A note from Nick Sturge, Engine Shed Director: Inclusive growth – compromise, nice-to-have or bleedin’ obvious?

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Several times recently I’ve been challenged on the activities we get involved with which we put under the ‘inclusion’ banner. It’s good to challenge – it encourages, nay forces, me to rationalise why we do what we do and to think about better ways to articulate a rationale. It is too easy (for some of us) to just crack on and do the things we think are right, but we’re all fallible: every entrepreneur needs a cautious challenger to temper the enthusiasm and risk taking; hopefully with a positive balance of opportunity seizing and quantified risk. But let’s not divert onto the role of NEDs on boards but stick to the question posed.

Engine Shed set its stall out, back in 2013, with a loose mission (so loose, it’s not worth repeating) which we’ve now refined to a vision that ‘our region is a growing economy that is inclusive, sustainable and that benefits everyone who lives here, and is recognised internationally as innovative and dynamic.’

What does that mean in practice?
Is that just a string of nice words that tick enough boxes to keep everyone happy? I have quite a simplistic view that, with one hand, we create and nurture high quality, growing social and for-profit enterprises, run by leaders who understand the value of diversity of talent, and of nurturing that, in their workforce, and on the other hand we showcase those job opportunities to young people, from across the richly diverse (in all senses) community we are privileged to have in Bristol and Bath. This, I believe is a winning combination, not least because of this virtuous cycle:

  • Businesses need talent – in quantity and quality – to grow and remain competitive.
  • The diversity of the workforce is one factor that will increase the value of the product or service a business creates and thus increase the productivity of that business (according to McKinsey amongst others).
  • People in the right jobs, utilising their skills, with enthusiasm, create value in their businesses and thus increase in their own value (aka the amount they can be paid).
  • Social equality – more people, from diverse backgrounds, in increasingly high value jobs leads to greater, and more equal prosperity.
  • Businesses – be they socially or profit driven – are more sustainable, with higher productivity and an enthusiastic workforce, and can grow further.

And back to the beginning.

What could go wrong?
The point is, in my view, that employers making an effort to employ people from diverse backgrounds are NOT compromising. If they see it as such then those Diversity & Inclusion policies are not really worth the paper they’re written on. You have to believe in it to reap the value. But it’s obviously not as simple as that. There are many, many barriers: for employers who don’t yet see the value of diversity in their workforce or know how to recruit and nurture employees who have different educational or cultural backgrounds, and for people who just don’t know what opportunities exist for them locally. Contribution to this is twofold: to encourage policy makers, educators, employers and anyone who’ll listen, that diversity is an asset and inclusion can lead to more sustainable economic growth; and then to experiment with techniques that demonstrate this. The 800 or so school students that we have hosted each year, whether they’re doing model boat building, listening to our entrepreneurs or to me droning on about how great the region is, are all told three things: that Engine Shed is a workplace (i.e. some workplaces are quite cool), that we need them to be filling the jobs that we’re also helping create, and that university isn’t the only route into high value jobs.

We also see it as a responsibility, as host to the SETsquared community of super highcalibre tech startups and scaleups, to use members not only as role models for school students but also to help inform their teachers about what modern jobs in the tech and creative digital economy look like.

One of the aims of Bristol Technology Festival, that we’ve seeded, is to increase the visibility of the vibrant and diverse technology industry that we have locally, to parents and young people and to hopefully make a contribution to the long-term accessibility of jobs in technology. Locally, we also do a pile of other things, like hosting business incubators, developing the scaleup ecosystem, the investment community, the property market and refugee entrepreneurship, which all (we believe) contribute to this broader, holistic approach to inclusive growth.

Where’s the compromise?
You can’t achieve inclusive growth by focusing on one or the other. Inclusion isn’t an optional extra. To have the greatest possible chance of business success, inclusion needs to be a core business principle. We endeavour to amplify this message, create and highlight practical examples and work to overcome barriers for people to access these industries and sectors. We bring business and inclusion together under one roof so that inclusive growth will result, rather than focusing relentlessly on inclusion as an end in itself. I don’t think we have a choice about doing this kind of stuff. Do you?

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