We have just had a report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, named ‘Healing a Divided Britain’. Described as the biggest ever review into race inequality, it is worth a read. Following the referendum, we all need to look at our diverse society, and ensure we allow everyone to flourish.
Given Labour’s decision to talk to itself rather than to modern Britain, there is a golden opportunity to place policies at the heart of this new Government that embrace diverse Britain more than ever before.
I’m delighted to see a great starting point: social mobility is at the heart of the new Conservative Government’s agenda. Our new Prime Minister has been clear about that, and it’s absolutely spot on. It’s about bringing Britain together again.
It would be very easy for the challenge of Brexit to become all-consuming in Whitehall. And, while it is vital that the UK now makes a total success of that, I am delighted that Theresa May has tasked her new administration to focus in quickly on her bigger agenda: to ensure that we have a government that works for everyone.
Nothing could be more important in that regard than promoting diversity. This is the moment for the Conservatives to ‘come out’ powerfully for this agenda with a comprehensive policy platform.
Our new Prime Minister gets this. As Home Secretary, in a speech to the National Black Police Association conference last October, she said: ‘I am saying this not just because more diverse police forces mean we can make much better use of the talents and skills of people of all backgrounds and groups – including not only BME communities, but also disabled officers, officers from LGBT groups, and from all faiths. […] The College Leadership review includes recommendations that will support sustainable improvements in the recruitment, progression and retention of under-represented officers – from standardised promotion processes, to nationally advertised posts and greater career flexibility.’
So, what should our new approach towards diversity be? For me, the starting point must be policies that encourage diversity in the workplace. And support for SMEs – which form the majority of our country’s firms – should also be at the core.
Reform of recruitment techniques now needs to be pick up some pace. ‘Blind’ job applications – which remove upfront details about candidates’ ethnicity, background, and age – are already working well in many large companies. These are helping to drive recruiters away from simply hiring ‘mini me’. We now need support for SME companies, to help them overcome the barriers they may face.
The experience of the 2008 crash made many firms – large and small – embrace the concept of flexible working. Rather than large-scale job losses, which many had expected to see, we have seen a huge appetite to allow greater flexible working, over the last eight years. This reflects working life in the 21st century. And we need to drive it harder.
Education is the starting point for so much. It’s vital that we have more role models in classrooms to showcase what’s possible. There are still too many examples of young people being told that they won’t be able to realise aspiration. That’s just not good enough. And it’s a massive opportunity for the new Education Secretary and Equalities leader, Justine Greening. Let’s fill out that agenda.
As Tories, we know that policy should not just be about ‘Government’. There are a fantastic number of charities enabling change for business. Taylor Bennett Foundation for BAME groups, and OUTstanding for the LGBT agenda at work, are two groups that I – running an SME – have been proud to support. This new Government needs to help similar groups support business, Britain-wide.
Finally, leadership. The Cameron administration drove through some substantial change in terms of the composition of FTSE boardrooms. This drove up gender equality, but there is still much more to do. Let me propose a new ‘diversity charter’ for business, driven by Government example.
That charter should include all the ideas mentioned above, and be driven at all levels in the public and private sector. This is about entry into work and – perhaps as important – about career progression, regardless of background.
My business is proud to have become the first company of our type to sign the Treasury’s ‘Women in Finance’ pledge to drive greater gender equality at all levels in the financial sector. It’s a brilliant initiative, which will stretch us, and will hopefully stretch the diversity agenda hard across financial services. It needs to.
I’ve just been watching a Labour Party leadership election debate – I couldn’t resist it. Time and again, former Labour supporters who had never considered voting Conservative – and who would never be identified by pollsters as likely Tories – made it clear that Labour was not for them anymore.
The last ten years have done much to change our conservatism. The next ten should change our society.