It is a business imperative that even greater strides are taken towards embedding gender diversity in the workplace, according to Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Northern Ireland chair Colin Walsh.

While welcoming the significant progress that the business community has made on the subject over the last two decades, Walsh, speaking at the CBI’s annual lunch in Belfast, said that there are many good reasons for companies to believe that increasing gender diversity in their workforces will be a business boost, as well as being the right thing to do.

In his remarks, Walsh said: “The CBI approaches the subject of gender diversity in the workplace with a clear belief in the needs to sustain and develop the talent pipeline for women.

“Personally, I look forward to the day when from education, to entry into work, through management positions and beyond that we have addressed the remaining issues to make the topic of gender diversity an accepted part of the business culture and that we do not have to talk about it anymore.

“Business needs to once again take ownership of the continuing momentum and progress of the last two decades – something seen very clearly in the number of females in attendance at the Lunch today – and ensure that diversity is and remains a key business issue.”

Turning to the ongoing political challenges in Northern Ireland, the CBI chair said: “In the last twelve months the private sector has created over 16,000 jobs – an encouraging start to our rebalancing of the economy with jobs being created in manufacturing and construction, as well as the services sector.

“The private sector is getting on with it – creating jobs and wealth, investing in their people and innovation, creating new products and services. But we recognise the journey has only begun and much work remains to be done if we are to achieve another of CBI’s objectives: ensuring that growth makes a difference to everyone.”

“This positivity must though be reflected and built on and, for this, it is critical that more cohesive and collegiate approach is taken by the Northern Ireland Executive. There is again a threat of reputational risk as well as ongoing uncertainty.

“It is vital that the Executive Ministers seize the opportunity that the potential of the devolution of corporation tax powers offers, a once in a lifetime opportunity, to make a seismic change that will drive further and higher value inward investment activity and facilitate additional investment by indigenous businesses.”

Commenting, Liz Earle MBE, the founder of the Liz Earle skincare brand and the keynote speaker at the CBI lunch, said: “The diversity agenda is one that I have long championed in my work and it is one that I am delighted to see that the CBI is so supportive of. My message to business today is that when it comes to nurturing and development within your own team, especially female talent that may also have other facets, such as family life or entrepreneurial experience over a formal qualification, don’t judge a book by its cover.

“Having built several highly successful and profitable businesses with predominately female employees I am passionately pro-female when it comes to the workplace. I genuinely believe that the role of more women at the highest levels in our boardrooms will help promote the over-arching objective of the CBI, which is to ensure our businesses can compete and prosper for the benefit of all.”

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