Increasing diversity in your business is a way of putting a flag up so that different types of people can come and find you.

Unfortunately, a large part of why the lack of diversity is going unaddressed is because business owners question what the issue has to do with running their business.

At Cicero, we’ve only really got on with putting diversity on the agenda over the last two to three years. Probably the most powerful thing for me and perhaps the turning point in our approach was a few years ago when organising our events. I started to get a steady stream into my inbox of polite but tough responses along the lines of: “Great topic, very interesting, but there’s no gender diversity on the panel, so I’m not coming.” I realised then we had to get on with this, and said as much to our board.

There have been times when getting diversity on the agenda within financial services has been a bit edgy. Candidly, there has been a concern that by talking about issues such as women sitting at the top table, ethnicity and LGBT, that we might find it harder to do business.

In fact, I’ve found quite the reverse. We have not lost any business, and our approach has actually drawn business towards us.

It’s not just about attracting clients, but also about driving talent towards your business. The vast majority of people that work at Cicero are in the millennial cohort, and our approach to diversity is quite an important measure for them.

Where to get support

Despite our international footprint, we are a small firm. A lot of small firms will not have a talent or HR department where a lot of the stuff around diversity would usually sit.

The best thing we’ve been able to do is plug into the support material that’s available. We’ve accessed things like the 30% Club, which campaigns for greater representation of women on boards of FTSE 100 firms. That’s been really good. It’s allowed us not just to become mentors to women coming through in other financial services business, but also for mentors to come into our business. So it’s a two-way street.

We’ve been involved with the Diversity Project, which focuses on moving towards a more inclusive culture across the investment and savings profession. This is an initiative the asset management has got behind, and it signposts to a lot of good resources.

We’ve also got involved with groups like OUTstanding and EMpower, which provide support for companies in developing talent from LGBT and ethnic minority groups. Again, these offer fantastic mentoring programmes. Organisations like Stonewall also do a lot of good work.

Beyond mentoring and business guides, a lot of these groups create awards for businesses that are really getting on with this. We’ve tested ourselves to take part in these awards so that we can see whether our business processes match up to these high standards. By going through the submission process, you can start to work out whether your firm is on the right track.

If I had one criticism, it would be that I often have to seek out groups beyond financial services to get that help and support. A big message here is that where there are pan-industry groups and financial planning communities, these groups can work together on this. Trade bodies like the Association of British Insurers and the Investment Association are getting on with diversity and that’s great, but there is still more to do.

The business benefits

There’s a big learning here from the financial crisis, and the groupthink that took place with pretty dire results. Also, this conversation is happening as more and more attention is paid to the gender pay gap, and companies are having to report against some pretty hard measures. This means ignoring diversity is no longer an option.

Both millennial clients and millennial employees are asking about this, and challenging firms on what they are doing. People can see through box ticking versus genuine initiatives to boost inclusion. The demand for a new approach to diversity is clearly coming through.

There is a hard example I can give on this, in terms of real business impact. Last year we were pitching to work with a fund manager, a big Wall Street name. When this company put out its proposal as part of the tender process, 15 per cent of the score for the initial pitch related to evidence on what firms were doing on diversity and inclusion in their business. It was very clearly worded. It wasn’t “tell me about your approach to diversity” in broad terms – they wanted hard evidence. Firms are much more getting much more specific about this.

My big message on this is that diversity and inclusion is not about box ticking. It’s not a case of putting things in place and expecting a diverse business to bloom overnight. It’s like everything else with your business – you’ve got to keep working at it, and approach diversity in a long-term, sustainable way.