
To my amazement, black leaders as a domain was actually still there, and that says a lot really as well as a domain name, to actually have blackleaders.co.uk in 2020, I thought to myself, “Well, actually there’s so much work that needs to be done.” So anyway off we popped some and we said, “Well, what can we do in this arena?” We came up with various initiatives that we wanted to concentrate on, obviously black inclusion within the workplace, within communities and with education. We called out volunteers within the first two weeks and we had a tremendous response. We went from zero to 120 volunteers, in a couple of weeks. When we brought all these people together, there was so much, and these weren’t just black people by the way, these were allies as well from corporate organisations and from LGBT backgrounds and every aspect of society all want to help with this cause, which was amazing. We came up with different initiatives, for instance, black inclusion week, a black inclusion index, which had been developed in conjunction with Nielsen. We’ve also come up with an empowerment and leadership course, which has been developed by the open university, which is going to be an accredited qualification where black people can go there and basically empower themselves and then become leaders.
When organisations are talking about black inclusion, we can say, well, we’ve done this leadership course, and there’s no excuses not to get them into their higher echelons of their business. We also created a toolkit which basically highlights to teachers, which is predominantly white teachers in the UK. A lot of black kids go through school and don’t see anybody that looks like them to teach their teachers about racism, what that looks like, microaggressions, different cultural aspects of the black community and various other things like that. That’s already been piloted in schools across the UK. We’re really pleased at how that’s gone, so that’s how we started and how it’s blown up in five months to what we have now.
Julia: It’s fantastic, isn’t it? We come out with an episode straight after George Floyd was murdered. One of the things that came through loudly and clearly was how organisations want to create an action plan. They want to think about best practice. It’s wonderful to hear you talk about some very practical and very specific areas where you’ve been focusing as well. Sir Kenneth, I’d love to hear your thoughts, your reflections on 2020.
Sir Kenneth: It’s been a seminal year. There’s been a step change here. We’ve already spoken about what’s happening in America. I want to stop the similarity as it were, about what’s happening in America. One of the biggest challenges about being black in the UK is a lot of people in the UK think America is the role model of black life. People get irritated in this country because if we were America. I’ve lived and worked in America, they have a lot of very complicated, deep rooted, centuries old problems, which they struggle to resolve. It’s not the case in this country. We actually have a longer history technically, than the American history but we don’t have the same history. One of the frustrations that I’ve had and have ranted about and appear to be listened to, maybe not me, but it has been listened to, is that when we teach black history in the UK, the school curriculum used to be full of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, which have nothing to do with our history.
Why aren’t we talking about famous Jamaicans or Nigerians or whatever in the black history? So the net result is that we have a generation of children in this country who believe that their origins are the same and they suffer the same problems that the black Americans suffer. I have a lot of sympathy for black Americans, but it’s not my problem to solve. My problem responsibility is in this country. In this country, because I’m fond of saying to people. My father was a lawyer who came to this country after the second world war, met my mother, married my mother, had me then abandoned us both, went back to Nigeria. One of my great friends’ father came over as the son of an RAF mechanic in the second world war from Jamaica. The only thing my friend and I have got in common is our height and the colour of our skin. There is nothing else in common at all, but to be lumped in a block called black, therefore is a ridiculous definition.
Then as Paul has pointed out, to then, have the rest of AME added to it. So I would ask everybody to take a big step back and say, “Why on earth are we doing that?” The answer is, we’re trying to label people for historical reasons of power, because if I can label you as a lower caste person, I’m therefore a superior caste person, and that allows me to make something happen. There is a very good book out recently published by a lady called Wilkerson about caste in America. She makes the point that there’s a difference between class and caste.
I make that rant because, I don’t want people to try and put the American experience to the UK. Unfortunately they have, and it’s deeply embedded. What Paul is doing is providing antidotes to that by saying, “No, in this country, look what people do. Look what you can do, look what the opportunities are.” In that Paul and I are brothers. There’s something that we do have in common, absolutely in common. We need our people to understand that actually the world is divided into two kinds, good and bad. And that’s it.
At the top of the point there is, you mentioned the chairman of a Nigerian company, I think you miss quoted, it’s actually not the largest African payments’ company, it’s the largest Nigerian payments’ company. It’s the second largest African one, but it is worth a billion dollars etc and I’m very proud of it. But Interswitch, we have our board meetings in Nigeria, so I go to Nigeria probably four times a year. I arrive in Nigeria with a Nigerian name, Olisa black skin. When I travel around in the UK, can I get my key at the hotel lobby? No. Why not? Because they see a white English man. Now, I’m not a white English man, I’m what I am, but they see a white English man, so I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to fight to get my key from the receptionist in the various hotels I stayed in because they say, “No, no, you can’t be called Olisa, because that’s an African name, and you are not an African, no, no. You’re white.” So I have a ridiculous debate. I come home to England, I’m black, I go there and I am white. It’s a pointless definition. What Paul is doing is essentially amplifying the points and saying, you can do whatever your talents and will, will take you to do in this country. Tragically, that isn’t the case in all countries, but we can’t solve all the problems of the world. This is very much a UK focus. I’m very much a UK focus person. My focus is very much on the UK. I feel for the rest of the world, they must solve their problems. At the end of the day, we are competing as a nation with all the other nations on the place.
Brexit does a great proof positive of that. I want to make sure that we have the best competitive advantage that we possibly can. The time we could waste and the energy we could lose on blockhead labels is just lost energy. So I’m absolutely with Paul. Let’s get the young people, let’s get everybody to understand, and it’s not a race point. I mention I am the Chairman of Shaw Trust, I’m proud that we publish the disabled power 100, where we take people, we asked people to nominate disabled people to come forward and be ranting just the same way that others have done it for Asians and blacks and so on.
Some of the most remarkable people in the UK, not just for what we’ve suffered and achieved, but for what they’ve delivered for other people get to be highlighted in the Powerlist 100. We need to take inclusion seriously and say, it’s about talent because if we don’t have talent, we won’t be able to compete against the rest of the world. If we deliver that talent and apply it properly, we’ll create a wealth which drives a social justice.
Paul was quite polite about it but I think BAME is one of the most ridiculous adjectives on the planet and I’ll settle for good and bad.
Julia: It’s important when we think about these lists and where we talk about disability. We’ve had some amazing discussions on this podcast, and particularly right now, when we think about the skills we need, resilience is one of the most obvious, and I don’t want to be simplistic in this at all, but when it’s obvious traits of employees who disabilities, is there extraordinary resilience, it’s fantastic. When it’s wonderful to hear about both your work and your initiatives as well. I wonder if we could take the conversation on almost like one ratchet shift along if we may, when we talk about innovation, we talk about enterprise, we talk about the future of Britain. We think about the talent that’s coming through with both your work as well. Love to talk about technology and thinking about how do we encourage more talent into technology. Sir Kenneth, of course, the obvious places to start with you with your technology background.
Sir Kenneth: The best thing about tech, tech is like football. There isn’t any question. If you are running a technology business about where the people who are helping you produce your products market your products, install your products, maintain them. You don’t care where they came from. You didn’t say to a programmer “What did your father do? Which school did you go to,” etc. You say, “Can you write code? And if so, is it any good.” And the dearth of talent and technology is significant. So we don’t have anything like enough people to be able to develop and install and maintain the system that will be required. I fundamentally believe that 5G will make the same impact on the world that the internet did. It is a fundamental step change in terms of technology. Put simply, 5G makes it possible, it has zero latency, instantaneous response process by infinite compute power, i.e Compute power in the cloud.
It’s a slight exaggeration,but it’s pretty close. Unlike everything else you’ve done, which is slow and not particularly powerful. The applications, the devices, the uses of technology as we go forward in the 5G universe, and there will obviously be a six and a seven and eight G as well thereafter. We are talking about mega, mega step changes in the ability to do things in society. We are already short of talent and capability in that world. It’s not just programming, the key though that’s in this, it’s also about, as I say, the selling, the marketing, installing the maintaining of the system. So the skills that are going to be required by those in a tech centred world, we’ll just continue to explode. I think the best example, not British unfortunately, would be Amazon.
At the end of the day, it’s an online retailer, of course, it isn’t. It spends more on R&D. I think we do as a nation each year, it’s an enormous energy machine of technology and anybody who’s contemplating a career, you don’t have to, as I say, to be a left loop programmer, you can be a right loop marketeer, but the opportunities in this sector are enormous. The UK is particularly well cited to be able to take advantage of that.
I think it’s a wonderful industry. It’s done me extremely well, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve given most of the well away so its helped lots of other people too, but its life transforming, I could not have imagined when I read that first line of code all those years ago, damn it, all those decades ago, something like an iPad. I could not have conceived even down there in the comic books and science fictions on didn’t have an iPad. So we’ve seen in one lifetime fundamental change, it’s just the beginning. So I would encourage everybody who’s got an ounce of talent in the many areas I just spoke about to consider the technological opportunities. Because it’s talent driven, the barriers that Paul and I are devoted to tear are not there. So it’s just open for people with the right attitude and the right capabilities.
Julia: I’m deeply inspired by that, because as listeners will know my day job, my life is spent in the world of financial services and technology. We think right the way across the UK about the potential post-Brexit, but obviously also globally, I mean, hosting conferences all over the world and I am really very inspired by this concept that actually when it comes to technology, it’s completely inclusive because the barriers get ripped down and the definitions no longer apply. Can you code yes or no? It should be the only principle by which we apply. Fascinating. Really fascinating. Thank you so much for your thoughts on that. Paul, if I may come to you as well, obviously your work with Black Leaders, leadership really matters, role models really matter as well. I know you’re keen to shine the light on role models around the UK, particularly with the National Diversity Award. What do you tell organisations when they’re thinking about bringing through black leaders, influencers, and also allies as well?
Paul: Well, it’s funny, you should mention, the National and Inclusive Companies and the Black Leaderships are all one and the same to me. I was telling the story about role models for my own personal point of view on why it’s important to bring the talent out in an individual. I was fostered when I was a kid, I was born to a white mother and a black father. It was a one night stand and I was born and my mom couldn’t cope with having a mixed race baby as it were. Basically I was gone and I was put in the foster care system, went through various foster homes and foster families. It wasn’t a good experience in the seventies, there was a lot of racism.
When you’re going to a white school and you were the only black kid in there, it was like, literally wiping your skin, wanting to be white and getting racist abuse. I remember one particular incident. ‘There’s a Brown Girl in the Ring’ but was a ‘Brown Boy in the Ring’ and everybody’s kicking you, you know what I mean? These are the experiences that I grew up with, so my childhood was one of sorrow, really. When I left foster care I spent many Christmases and birthdays by myself, and didn’t really have no one, and that’s kind of one of my lowest points, but then there was a role model.
When I was 19, I moved to Liverpool from Leeds and he took me under his wing, this guy called James Class. He showed me that I could be someone. He used to be a radio DJ for BBC radio Merseyside. He was such an inspiration to me, show me that you can present, you’ve got confidence. He got me to MC in clubs around Liverpool and Ireland and the UK. It was just a catalyst for me to start believing in myself. Although it’s a completely different industry to what I’m doing now. It really was a real shift in my life.
Moving forward from that I then got a job in sales and doing diversity and inclusion and I really enjoyed it, I got frustrated about what organisations or companies weren’t doing with regards to promoting diversity inclusion. It was all about making money, but no actions were involved, I’m all about actions and making sure that there’s initiatives in there, so companies can take away certain things so that they can embed it into their organisation and actually move forward.
Moving back, James actually passed away with cancer and he didn’t know how many people he’d influenced. In Liverpool, it’s got the largest cathedral in the great Britain and Anglican Cathedral, and he filled that cathedral with well-wishers from the front to the very back people from every aspect of society, wherever it was, LGBT whether its different races, different abilities. He never knew what a role model he was to many people. That’s one of the reasons why I started the National Diversity was because I want community leaders and people like James that don’t have a voice to get heard. We deliberately made the website so that they have their own webpage people feed in and so, so forth, and people can tell them about the brilliant work they’re doing within their own communities. It was fabulous.
When we talk about these role models that we find, so many inspirational people from all walks of life, and then introduce them into the corporate world and say, this is what someone with autism looks like. This is what someone from a trans background, someone from an LGBT background, what they’ve achieved when their communities, but actually they have achieved so much and you can take inspiration into your organisation, find out this is what talent looks like. When you’re embedded to senior levels, then you’re going to thrive and your profitability as Kenneth said will thrive as well. When I’m talking about role models, it’s important that everybody, if you get to the senior levels become a role model as well, so you never know when you give that person to help and look at what I’ve achieved, that person could have achieved far more than me and that’s crucial. So that’s the way I see role models and the power of role models within organisations.
Julia: Well, I think that’s a very aspiring inspiring moment to bring in Cynthia Akinsanya, who’s had some research to support today’s discussion.
Cynthia: In the 2021 Guider article: Article, Racial Diversity in the Workplace, Boosting Representation in Leadership, the World Economic Forum stated the business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming businesses with diverse management teams make 19% more revenue, 43% of businesses with diverse boards saw increased profits, diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets, diverse teams make better decisions, 87% of the time compared to individuals. 85% of CEOs with diverse and inclusive workforces said that they noticed increased profits. But in order to boost representation, businesses must actively discuss race in the workplace, get leaders vocally on board, revisit the hiring process, invest in BAME employees career progression, and establish a culture of mentoring.
Julia: Thank you Cynthia, for all that research, it is available on our website. Before we went into the link Sir Kenneth was talking about technology and the potential for technology as well. Paul, you’re working with a lot of businesses, technology is inherent in everything that they are trying to achieve in some way, shape or form love to hear your thoughts about talent and technology.
Paul: Especially when it comes to recruitment of diverse people. I think it can be inherently biased, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence, AI. When someone’s going for a job with a postcode that they live at or the ethnicity they are or their name, AI could actually sort that and actually discriminate. So one thing that we’re working on at the moment is working with a professor to actually take the bias out of recruitments, which will work on algorithms so that it’s based on skills as Sir Kenneth said before that, someone’s got a neurodiversity , their brain might be wired completely different somebody else’s, but actually they’re quite capable of doing that job because they are absolute genius, especially within technology and data and programming and so on and so forth. Or someone might be creative, from a black background or an LGBT background, just basically placing people to their skills, rather than their ethnicity or what they’ve been through in life. I think that’s really important. And I think one of my missions is to basically get AI that is unbiased and that we can basically have a fairer society for all kinds of kids so they can go forward and get their promotions that they deserve.
Julia: Sir Kenneth, anything you’re keen to talk about or has been inspired so far?
Sir Kenneth: I thought what Paul said was remarkable, and I’m really pleased that you’ve shared it with us today. I think there’s a very big message that comes across from Paul and Ken on the show today. I was born six years after the end of the second world war. It’s hard for people today to have any imagination, what life was like in the United Kingdom at that time, in England at that time. My favourite playground was a bombsight, where german bombs had fallen, the houses had been pulled down by the council. It was full of really exciting things and dangerous, small boys to play in, it was wonderful. Obviously we didn’t have those kinds of environments today. The house I grew up in has an outside lavatory, no bathroom, you just take the bath from the outside of the lavatory and bring it in to fill it with water, etc. And now I’m the Queen’s representative in the City of Greater London. That journey is a British dream story.
It’s the point that Paul is making about, it doesn’t matter where you start from it’s where your ambition is to take you. Children in care have enormous problems, as Paul just alluded to on this call. And again, Shaw Trust, it’s one of the big areas of our focus and interests. Our Chief Executive that recently retired, senior RAF officer, was himself in care when he was growing up. The lived experience is so key, but in our country, people don’t talk about their backgrounds.
People would assume when they see the Queen’s representative in greater London, that my father did whatever, I went to Eton, the obvious things that happen as opposed to I grew up in a two up two down, but an outside lavatory, you meet Paul, you’ve got no idea he grew up in care because people assume someone was doing this obviously played football, became a DJ, did something, forget the rest of the story. We who have achieved in this country need to tell our stories more and more so that everybody knows it’s possible because the bad people try to persuade everybody it’s not possible. Then I can persuade you it’s not possible. You’re either angry I can take your power, or you’re repressed, and don’t need to worry about you. Actually, this is the most wonderful country to live in. The opportunities abound. We need to tell everybody that we need to prove that it’s true. And then we just see people enjoy it.
The spring and the summer for the UK will be wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be a UK story. It’s a human story. The point is true to every country and every individual. And the other note to save him, Paul’s point about his amazing, I have to say really uplifting story about the man that made the difference to you. When I lecture young people about growing up in the UK, taking advantage of what can happen. I say one of the most, most impactful things in my life has been the kindness of strangers.
I can list scores of people who helped the little black boy at school, the young teenager, the undergraduate, the graduate, junior manager, the senior manager. Went out of their way to help me be better at what I was doing. It’s from that, that I developed what I considered to be a sacred duty to help other people, because that’s what makes the world go round. I was doing the kindness of strangers rant, but the kindness of strangers is really key. I think when people should therefore help other people as opposed to not.
When I talk to young people, one of the great privileges of my life, of which there are many, I have to say is that I was able to get for myself a coat of armour. As a small boy, probably every small boy has produced a coat of arms or probably every small girl. I don’t remember, but I do remember making a coat of arms and now I have a proper coat of arms, from the college of arms, which is rather important, because if you have a coat of arms and therefore produce your own coat of arms, the best bit about it is the motto, because you have to summerise all of the things that you stand for in a tiny number of words in English, French, German or Latin, if you want to be accessible I recommend English. So if you think about it, if your listeners think about, do you have to capture what you really stand for, in a motto that you would attach to the coat of arms, which in olden days would have been the way that people in battle differentiate each other. What would it be? Mine is do well, do good. And I think the great message in life is you should do your best, which is the whole point of that talent. Then you should help other people, which is the doing good piece, and if you look back over the great examples of history, that’s what has powered the human race.
Julia: Perfect. Great. Thank you. The final question. I’d love to ask you both. It’s a question I ask all of our guests and particularly right now, when we’re heading into, I love your analogy and your description of coming out of the winter, looking at the spring and the summer. But I am quite concerned that as we are navigating tough times that diversity and inclusion could well and easily fall off the corporate agenda. Paul give us some compelling reasons why diversity inclusion must remain high.
Paul: I was in business in the last recession, obviously when there is a recession and people going through hard times, people want someone to blame and that is something that you might remember back to the last recession. It was British jobs for British workers, very anti-immigrant. It was the public sector actually that was really making headway with diversity inclusion post 2008, when the recession happened, literally teams of 20 went down to one or zero. You call it on them and they are well, do you know what? It’s not something that we can concentrate on. Now, we’re making redundancies at the moment. It’s not something that we’re thinking about, and actually put diversity and inclusion back for a good five, 10 years, and all that great work that people were doing before ten years, and I felt that, before the recession happened, people were becoming more accepting of diversity and inclusion. But like I said before, as soon as something happens, jobs get lost, they need someone to blame. I implore organisations, not to give up their teams to actually make sure that moving forward, when we do come to spring and summer, that you recruit in a diverse way.
It’s so important. There’s so much talent out there, and actually, one of the things that I’m very passionate about. I’m from Liverpool, I’m from Leeds originally and the North/South divide, because you go down to London and you see lots of black people. You see lots of people from diverse backgrounds in organisations and not at every level, but in quite senior levels as well. When you come up North, you barely see, especially in Liverpool or Leeds, you barely see anybody of a diverse background in any boardroom or any senior level out there. I really want to tackle the North/South divide and get organisations really to concentrate to embed diversity inclusion from the very top, and retain the talent, up north instead of the talent going down to London, we’ve got so much talent. And actually, I think there’s going to be a shift as well because London for me is in its own bubble. And actually organisations are now starting to look up North to have their head offices up north because they know it’s cheaper rents and maybe cheaper labour as well. And so when they are coming up north, again, recruiting in colour, as it were.
Julia: Absolutely and levelling up from the grassroots right up to the board level. Fantastic. Paul, thank you very much for your thoughts on that. Sir Kenneth just see us out on the show. We talked about the competitive advantage that diversity and inclusion offers to organisations. We’ve talked about the technology being really the opportunity to think more about the skills than necessarily the characteristics of an individual or the identity. , give us some good reasons about why you believe diversity inclusion must remain high on the corporate agenda.
Sir Kenneth: Imagine you are the player, captain, coach of a local football club, and you’re at the bottom of your league, and you think, “What am I going to do to get back up into the middle of the top of my league?” look at your team think, “do you know what I’ve hired lots of people like me.” I was a goalkeeper when I played, and I’ve got 11 goalkeepers in my team. I think I’m beginning to work out why I’m not scoring any goals and I’m not really up the league table. When things get difficult, the worst thing you can do is to reduce the gene pool by hiring yourself by an obvious statement is competitive advantage.
You need someone that understands your customers, your supply chain, etc, as I said before. The challenge for businesses and organisation is how do you incentivise the middle managers to realise that and make it happen? And it’s quite hard because the middle manager is given five KPIs, which are to do with revenue and costs and so on. For the quarter or the month, possibly the year, So a competitive advantage doesn’t mean a lot to them because they are busy on the treadmill, but for the organisation to grow and survive, it’s got to take a broader view. The people at the top of organisations that will survive and prosper in this spring, they’ve got to acknowledge that those that don’t understand their customers, their supply chain, their regulators, their staff and their recruits, will be at a potentially fatal disadvantage to competitive organisations, which do.
Julia: That could not be a more compelling reason, particularly as we head into the spring, as we head into the summer, gentlemen, it’s be the most fantastic conversation. I’m immensely grateful. Sir Kenneth, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for being with us today. And Paul Sesay, thank you very much. It’s been wonderful to see you as always.
Paul: Thank you.
Julia: As always to all our listeners, thank you for tuning in to diversity podcasts. I’m Julia street. So we look forward to speaking to you again soon. Thanks for this.
Kieron: This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights.
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