How to lead the charge on diversity and inclusion

18 October 2021 4 min. read
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Following the merger of professional services firms Fluxx and magneticNorth earlier in 2021, Jenny Burns became the combined entity’s new Chief Executive Officer, while Lou Cordwell OBE took on the Chief Creative Officer role at the fast growing innovation and design powerhouse. In a guest article for, the two experts explain the importance of leading by example to boost diversity within a business.

Almost every major PLC is failing to make progress on gender diversity at the top: women account for only 5% of CEOs in FTSE 350 companies and 70% have absolutely no female executives from the company on their main boards. Throw in a pandemic and there’s real fear that equality is taking a further step back. Not just for working women – it’s widely reported that the pandemic has also impacted minority and other underrepresented groups.

After a year and a half that has seen all underrepresented groups more likely to be furloughed, at greater risk of redundancy (or leaving the workforce voluntarily in the US), and women carrying the burden of most of the domestic and home-schooling tasks, studies show some groups continue to be increasingly fearful of the future.

Jenny Burns, CEO, & Lou Cordwell, CCO, Fluxx and magneticNorth

Hybrid working offers many opportunities; but there’s also a risk that done wrong, the hybrid work model could widen existing socioeconomic inequalities, hinder inclusivity, diversity and equality efforts and ultimately regress female leadership and the wider diversity and inclusion agenda.

Covid-19 has certainly added a new dimension to the topic. Organisations need to be proactive to address the long-term impact of the pandemic on minority groups and women’s careers. The renewed focus on flexible working and employee wellbeing, is the perfect time to progress the diversity agenda and a new era of leadership could be on the horizon.

Legacy leadership is now dead. Based on old ideas and tools – the pandemic, along with accelerated digital adoption has seen the dawn of a new era of leadership. Research on leadership in the digital age reveals that certain qualities such as deep domain expertise, decisiveness, authority and short-term focus are giving way to other skills. A number of agile leadership competencies will be needed to navigate the hybrid workplace: humility, adaptability, purpose, communication and empowerment. This paves the way for diversity in leadership and the focus on individual unique skill sets, rather than a traditional view of what a leader should look or be like.

The business case for diversity in the workplace is overwhelming. Studies show that companies with more women in top positions fared better during the past 18 months. 

Having different thinkers around a table de-risks ideas and decision making. It opens up conversations and allows for greater innovation and problem solving. If you have a group of people who look and think the same, have a similar skill set, aptitude, upbringing and educational background – they will get along brilliantly, but they won’t challenge each other. Problem-solving benefits from cognitive diversity - getting as many different neural pathways around your tables and in your teams as possible. That way every individual brings their own set of unique skills, capabilities and experiences - ones that mirror a diverse customer base.

Leading the charge

The benefits are clear and now the pandemic has presented an opportunity to do things differently; it’s up to us to shape what that future looks like. The ability to work from anywhere (WFA) means organisations will have access to a larger, more diverse workforce; leaders will have to work out how to attract and retain top talent. And that provides a once in a life moment to make real change happen to level up the diversity agenda.

Change that may soon be backed by policy. At G7 Summit Boris Johnson called for the need to build back in a more 'greener, fairer, gender neutral' way – echoed by G7 leaders across the Globe including Joe Biden who is putting gender equity firmly in the centre of his administration's work. 

Leading the charge with our own business, following the merger of Fluxx and magneticNorth we’ve recently announced a new board structure, designed to advocate a necessary shift for diversity in leadership. In addition to these new Board positions, a new Leadership Team will be mobilised with women holding five of the nine positions, including Head of People Experience.

According to our friends over at Women Count 2021 from their annual report, one of the immediate steps that companies can take is to put Human Resource Directors (HRDs) on the main board. Not only are HRDs pivotal to any discussion of talent and development, women account for almost three quarters of all HRDs in FTSE 350 companies. This will naturally create more diverse inputs to boards: improving decisions, rapidly improving female representation at senior level, and lay strong foundations for better decisions on leadership today and in the future.