Magazine article Management Today

THE HUMAN FACTOR: Lord Browne's Case for Diversity in His Employment Policies Is Simple: If Talent Were Being Screened out of the Recruitment Pool, BP Would Be the Loser

Magazine article Management Today

THE HUMAN FACTOR: Lord Browne's Case for Diversity in His Employment Policies Is Simple: If Talent Were Being Screened out of the Recruitment Pool, BP Would Be the Loser

Article excerpt

Only once in my career have I, to my knowledge, been the victim of sexual discrimination. I was working for a property newspaper when the editor was unable to keep an appointment with a rather snooty firm of estate agents. Could he send me instead, he asked? The response was categorical: a stand-in would be acceptable, but not a female one.

The editor's reaction was suitably supportive: the estate agents would have to tell their story elsewhere. With some satisfaction, I can now report that the firm no longer exists, and that, since that episode, I have not felt myself to be unfairly treated because of being a woman.

Yet such is the flow of statistics and anecdotal evidence on the subject that I suspect I have either been extremely lucky or blinkered. Discrimination need not be overt; it can be insidious. And it is surely not to the benefit of business. Apart from the damage inflicted on a company if a discrimination case hits the courts and the headlines, businesses that do not operate equal opportunity employment policies really do put themselves at a disadvantage.

When the group CEO of BP visits an international conference on 'Women in Leadership' to deliver a speech on just these lines, managers everywhere should take note. Lord Browne of Madingley had a simple explanation as to why BP was an advocate of diversity in its employment policies: to improve the competitive position of his company. Technologies can be bought; what he needs is the talent to implement them. If some potentially very talented people are being screened out of the recruitment pool, then it is to BP's disadvantage.

Coincidentally, almost as Lord Browne was making his speech in Berlin, the City was hearing allegations that a firm of stockbrokers had treated a female analyst unfairly. It is the latest in a string of cases which give the impression that some in the Square Mile have awoken late to the fact that old prejudices can lead to an early death for a business.

But prejudices built up over generations are not removed overnight. There may be people in management whose views are coloured by inherited ideas about the roles of women, the reliability of the Irish or other preconceptions. They need to be taught to look at recruits with an open mind.

Sir John Browne pointed out that in 1999, of the top 40 executives running BP, none was a woman. …

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