How diversity can be a driver of innovation in North Yorkshire - Helen Simpson

In York and North Yorkshire, we are blessed to live and work in a distinctive region, with a varied, diverse economy and with a reputation for being entrepreneurial and passionate about our Yorkshire identity.

Our region is both urban, with the great city of York and rural, with over 70 per cent of residents in North Yorkshire living in rural communities. Our economy benefits from some large national and global businesses, although 98 per cent of businesses are small or micro-sized which operate across a wide range of sectors from agriculture to hospitality.

Back in the pre-pandemic world, businesses who invested in diversity, in all senses of the word, proved there were significant benefits to be gained. A McKinsey study discovered that gender diverse executive teams in the highest quartile outperformed male-dominated companies by 21 per cent in terms of EBIT and 27 per cent in terms of creating long-term value.

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And yet, Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the Hampton-Alexander Review, flags that many individual boards have had ‘compliance challenges’ with meeting the review’s 33 per cent target of women in FTSE 350 leadership teams, so there is still more to do.

York Minster
York Minster

In my executive career, I’ve worked in teams where I was the only woman as well as in those where greater diversity has created a more effective and innovative environment.

A Boston Consulting Group study in 2017 identified diversity as a key driver of innovation, finding that diverse teams produce 19 per cent more revenue, which reflects my own experience.

As the first female chair of the LEP, I am glad to celebrate the balance of gender, variety of perspective and the public and private partnership skills on our boards. The ‘Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships’ report acknowledged that to be a successful LEP, we should reflect the regional economy we serve, so we have been developing our ability to best represent the rich variety of York & North Yorkshire. We are pleased to have already achieved the March 2023 target of having 50 per cent women on our board.

So, what has the impact of the pandemic been? McKinsey research highlighted “women in particular are worried about the health and safety of on-site workplaces and mental-health issues”.

Helen Simpson

They are also more concerned than men about increased household responsibilities –suggesting that the stress of the “double shift” continues to be a “gendered issue”. Working parents have struggled to manage home schooling and those with caring responsibilities or those facing redundancy have found it challenging.

Those from ethnic minority backgrounds may have experienced disproportionate rates of redundancy and bereavement. In such hard times we have seen a surge of mutual support in and between businesses, between sectors and in our communities. Our working and home lives are less separate than they once were.

We have seen fantastic resilience from many local businesses. Brilliant people- centred management of teams under stress, and support for colleagues in difficulty. A great acceleration of digital as small businesses who had never sold online, have started to use online platforms like ShopAppy to sell their products.

Hospitality businesses forced to close their physical doors have pivoted to create takeaway revenue streams. Some food businesses joined forces to provide meals to keep the local NHS staff going.

As businesses navigate their road to recovery, we will need to pull together using our uniquely different journeys to help each other. The LEP looks forward to continuing to partner with businesses, so do join with us: join our calls, courses and conferences or do email. This is a unique opportunity for businesses to harness the power of diversity to boost and sustain an environment in which everyone, whatever their background, feels welcomed, valued and able to contribute.

Let’s do this together – that way we can help our region thrive.