Fleur Bothwick, OBE
HR Strategic Management, 1995

Robert Humphreys

As Head of Diversity and Inclusiveness for Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at professional services giant EY (formerly Ernst & Young), Fleur Bothwick’s remit covers 69,000 people across 93 countries. A firm believer that diverse teams are the key to creating a dynamic, innovative and competitive business, she was awarded an OBE in 2013 for her contribution to equality in the workplace.

By the time Fleur Bothwick came to South Bank University in 1995 to study for a masters in HR Strategic Management, her career in HR was already well under way. Nevertheless, she felt a vocational degree could take her to the next level. ‘The masters was an opportunity to take a step back and adopt a more analytical approach,’ she says. ‘It gave me a whole new skill set.’

Fleur also credits her studies with giving her the confidence to make her next career move, from Deutsche Bank to the American company Bankers Trust. Even though she worked on the trading floor itself, she maintains that it wasn’t an overtly macho culture. ‘It was very dynamic, very demanding – but there were a lot of very strong and impressive women around.’

Awareness of the diversity agenda came early to US firms, thanks to America’s long history of affirmative action – a set of policies designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace that originated in the 1930s. Following a move to Lehman Brothers, Fleur found herself taking on responsibility for the bank’s diversity programme, initially in addition to her ‘official’ role as Head of HR for Capital Markets.

It soon became clear that looking after diversity and inclusiveness was a full-time job. ‘It was a big step, but a logical one,’ says Fleur. ‘My whole career in HR had been about educating managers to get the best out of their people and that’s really what diversity and inclusiveness is about. It also opened up great opportunities to build an external network, which was very exciting for me.’

In 2007, Fleur made the move to EY, currently the world’s third largest provider of professional services. Her first step was to identify exactly what barriers were preventing diverse groups from reaching the higher levels of the organisation. ‘At the time, we had one black partner out of 500,’ she says. ‘To do something about that, you have to find out where the bottlenecks are.’

Seven years on, and the picture is very different. EY’s latest Diversity and Inclusion Review for Fleur’s area contains some impressive statistics. The proportion of women being promoted to partner has risen from 15% just two years ago to 21%, and 10 of the 12 regions now have women on their leadership teams, compared with just four in 2008. ‘We also have very active and engaged BME and LGBT networks now,’ she says. ‘That certainly wasn’t the case when I arrived.’

Nevertheless, Fleur believes there is still a need for businesses, whatever their size, to promote the diversity agenda. ‘Yes, we’ve made huge progress,’ she says, ‘but the battle is far from won. We are all hard-wired to make assumptions about people, whether we admit it or not. There are still barriers preventing people from making it to the top, and equal pay is still an issue. Discrimination is less overt today, but it’s still there.’

Fleur believes there any number of compelling reasons why organisations should embrace diversity and strive to create a truly inclusive environment. ‘External research shows that diverse teams are more effective than homogeneous teams and from our own EY data we can see a direct link between engagement, productivity and retention. We don’t produce widgets – we depend on highly engaged, motivated employees for our success.’

In the 2013 New Year’s Honours List, Fleur was made an OBE. ‘When I got my award from Prince Charles, he said how glad he was that this kind of work was being recognised,’ she says. ‘That made me very proud.’ Outside work, Fleur is involved with a number of organisations, including the Pink Shoe Club Senate which links female entrepreneurs with government. She is also a director of the National Autism Society Academies Trust, and is chair of governors a proposed free school for children with autism in her home borough of Lambeth.

Unsurprisingly for someone who demonstrates such passion and dedication to the causes she believes in, Fleur’s advice for those seeking to stand out in a competitive job market is to be enthusiastic, engaged – and well prepared. ‘Do your research before you come to the interview,’ she says. ‘You need to show commitment. But remember, it’s a two-way process. If it doesn’t make you feel good, it’s not the right company for you. Finally, network, network, network. Time spent investing in your contacts is never wasted.’

© London South Bank University 2018