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Diversity: Encouraging a broader range of entrepreneurs



Four top entrepreneurs discuss the “accidental lack of diversity” in business.

3 min read

Why does only 2% of venture capital go to female founders? Why are only 5% of UK businesses owned by members of the BAME population? As part of Coutts Entrepreneur Month, we assembled a panel of experts to explore the challenges to creating a more diverse entrepreneur community and the opportunities it presents.

When the audience of entrepreneurs and business leaders gathered at Coutts to discuss and debate diversity as part of our Entrepreneur Month, they did so at a symbolic time, as pointed out by the evening’s compère – journalist Edie Lush.

“It is the anniversary of the #MeToo movement and it is also Black History Month,” she said. “So what better time to talk about inclusion in business?”

Four brilliant entrepreneurs shared their experiences and thoughts on how Britain can create a more diverse business landscape:

  • Mary Katrantzou, fashion designer
  • Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Greater London
  • Dr. Maggie Semple OBE, The Experience Corps
  • Jude Kelly CBE, WOW, Women of the World Festival

Strong role models forge the path

Designer Mary Katrantzou started off the evening with her own story of how she became one of the UK’s top names in fashion. She stressed the importance of having strong female role models.

“When I started in fashion I felt there was a lot going against me – I’m not British, I’m not a man. The pace in fashion is relentless but what it does have is the dedication to support talent,” she said.

“I had incredible female mentors, such as Net-A-Porter founder Natalie Massenet and Matches founder Ruth Chapman – knowing these women, who were able to realise their own visions, made me have strength in my convictions.”

All of the speakers agreed that the business world has a diversity problem. The audience heard that, according to Fortune, just over 2% of global venture capital is invested in female founders. And according to government figures, just 5% of UK small and medium-sized enterprises are owned by ethnic minorities, despite them making up almost 15% of the population.

“A lot of what we’re talking about in business is accidental lack of diversity,” said Sir Kenneth Olisa, the first British-born black man to serve as a director of a FTSE 100 company. “The people hiring have a number of targets that they need to hit and sometimes they fall behind on things like diversity because, let’s be honest, no one ever got fired for hiring lots of people that look like them.”

Women of the World founder Jude Kelly said part of the problem involved people’s perspectives about power. “The world is constructed around power and we’ve got work to do to help people decide that patriarchy is inadequate because it has underdeveloped 50% of the world’s population.”

“When it comes to the strength of teams, diversity of thought is the thing that trumps all.”
Maggie Semple, CEO, The Experience Corps Ltd

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The competitive advantage

The speakers also agreed that diversity makes good business sense.

Maggie Semple is CEO of The Experience Corps Ltd (TEC), a consultancy firm that works with FTSE 100 companies to drive cultural change and promote inclusion in the workplace. “When it comes to the strength of teams, diversity of thought is the thing that trumps all,” she said.

Sir Kenneth Olisa agreed: “If you don’t understand and empathise with your customers, your supply chain, you will be disadvantaged. In business you don’t even have to care about social justice – it's just competitive advantage.” He suggested that diversity should be taken out of the HR function and be a strategic priority for senior teams and across the whole business.

Speaking to the entrepreneurs in the audience, Jude Kelly offered some advice for building diverse teams for the future. “When you start a business, you naturally gather people around you that you know – trusted friends. But the places that you look to build your knowledge should be much braver. You’ve got to make connections that give you that diversity.”


Coutts Entrepreneur Month

Coutts Entrepreneur Month launched at the start of October with a gala event at our HQ at 440 Strand in London. The opening event focused on the big picture – what’s next for Britain’s entrepreneurs? – while three further, more intimate events are focusing on more specific issues – purpose, diversity and innovation.


Read our other Entrepreneur Month articles:

Key Takeaways

Diversity is an untapped strength for the UK’s entrepreneur base. Diversity of thought offers a strategic advantage for business that could boost UK businesses. Entrepreneurs should seek out role models from diverse communities, and seek ideas and insight outside of their usual circles.

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