Growing up as a child in South Africa in the ‘60s means that all causes regarding diversity are always at the top of my agenda. It’s why I came to live in the UK – I wanted my children to grow up in a truly democratic society where freedom of speech was the order of the day. I look back on it with some amusement now, remembering how when I first arrived in London I used to go every Sunday to listen to the people on their soap boxes at Speaker’s Corner!
Fast forward to today and female leadership is firmly established as one of our pillars at The MBS Group – one that we all honor diligently. We have placed countless female executives in high-performing companies, watching them flourish and lead teams to success across all kinds of metrics. Last year we hosted a roundtable discussion led by Harriet Green to put women in business firmly on the agenda in private equity – both with the funds themselves and their portfolio companies. In fact, you may have read about it in Luke Johnson’s column a few weeks back!
For MBS, it’s vital we celebrate women – in business and beyond – every single day. It’s what we live and breathe. But, although I understand why some people are skeptical of it, I find that International Women’s Day is a good excuse to reflect on and consider an important issue – especially falling as it does so close to the end of the financial year. Let us not forget that the benefits of diverse teams across the board are backed up by stacks of evidence and it is worth us all taking a moment to think about what part we play in this critical issue.
It is also a good opportunity to celebrate the success of inspirational women in business. I hope it won’t have escaped your notice that the Veuve Clicquot Business Women of the Year shortlist was announced on Tuesday. Sitting on the judging panel is one of the highlights of my year. Each year the nominations list grows longer and stronger and this year was no exception as we were spoilt for choice. Every year we also grapple with the dichotomy between corporate executives and innovative entrepreneurs.
Three years ago – partly inspired by the young age at which Madame Clicquot took on her husband’s wine business, but mostly spurred on by the rise of young female digital entrepreneurs – we launched a new category to celebrate the achievements of up-and-comers. The New Generation Award is particularly exciting to judge. Always wanting to be the first to hear about new things, I just love finding out about the innovative work of young, disruptive women who are challenging the status quo and making the world we live in more interesting every day.
In many ways, this is what drives my passion for diversity. Of course, gender equality is fundamentally important – but it’s broader than that. It’s about bringing to leadership teams a genuine diversity of thought and experience – where young digital natives have so much to offer, and increasing dialogue between those whose careers have developed in different ways brings about really exciting ideas. I suppose times have changed – no longer do I go to Hyde Park every Sunday for inspiration. But inspiration is there to be found, all around us.
Shortly, Lord Davies’ Women on Boards review will release its latest update on progress for female representation at the top table in PLCs and regrettably, it is expected that the steady rise reported in recent years may not continue in the medium term. But, ever the optimist, I am encouraged by an extensive diversity project we are currently working on with a FTSE 100 business in the consumer sector. Of course, we will also continue to shine the spotlight on private equity, technology and other areas less-often talked about.
In the meantime, I hope you will join me in celebrating the success of those who have been shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot awards this year. Over the course of the next six weeks, we will be profiling each of the three nominees in both categories in our Weekend Edition.