A note from the Director: Agitation for inclusive economic growth

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In January, we launched our new strategy in which we outlined three refined themes of our project work: Inclusion, Growth, and Innovation (all reflected within our updated website).

I will outline our rationale for these themes over my next three bulletins – what they mean to us and why we think they are important. We’ll start with the one we’re most passionate about, which should underpin the other themes: Inclusion.

Let’s start with the aspiration, then talk reality, and finally what we should, and will, do.

We have a great city region, it’s booming. It keeps being ranked the best for this, that and the other and a lot of us are proud to live, work, and play here. One of the reasons many of us like it, and the reason the economy is booming (I don’t proffer any evidence for that but it certainly feels like it is. To me.) is our diversity. The diversity of sectors, of cultures, of geographies, of music, of languages, of cuisines, and so on.

That makes Bristol & Bath a vibrant city region – and one that’s innovative, spirited, and resilient. But that language, or that picture, is not recognised by everyone. Not only is that unfair, it is a missed opportunity. If we can include more people from different backgrounds and communities in our economic activity then everyone gains.

McKinsey recently published some research saying that businesses in the top quartile of executive gender diversity were 21% more profitable than those firms in the lowest quartile – and for executive ethnic balance, the figure is 33%. That’s only part of the picture – diversity is far more than ethnicity and gender. Similarly, diversity in all levels of an organisation is valuable – not just in the leadership.

So, our aspiration is that employers embrace the value of diversity, finding ways to become inclusive and in so doing breaking down barriers into work – or at least made more porous.

Plenty of people are saying this – I’m not saying anything new – and we’re not claiming any ownership or leadership of this space. We want to do our bit to make the city-region a better place, for the long term.

And yet, there’s no point beating about the bush because we are nowhere near as good at much of this as we should be for a myriad of reasons; some that we have influence over and some that we don’t.

There are perhaps four areas that Engine Shed can influence and, what’s more, we are doing or plan to do something:

  1. Supporting a Diverse Workforce for the Future – working with primary and early secondary school students and teachers to raise aspirations and inform about opportunities, demonstrating role models, exciting technologies, and workplaces – underpinned by the statements that not only do we need these youngsters to be in the workforce, but that there are different routes into these careers: university is not the only path.
  2. Promoting the fact that there isn’t as much of a gap between not-for-profits and for-profit businesses as people may think – it is a blend and there is a lot to learn from each end of the spectrum. What does this have to do with inclusion? Well, it reinforces the premise that there are multiple routes into employment, that for-profit businesses can have strong values and social impact, and that social enterprises can be safe and well-run businesses.
  3. Continued and increasingly louder voicing about the economic imperative for employers to value diversity in their workforce, be smarter and more inclusive in the ways they recruit, and the need for a more diverse talent pool to be available.
  4. Enhancing and better connecting the routes into existing support provision around the West of England. We have a growing plethora of incubators, accelerators, hubs, programmes and workspaces – but there are still barriers to access these. We need to provide extra, skilled resource into coaching, signposting, and supporting current or potential entrepreneurs across these barriers. Our friends at Ashley Community Housing are acting on this, which needs building on.

What are we doing about it? We have spent a lot of time and some reinvestment on no .1, we have begun the conversations around no.2, we have started to deliver no.3 and we are exploring how we can bring our connections and expertise to no. 4.

I believe we’re heading in the right direction – I’d welcome your comments as to whether we are or not. It’s not just down to us, of course, we need a Collective Approach. Do join in wherever you can.

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