Interview: Nicky Morgan Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities

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What are the reasons for diversity in the workplace?

I believe that diversity within the workplace results in increased performance. For example, boards and companies perform better with women on board , and businesses are also better off when they reflect the societies they serve, making companies more competitive and resulting in increased performance.. There’s also no worrying about discrimination/bias or being the odd one out.

Why is the public sector lagging behind?

The public sector has many thousands of female and BME employees – the issue is how many of them have the chance to reach leadership positions. There are many reasons why that does not happen including poor leadership, lack of mentoring, people ruling themselves out of applying for promotions and of course there could be some unconscious bias. It’s the right thing to do to get people to realise the importance of diversity.

What are the key strategies for diversity?

By getting senior members of an organisation involved and getting more women, for example, on company boards. Helen Morrissey, CEO of an investment management company, set up the 30% Club to boost gender equality in boardrooms and we can all buy into this target. Every FTSE Board has at least one woman, but this doesn’t mean we are as diverse as we should be. Parliament is currently at 22% women, but 30% would impact diversity of debates etc. We also need to be more creative about people who haven’t had traditional backgrounds, i.e. people who didn’t go to a good university or are from a charity background. People from different backgrounds helps change the culture. Just because you haven’t got a typical background, doesn’t mean you can’t do the job.

What’s your opinion on mentoring?

I understand that mentoring is used in the Civil Service. Women can have male mentors and so you get a different perspective on things, and the mentor gets something out of it as well. It’s a question of setting up formal mentoring schemes and applying them. To help this the government has invested £1.9m in the Get Mentoring project, which recruited and trained over 15,000 volunteer business mentors from the business community.There’s also talent spotting – finding good people and encouraging them to apply for positions. Women in particular rule themselves out of positions without it actually being the right thing for them to do so. It’s important to train senior people to appreciate that part time working or different ways of working are not a bad thing. This includes anyone who may not have a linear career path and we need to appreciate the difference that this brings. This is where unconscious bias comes in. It’s important to explain to people when they are doing recruitment exercises not to prejudge and to really understand the skills required for the job they are filling. You have to get senior management to set the tone of all of this. It’s only when you get the Chairman of the board or CEO involved, that’s when it changes.

What about coaching? Could it be used in schools?

I think career coaching is a space to explore. In schools it’s a question of resources and priorities, but I think perhaps schools who should be sending their students to good universities, but aren’t, might think about coaching – I am aware of schemes in the US where that has been used.

What do you feel about networking groups?

There are two types of networking groups. The first is for mutual support, which is useful for sharing ideas. The other is for campaigning groups, which are for meeting and sharing experiences and require dedicated leadership, like the 30% Club. Networking groups are good for making contacts and you could also invite somebody who might be supportive. Personally, I feel that on a personal level these groups are more helpful than mutual support groups.

What’s your view on backlash from majority groups?

Senior leadership is important in explaining to people the reason behind diversity and inclusion: it makes businesses and organisations much better. What needs to happen is a change of culture and in order for that we need to change hearts and minds.