Pavita Cooper is a leading talent and diversity expert, and the Founder and Director of More Difference. She is also a steering committee member of the 30 Percent Club, sits on the Advisory Board of Business 3.0 as well as chairs the CMI BAME Research Advisory Board. She talks to Professional Investor about the challenges still ahead for diversity, and the dangers of fatigue.
PI: You have been an active campaigner for diversity for over 25 years. Has a lot changed, since you started out?
Cooper: There’s been some significant shifts, yes. Organisations have been working on the gender agenda for the last decade, particularly with the launch of the Davies Review (now the Hampton-Alexander Review). Then we saw the inception of the 30 Percent Club, and ten years ago the big corporates really started paying attention. When you look at women on boards, the real problem has been what is happening in the pipeline, and it’s much harder to get senior leaders engaged in that.
PI: So how do we accelerate the rate at which women get to the top?
Cooper: You have to start at the bottom of the pipeline, getting universities involved, getting more women in STEM. A lot of graduate women enter the workforce but then the drop off happens over the next seven years. Stemming the exodus of women that leave in their early thirties is a real challenge. When you get to the top of the pipeline, there are only a very narrow number of women who are succeeding.
PI: What about other diversity issues?
Cooper: Race, social mobility, LGBTQ, I’m seeing organisations start to think about all of these issues. The Parker Review recommended that all FTSE 100 organisations should appoint at least one leader of colour. That’s an ambitious target at the moment. The other shift is that the whole debate around diversity is becoming much more sophisticated. Leaders don’t talk about diversity as much as inclusion. It’s about the culture we create at the top. For example, it’s about being flexible about where and how people can work.
PI: Are some industries better than others?
Cooper: People will always bash financial services, but some financial organisations have done a lot of work in this area. But it is the biggest consumer organisations, the Unilevers and PNGs of this world that have to relate to their customer base, who have worked hard to make sure their workforce is representative. Start-ups and Fintech organisations have also made it a priority to find more women. I am however sensing a bit of fatigue coming in, particularly around gender. We have to meet the gender gap and we have to keep taking these discussions forward.