Posted by

Wendy Bowers, Non Executive Director at the BCC and Founder of ROLE

20 Jan 2015

The words of the 1969 Blue Mink hit ‘what we need is a great big melting pot’ were meant to be a beautiful dream of racial harmony, but today, in a world connected by the internet, we need a ‘melting pot’ of employees and business leaders so that both firms and our nation can be globally competitive. 

While the issue of representation of women in the workplace is not a new one, it remains just as important today. Statistics show that engagement and advancement of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries are still appalling with only 6% of engineers and 18% of computing degree students at UK universities being female. 

For more than 10 years I have championed diversity in the workplace through various non executive roles and in my own business. I was honoured when Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), asked me to be the BCC board representative for Women’s Enterprise. 

Diversity is at the heart of the BCC’s work – it’s seen through the huge range of industries, regions and people that they and the whole Chamber network represents. And it’s been recognised through the partnerships that the BCC has developed with the Government Equalities Office (GEO). 

In 2012 Chambers across the UK and GEO officers together delivered workshops to help SMEs understand their legal obligations around equality, and explain the benefits of diversity in the workplace.  In May 2013, Jo Swinson, the then Minister for Business, Women and Equalities, launched the resulting BCC report in the form of a booklet, Business is Good for Equality. 

Through my role as the representative for Women’s Enterprise I have chaired numerous debates with more than 500 business leaders and FE and HE providers across the UK. No matter the topic, the conversation always steers towards changing social perceptions of the female role, as well as the importance of good careers advice. I have also spoken at women’s conferences and challenged politicians across all parties to get more women into enterprise. 

There are many conclusive reports from McKinsey and Co, CMI, Credit Suisse, which highlight again and again the business benefits of diversity. Having a board with more than 30% female members brings some staggering improvements to profit and share value.  The Lord Davies report in 2011 recognised this and some three years on and not without some persuasion, all our FTSE 100 companies have at least one female board member.  

But what about ensuring gender diversity throughout the talent pipeline? And what if we set targets to improve ratios of recruits in construction, research, I.T and retaining women in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and other male dominated industries, as they advance in their careers? 

Recently the BCC joined up with the GEO to deliver a pilot of activity across five individual Chambers across the UK, to form better links between schools and businesses, so that we can encourage more women to consider STEM based careers in the first place.  

Based on the debates I chaired throughout 2014, I am working with the BCC to build a network of 500 Diversity Ambassadors who will voluntarily provide 6 hours of Skype mentoring to young female managers and business owners across the UK.  We have 60 incredible men and women signed so far, many of whom volunteered following a Chamber debate. 

During 2015, we aim to examine the feedback from all the debates which can be used to help the government on current diversity practice in SMEs and offer practical solutions to increase gender diversity across multiple non traditional sectors. 

I will continue to represent the BCC at seminars and conferences and together we will challenge government and industry leaders, as the changes necessary to attract and retain many more women into leadership roles need to be driven from the top and cascaded throughout all sectors.

 All views expressed in guest blogs are that of the authors, and not of the British Chambers of Commerce.