New Delhi: Michael Hastings, global head of citizenship and diversity with consultancy firm KPMG, is a passionate advocate of inclusiveness. In New Delhi this week to speak at the India Economic Summit, Hastings spoke about the moral and pragmatic imperatives of inclusiveness. Edited excerpts:
There is always a cost associated with diversity at the workplace. What would make entrepreneurs want to incur the upfront cost and what has the international experience been?
Well, all good business processes cost money and you don’t get an effective business arrangement for nothing. So, the person who says there is a cost associated with it is absolutely right and cost should be paid. Real value in business comes from being prepared to invest in things that tranformationally matter.
When it comes to diversity, here at the India Economic Summit we are focused on women’s empowerment. What is the cost and the upside?
The cost is a values and responsibility one, but it’s also a talent and market one. If you think of the proportion of women in the developing world who are achieving higher levels of educational outcomes, that is creating whole new entrepreneurial mix of capacity and skills which is going to be the drivers of innovation in business for the future. A wise business would want to get the best of those women in now. Yes, there is a cost involved, but why not be the first leader.
View of the future: Michael Hastings of KPMG says we need to follow the best examples of recent campaigns of the last generation such as those on environment and debt reduction to break barriers that women face. Rajkumar / Mint
Your answer makes sense from society’s standpoint. How do you convince an individual entrepreneur?
What is an entrepreneur? It is somebody with a bright idea that you haven’t got. Therefore, they are going to turn their bright idea into a market opportunity. If they can get there before the competition gets there, the first entry pretty much guarantees success.
If you are an entrepreneur, want smart ideas, best expressions of talent, creative and energetic people, the bright buzz around you; if those people happen to be women you want them on board. You would much rather have that and be a winning entrepreneur.
You spoke on women at the conference. What is the message you are trying to convey?
I suppose the message is very simple. Just take India as an example. There is no shortage of regulation and legislation on women’s equality and empowerment. There is no shortage of departments within government allocating budgets. But it doesn’t happen in quite the way the design plan says it should. The issue isn’t about legislation or regulation. Some of it might be about enforcement possibly and isn’t just about cash. What is the need?
The need is that there is a dominant culture within politics and business which is run by men which is not persuaded by moral, philosophical values or business reasons. (Which is) why girl empowerment is a vital part of a fair economy of the future. Because of the non-persuasive reality, women increasingly find it difficult to break through barriers that men create.
What do we need to do to break that barrier? We need to follow the best examples of recent campaigns of the last generation. Campaigns around environment and debt reduction and development. Those were campaigns that were coordinated efforts between civil society organizations and the media. The media is a vital player in this equation.
In the UK, what has your experience with diversity been?
I served for nine years on the commission for racial equality of the UK. During my term, we saw a substantial change in UK laws that made institutional racism a criminal offence. Let me explain because it relates exactly the same to the women’s argument. There is racism that is overt, but that is too direct. Institutional racism, where an organization says in the quiet corridors where transactions take place, we really don’t want any of those people to be a part of our leadership. That is an institutionalized process that determines a barrier to access. We made that an illegal activity. What that began to do is to cause public organizations and private businesses to ask themselves hard questions about how we are going to be compliant.
If you transfer that on to the role of women in business, in the UK there is no target process which says there must be X proportion of women who are at the helm of business. Norway decided it would set—three years ago—a minimum boundary level of 40% of those on public boards of companies needed to be women by 2010. Well, as of 2009, the reported facts carried in the Financial Times, Norway has 43% of women who are members of corporate boards.