Are role models important? Are we motivated, in our ambitions by being able to see that people like us have already succeeded in reaching the top?
For centuries in our history, these questions had limited relevance, but they are important questions now.
Women lead a number of our large businesses, but not a large number, and disproportionately small compared to the proportion of women in our workforce. Should we place confidence in the upcoming generation of women professionals to grow this proportion, or is confidence alone insufficient?
In my own place of work - the House of Commons - many are from elite public schools or comfortable backgrounds and many have no experience outside that of the “political class”. Is that compatible with democracy and good governance?
To compete in the global race, we need to ensure all of our talented professionals are nurtured and given a chance to progress through the ranks. As a government we must set the standard through our democratically elected representatives, and ensure the wider public sector also leads by example.
Our NHS should, we might assume, be doing better. For example, nearly 200,000 or 20% of the NHS staff are from black or minority ethnic communities. However, less than 2% of the CEOs of NHS organisations are drawn from those communities. With generations of commitment to the NHS, how can this proportion still be so low?
This week, a police chief called for “more black and ethnic minority officers to reflect growing diversity in Britain”, being careful to base his views on operational need “not ... targets or political correctness”. Many people may be relieved at that qualification. However is it right, when BME representation falls the higher up the ranks you go, so readily to drop the role of targets for role models at the top?
The truth is that role models in leadership positions are important. In my view, it is the elite ranks, not the rank and file that is failing to harness all our talents.
Our leaders, rather than lecturing the people on how important diversity is, should themselves be held to account for their results, not just their words, in delivering now a generation of leaders that truly reflects all the potential of our country.