Theresa May indicates new direction on industrial strategy

In the only speech of her leadership campaign this month, shortly before becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May outlined her vision of a “country that works for everyone”, with strong indicators of a change in direction for industrial and economic policy in the UK.

She identified productivity as one of the key challenges facing Britain today, saying that “I want to make its improvement an important objective for the Treasury”. In line with research by the IPA and others, she identified employee involvement as a vital plank in this drive towards greater productivity, as part of which she pledged to introduce widespread employee representation on company boards.

This announcement has proved controversial with some big business leaders branding it as “unworkable”, but has been broadly welcomed by organisations such as the IPA who have long advocated a greater role for employees in corporate governance. Theresa May also pledged to crack-down on excessive boardroom pay by introducing binding shareholder votes on pay and greater transparency over pay ratios.


Since taking over in Downing Street, the new Prime Minister has taken further steps to signal a change of direction, with the rebranding of the Department for Business, Energy and Skills as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and installing and the installation of Greg Clark as the new Secretary of State are clear signs that the government intends to pursue a more active approach to business and industrial policy than its predecessor. Time will tell if this positive rhetoric and signalling is borne out by concrete policies and actions to boost employee involvement, engagement and productivity in the UK.


Unconscious bias and ‘the ethnicity gap’


A recent study of 130 minority ethnic senior executive and board leaders by the networking group ‘Engage’ and recruitment firm ‘Harvey Nash’ found that 63 per cent believe unconscious bias of CEOs and leadership teams is one of the leading reasons why there is very little progress in terms of ethnic diversity at board level. Furthermore, 38 per cent of respondents believe that ethnic bias is part of society’s ‘wider culture’ while 1 in 4 believe that bias and discrimination are part of organisational culture. 2 in 3 believe that minority ethnic executives are not in the talent pools or networks of the current non-executive directors and executives or of executive search firms while 7 in 10 felt that their ethnicity/cultural background has been a significant barrier to their progression.

Responding to the findings, Denise Keating, chief executive of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei), said: “Organisations with a lack of board diversity need to find out what is really happening, and set standards to achieve progress…this includes using staff surveys, networks and focus groups to get feedback, and developing action plans to address them at every level in the organisation.”


‘UK lagging behind other counties in digital skills’ – Barclays

A report by Barclays looking at digital education, skills and confidence around the world found that nearly a third (31 per cent) of working-age adults in the UK lack basic digital problem-solving skills. This is below the average (37 per cent) across the OECD countries. Worryingly, only 38 per cent of UK employers offer their workers some form of digital skills training.

While Estonia and South Korea are leading in ‘digital empowerment,’ (‘the ability and desire to use one’s digital skills to work productively and creatively, and to have the opportunity to continually upgrade them to keep pace with changing technology’), the UK came fourth in the ranking, following Sweden in third place. China and the USA tied for fifth place, and India, Germany, Brazil and South Africa ranked in the top 10.


Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, said that organisations must ensure that their employees have the knowledge, tools and resources in place to keep pace with the rapid technological changes. “Not even the industrial revolution was as transformative as the coming digital age,” he said. “We can already glimpse the extent of this change in the way we order a taxi, do our shopping or book a holiday – and this is only the beginning.”