News / BeOnBoard

‘Bristol is a great city, but it is a city of talkers’

By ellie pipe, Tuesday Nov 5, 2019

The potential for Bristol to be a world-leader will only be realised if everyone is included in economic growth, says the founder of BeOnBoard.

And Kalpna Woolf is not prepared to wait any longer for positive change to happen, hence the name of the organisation’s upcoming conference: Inclusive Leadership now!

“My main aim is to accelerate what we are doing,” she tells Bristol24/7.

“Bristol is a great city, but it is a city of talkers.”

Kalpna Woolf is not prepared to wait any longer for positive change in Bristol

Kalpna launched BeOnBoard in 2018 in a bid to redress the balance in the city’s leadership and board roles – positions that are disproportionately held by white men – through identifying potential candidates from diverse backgrounds and supporting their development.

The organisation’s inaugural training sessions over the summer were a success, with more than 60 people attending, 73 per cent of whom were from a black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) background and 75 per cent women.

The BeOnBoard team realised there is an appetite for more and so, in partnership with NatWest, Business West and UWE Bristol, decided to host a conference on inclusive leadership that will take place on Thursday, November 7, with a lineup of inspirational speakers and industry.

“We are creating this network of people who have real ambition for the city and for themselves,” says Kalpna.

“I think this will be a real opportunity. We want businesses to come and meet people. I’ve heard business leaders say that people [from more diverse background] are not available to sit on boards, but that’s not true. They are just busy doing amazing things on the ground and they are not within certain networks so don’t even think about it.

“This conference is for people to connect and to understand. We aim to accelerate the positions of BAME people and women in these top positions of power and influence. And we want to do it together.”

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A panel session on ‘leadership, why inclusion matters’ will be chaired by BBC presenter Sabet Choudhury. The lineup of speakers includes Dr Tunde Okewale MBE, of Doughty Chambers, Ololade Adesanye, wealth and asset management lead at EY, Professor Jane Harrington, deputy vice-chancellor at UWE, and Margot Day, global director for risk and commercial law at Buro Happold Limited.

Attendees will also hear speeches from mayor Marvin Rees and deputy mayor Asher Craig and gain insights from experienced board members, including Marti Burgess, St Paul’s Carnival and West of England LEP; Dr Lisa Brodie, Engineering Professors Council Board and Aerospace; and Poku Osei, Babbasa.

Speaking about the importance of getting the business community on board, Kalpna continues: “It starts from a moral perspective, but it’s more than that – it’s about developing people and looking at the society we build, the investment we make in people and what our futures are going to look like.

“If Bristol wants to be fit for the future, it has to think about who the leaders are and how we are working together and building role models. If we don’t have diverse role models, then our young people are not going to hang around.

“I honestly believe that when you make decisions with people who have different experiences and skills, you make better decisions.”

This view is also backed up with research. The 2015 Diversity Matters report revealed that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. It’s a similar story for gender diversity.

It has also gained the backing of key organisations and city leaders, including metro mayor Tim Bowles, who says: “Diversity on boards is proven to drive innovation, financial performance, dramatically increases profitability and can support us to deliver this key part of our strategy.”

“For me, it’s all about the potential of Bristol,” concludes Kalpna. “It can be this real global city that stands out, but it can’t do that without including everyone.”

For further details and tickets, visit: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/inclusive-leadership-now-tickets-72921902373

Read more: The Bristol pioneers working to improve representation in business

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