Maitland/AMO Sustain – In the Hot Seat with Helen Mahy, CBE, Equality and Human Rights Commissioner, Chairman of The Renewables Infrastructure Group and non-executive director for SSE PLC

by Zara de Belder | 14th July 2020

Welcome to ‘In the Hot Seat’, a fortnightly series where we tackle some of the biggest questions facing sustainability professionals across a range of industries. We’ll also explore what sustainability means and how it is interpreted across different sectors and geographies.

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This week, Zara de Belder, Head of Maitland/AMO Sustain catches up with Helen Mahy, CBE, Equality and Human Rights Commissioner, Chairman of The Renewables Infrastructure Group and non-executive director for SSE plc to discuss Board diversity and the role of education in tackling inequality.

A member of the steering board of The Parker Review into Ethnic Diversity of UK Boards, Helen was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2015, for services to business and voluntary service particularly to the legal profession and diversity in the workplace.

1. How can companies increase diversity at senior management?

Companies need to recognise the business case for diversity. Consumers, investors and employees are increasingly aligning themselves with companies who share their values and culture. Talent needs to be identified and developed and retained to carry out the strategy of a company in the most effective way. There needs to be greater understanding too of the corporate supply chain – it is rare for the UK to be the single source for supply of goods and services. In a nutshell, companies need to recognise diversity in its broadest sense means a greater chance of success for the business.

2. We’ve heard the phrase ‘systemic inequality’ quite a lot over the last few weeks. What role can the education sector play in breaking down barriers?

A key issue for me is how social background plays an important part in a person’s life. I’m delighted to be a patron of the Social Mobility Business Partnership which is a collaboration of over a 150 businesses and professional sports teams working across the UK supporting students from low income backgrounds in pursuit of a career in business. This is by work experience, guidance on careers and mentoring. I’m also co chair of the Employers Social Mobility Alliance which is driving business, government and the third sector to create a shared understanding of what social mobility is and to improve it, together. Tackling the issue of social inequality is vital to break down the barriers that currently exist.

3. The Parker Review 2020 report states that “a common feature of reporting on Board evaluation was considering diversity but not linking it to effectiveness”. How do we tackle this issue?

Boards built in a diverse way have more progressive leadership. Diversity reduces “group think” and promotes constructive debate. We all tend to recruit in our own image but diversity of background provides more challenge and therefore better decision making.

4. If you have one piece of advice for someone considering a career in responsible investing, what would it be?

Only consider a career in something in which you believe and are passionate about. Don’t just go into responsible investing because it’s flavour of the month if you don’t really believe in it. And give any chosen career 110%.

5. Finally, what does sustainability mean to you?

Profits, people and planet. Finding profitable solutions to ensure we protect the planet whilst paying heed to people issues. Investors are concerned that companies make money but I’m delighted the ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda has become important too. COVID has also forced social matters up the agenda.


Read the last edition of Maitland/AMO Sustain’s In the Hot Seat, where we caught up with Amundi’s Frédéric Samama, co-author, Green Swan: Central Banking and Financial Stability in the Age of Climate Change, to discuss materiality and the role of central banks in tackling climate change here.

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About the Author

Zara de Belder

Zara is Head of Maitland/AMO Sustain and specialises in ESG communications and strategy development

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