Businesses with a diverse executive team are likely to be more profitable than their peers by 33%, Henrietta Jowitt, deputy director-general, commercial at the CBI told delegates at the Women in Investment Festival on Tuesday (3 March).
In her closing keynote at the inaugural festival, Jowitt said: "The real argument isn't that women need business. The more powerful is the opposite… and hard facts don't lie.
"Companies with more diversity at the top actually perform better."
She added: "No business can afford to miss a chance to be 33% more profitable than their peers."
During her speech to delegates at the festival, hosted by Investment Week at The Brewery in London, Jowitt noted that 2020 marks the 50th year of the Equal Pay Act but that "despite progress, we still have a long way to go", chiming with remarks made earlier in the day by the Financial Conduct Authority's Megan Butler.
Jowitt said that financial institutions "recognise this", with 360 organisations now signatories of the Women in Finance Charter.
But she also pointed out that only 54 of the companies listed on the FTSE 250 met the four-year target set in 2017 by the Parker Review to appoint at least one BAME member to their boards.
Yet, she said that back in 2017, over 500 executives with a BAME background were identified as "board ready".
But she added: "Financial institutions in particular - insurers, pension providers, bankers, investors - have a bigger opportunity than most to drive this change."
In the final talk of the day, 'The dual role of financial institutions', delegates heard how "data for diversity" could help, with Jowitt suggesting "you need to use data to identify specific barriers colleagues face in the workplace".
She also addressed the recruitment process, suggesting that firms look "beyond the usual suspects in the usual places".
"Change the way you describe roles to appeal more to women and to different backgrounds," she added.
But she also acknowledged the role of policy and said this had to "come from the top", with companies having a "mandatory plan" to help close the gender pay gap and BAME pay gap.
"If they [companies] are mandated to have a plan they have to report against", they will "start to make a bit more progress", she said.
"If the initiatives are sitting in the HR department they are initiatives, not strategy. The strategy has to come from the top. You need to have that fundamentally owned at the board in order to make it happen," Jowitt added.