We need to have a laser focus on the global priorities, says Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, and having more diverse teams is vital.
The skills and talents of all of us need to be harnessed to address the urgent global challenges we face as a planet, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox told the Chartered Management Institute [CMI] at their annual women’s conference earlier this month.
She said any organisation can contribute to addressing global challenges such as climate change. Moreover, young people increasingly want to work for companies that have a purpose, with caring for the planet being fundamental. It’s not a choice, she said. “The only choice is whether we survive or not,” she stated.
Lane-Fox was 25 when she set up lastminute.com and compared the experience to having a hit single and becoming an overnight pop sensation. Since then, despite spending two years in hospital following a crash, she has worked in everything from the public sector – helping to set up digitalise government communications through the gov.uk site – to philanthropy and the private sector. She is now President of the British Chambers of Commerce.
She said that the number of “existential changes” the world is facing due to everything from climate catastrophe to the shifting pace of technology can seem overwhelming, but that means being very clear about what our priorities are. For her what matters is whether what you are doing is moving things forward and improving human kind. Saying that we need ambition and big ideas to address the enormous challenges we face, Lane-Fox stated: “We need to think what is the problem we are trying to solve? Will I look back and be proud of what I did?”
Technology can play a big part. Lane-Fox said we are at an inflection point when it comes to Artificial Intelligence. It will bring a fundamental shift in our lives, she added, and we all need to respond to it and think deeply about how we work and how we relate to it. There should be no digital exclusion, she said. “Everyone needs to understand what is happening.” Lane-Fox added that we need to use tools fit for the modern age to make our companies work better. The problem is that the systems our businesses are built on were designed for 1823 rather than 2023. That excludes many people who could help in addressing our global priorities.
Arguing for greater diversity everywhere, Lane-Fox said diversity is not happening fast enough. That means we all need to take responsibility for having teams that are representative of the population. She cited Apple’s health app which didn’t include anything on periods, menopause or pregnancy because there was not a single woman involved in its product design.
Our inclusive futures was the theme of the conference. Opening it, Ann Francke, CEO of the CMI, said not being diverse undermines business success and that having the right culture and behaviours matters every bit as much as technical competence, resulting in better profits, better innovation and higher employee engagement. Calling for ethics and inclusion to be at the heart of management skills, she said there are still too many managers who are ‘accidental’ and lack any training to do the job, including training around inclusion.
The conference covered a wide range of topics, from every type of diversity, including socio-economic inclusion which cross cuts all the other protected characteristics and which has been hugely affected by the cost of living crisis. Speaker after speaker listed the benefits of more diverse organisations, from avoiding group think to addressing labour shortages. Tamara Box, incoming chair of CMI Women, said diversity should be viewed as a solution, not a problem. She said work is needed to quantify the loss to employers of all the people who drop out because organisations do not make them feel they belong or put barriers in their way. That way, she said, inclusivity would not be a nice to have that people discard in tough economic times.