As we break the back of the first decade of the 21st century, the case for increasing diversity in business grows ever more compelling. The EU trading zone with its open borders, the advent of true globalisation and the international commerce tool that is the internet have made the business world a very different beast than it was a generation ago.

Diversity is a buzzword that was coined, unsurprisingly, in the US in the Seventies and Eighties. Like a lot of that country's ideas, Europe regarded this one sceptically, chewed it over a bit and then incorporated the ideology into something many Europeans felt they were doing anyway. Because Europe is a salad bowl of unique and distinct nations, skills and ideas that the EU has been shaking thoroughly for over 30 years.

Multicultural UK, in particular, has an argument for becoming a champion of diversity with its educated and ageing population and its increasing need for top talent to cater for a stable, even booming economy and world market. And in order to know the market, to reach customer bases at home and in far flung parts of the globe, companies have come to realise that diversity is key.

Political correctness? Yes, in part, and right-minded people everywhere welcome increased equality between genders, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientation. But diversity is not just about political correctness. It is also a business imperative.

Companies making a concerted effort to widen the gene pool of their workforces are seeing immense and practical benefits, and not just to an increased bottom line. As a result of a shrinking workforce in Western Europe as the birth rate drops, the need to expand the search for talent within and without the region has brought diversity to the forefront of business thinking.

When encouraged, not enforced, diversity creates a better working environment. Companies want that. In an EU Commission Survey of 800 firms in 2005, almost half of which had actively adopted some form of diversity policies, 83 per cent believe that they make good business sense. For 48 per cent of respondents, diversity "resolved labour shortages and recruiting and retaining high quality staff". In 38 per cent of cases it "enhanced a company's reputation and standing in the local community" while more than 26 per cent of companies saw "improvements in their capacity to create and innovate". Incidentally, the UK topped the table for most examples of good practice EU-wide.

Opportunities for businesses to improve their diversity include non-discrimination training for managers and staff; the creation of employee networks representing disabled, gay and ethnic minority employees; company-wide campaigns on the value of older employees; and diversity objectives for managers linked to performance appraisal.

Companies also need to spend more time, effort and budget into recruiting the right staff, and getting into the community to find, hire and retain the people who will help their businesses flourish.

A few years ago QS realised that this was easier said than done. Go forth and diversify was the bold rallying cry, but few systems were in place to make that happen. So in the Autumn of 2002, QS created the first Women in Leadership Forum that took place in London. We invited a handful of companies that we knew through our careers and recruitment network who were actively seeking women for leadership positions.

Very quickly we realised that not only London but other cities worldwide had companies with the same problem: how to get face to face with ambitious and talented women to redress the gender balance in their organisations. In time we diversified ourselves, to Munich, Frankfurt, Paris, Moscow and even to the spiritual home of diversity in business, New York.

* The QS Women in Leadership Forum, taking place on 26 September in London, is an invitation only, free event. If you are a female graduate with business ambitions this might be for you.

* The QS Diversity in Leadership Forum on 25 September is also invitation only and candidates will be vetted to ensure that the companies meet the right type of candidates.

Register your interest at www.qsforums.com

Daniel Cooper is Head of events, QS Leadership Career Forums

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