18/08/2015

By Simon Leech, CEO of Validis

The other week I held a conference call with one of my clients – nothing out of the ordinary, a regular weekly catch-up call. I could hear them laugh as I dialled in – a laughter that quickly subdued when they realised I was on the line. Intrigued, I did a bit of probing and it turned out to be about diversity. Someone in the office made a remark that they were waiting for their weekly conference with “the United Nations” and it made everyone crack up. Come to think of it, they weren’t far from the truth – I currently employ 25 people in the London office, of which 20 are of different nationalities: Brits, Irish, Latvians, Maltese, Mauritians, Swedes and others all create Validis.

Accounting and finance are industries that don’t have the best track record when it comes to diversity, both in terms of gender split and multiculturalism, so I can see why some of our clients find us different. But I’m a big believer in diversity – I know it’s good for business and the “UN incident” gave me the opportunity to pause to really drill into the reasons why.

Hiring a diverse workforce can help organisations have a much-needed fresh perspective. Employing staff with different nationalities enables us to be more dynamic whilst brainstorming and more creative when developing ideas. Cultural influences bring a different set of experiences and ability to identify and approach problems from different viewpoints, much like the way the female and male brain operate slightly differently when problem solving. Such multicultural environments not only stimulate debate but can have a real impact on a company’s creativity and idea generation – a study from Harvard Business School found that a culturally heterogeneous workplace helps foster creativity and innovation.

But the benefits don’t stop there. A multicultural and diverse workforce can also have a real impact on the bottom line. It’s true that diverse companies are also top financial performers, as shown by a McKinsey study, which found that return on equity can be as much as 50% higher for companies that rank in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, than those that don’t.

It really is hard to dispute the benefits of diversity, but building a diverse workforce is often easier said than done. Certainly in accounting and finance the question of diversity is a very valid one and one than needs to be addressed. And while there is no golden recipe that will help you build a multicultural workforce, setting up clear goalposts, highlighting those parts of the job that would be most compelling for a diverse candidate pool and, of course, celebrating your existing diversity are all steps that will put you on the right track.