Companies must wake up: diversity in the workplace is sound business sense

Outlook: Meanwhile 43 per cent per cent of gay men have experienced homophobia at work

James Moore
Tuesday 20 October 2015 01:25
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Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd's of London topped a list of most inspiring LGBT business executives
Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd's of London topped a list of most inspiring LGBT business executives

I don’t generally feature the awards business people like to confer upon each other in this column, but I’m making an exception for OUTstanding’s top 100 power list of LGBT executives and its top 30 allies.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the leading “ally”. Given his profile, you could be forgiven for seeing this as a PR stunt. But if it is, then what of it?

OUTstanding, which is a professional network for the LGBT community, cites a plethora of data showing that Facebook’s friendliness towards its members is far from universal. It notes that while 99 per cent of the FTSE 100 annual reports refer to diversity as a whole, some 80 per cent lack any mention of non-discrimination policies for transgender employees.

Meanwhile 43 per cent per cent of gay men have experienced homophobia at work, according to the “Gay in the Workplace” survey, and Stonewall says that many don’t feel able to be open to colleagues about their sexual orientation. There’s plenty of similar data that I could have cited and it makes for depressing reading. It’s also a nonsense from a business perspective.

Diversity is a concept that companies should embrace. Not because it makes for positive PR, and not because shunning it is morally reprehensible. It is because diversity makes sound economic sense.

My own work with the Extra Costs Commission, set up by the disability charity Scope, was eye-opening. Many businesses had no idea they were failing to serve – and thus tap into – a potentially huge market.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised: if particular groups are not represented in your workplace, how can you effectively understand and serve them? The same is true for whatever minority or under-represented group you could care to mention: women, black and minority ethnic people and so on.

OUTstanding’s list is encouraging because it shows that some firms, at least, are starting to get the message. But the statistics it cites show that the business community still has a long way to go.

PPI scandal rumbles on despite attempts to kill it off

Another story that ought to garner some attention this morning is the publication of quarterly complaints data by the Financial Ombudsman Service.

The talking point for me is still the payment protection insurance (PPI) scandal, which the industry is desperately trying to persuade the regulators to time bar. Had it recognised that it had behaved badly and shown genuine willingness to put things right in the first place, PPI might already have been consigned to the (rather large) dustbin of financial history.

Except that the industry didn’t and, worse, it still isn’t. How can I make that assertion? The Ombudsman’s figures.

The organisation only gets involved after the complaints process of banks or other financial institutions have been exhausted. And it takes its role as an arbiter seriously. Its quarterly newsletter looks at critical illness insurance policies, and opines that most providers try to reach for a “fair outcome”. I tend to be sceptical when people put “insurance company” and “fair outcome” in the same sentence. But the Ombudsman’s figures show that just 20 per cent of complaints in this area are upheld.

Which brings us to PPI, a category in which a staggering 72 per cent of complaints are upheld. Now, I spoke to the Ombudsman, and its people stressed that the huge volume of complaints means they tend to put together batches of similar ones, in an attempt to speed things along.

But even so, that 72 per cent figure doesn’t speak at all well of the way banks are handling the affair. And for the whole of last year the figure was still 62 per cent.

With the banks apparently so reluctant to draw a line under the affair themselves, is there any reason for the regulators to do so?

We should all cheer as the EU gets tough on tax

Within a matter of days Europe is expected to rule that the taxation arrangements granted to Fiat in the Netherlands and Starbucks in Luxembourg amounted to illegal state aid. A further two cases involving Apple and Amazon will follow.

With the news of an adverse finding having been leaked, battle lines will be drawn ahead of the official announcement.

Putting Fiat first, alongside Starbucks, was a canny move on the part of the authorities. Delicate negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) continue, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that three of the four companies are notionally American.

Some have argued that the TTIP would be a rather good place to address the issue of corporate tax avoidance; others that the TTIP could be threatened by adverse rulings skewed against American companies. I, for one, would not mourn the latter, given the well publicised problems in its structure, and the dangers they pose to organisations such as the NHS.

But it would be still slightly ridiculous were this to happen over these multinationals. US negotiators might want to reflect on the fact that companies such as Apple have stashed billions offshore to keep them out of Uncle Sam’s clutches, which is hardly patriotic. The problem with multinationals is that they behave as laws unto to themselves, regardless of their theoretical nationality. Which is why what the EU is doing matters.

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