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.”