Almost immediately following the June 23 history-making Brexit decision—the referendum for the United Kingdom to forgo its membership in the European Union—questions about the implications began to surface and be debated. These implications raised a multitude of issues, from Britain’s place in the world to the impact on globalization.
Not lost in the din of Brexit is the impact on diversity and inclusion within British communities and workplaces, scaling up to the country’s culture as a whole.
A few days before the vote, Simon Collins, who is the chairman of KPMG in the United Kingdom, the professional services firm providing audit, tax, and advisory services to businesses and organizations, warned in an article he penned in the Telegraph that Brexit would harm diversity at his firm and throughout the business community.
KPMG in the United Kingdom employs some 12,000 professionals and workers, notably accountants, lawyers, tax advisers, corporate financiers, and technology and forensic experts, and actively promotes diversity and inclusion within its workforce. KPMG in the United Kingdom affirms on its website that “an inclusive culture is critical for our business to thrive and grow, which is why we’re committed to inclusive leadership right across our organization … regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, disability, religion or sexual orientation.”
In the United Kingdom, immigration and diversity are virtually synonymous issues, and Simon called immigration the “thorniest issue” in the European Union referendum debate, noting that 19 percent of the company’s professionals are native to countries other than Britain, and 700 are citizens of other European Union nations.
In his article, he talked about the absolute value of diversity and inclusion, writing: “In the world of big business, an inclusive approach to diverse thinking is now moving from the corporate social responsibility team into the mainstream plumbing of business operations.”
Simon also noted that firms such as his will be challenged going forward if they are unable to actively pursue a diverse workforce. He referred to this dilemma as a “slow-moving talent car crash” and that a break with the European Union would not liberate British companies, as pro-Brexit forces have claimed.
“If we do decide to part ways with the EU, what is the succession plan for replacing EU workers who might leave? We need an urgent nonpartisan analysis of immigration and demographic trends impacting the UK which will inform us of where and when we need additional skills and workers,” Simon wrote in his article.
Furthermore, commentators in Britain are pondering how the Brexit vote will affect another area where diversity and inclusion are important: Britain’s universities. Many leaders in the United Kingdom’s higher-education apparatus were against the referendum, saying it could imperil educational equality legislation dating back 50 years.
Another commentator, Stephen Frost, joined Simon in warning that abandoning diversity and inclusion principles will not make for a better Britain, particularly in business.
“If Brexit restricts business access to talent and to markets, then, by definition, it may be bad for business, especially entrepreneurs seeking new ideas or at a critical juncture in their evolution.
But more than that, the negative, anti-diversity noise around Brexit may actually damage the business case for diversity. In this sense, it may lower people’s propensity to even want to increase the gene pool or enter new markets in the first place,” Frost wrote.
Observers have pointed out that the impact may not be transferable to America, given the demographic differences in the two electorates. British voters are overwhelmingly white (about 87 percent of the population), and Brexit supporters were described as older, conservative, and less educated compared to their opponents.
The United States, despite all the historical problems of race and ethnicity inherent to this society, is a much more diverse place, observers point out. For instance, projections in 2016 estimate that 69 percent of US voters will be white, not Hispanic/Latino, and observers say the numbers of minority voters are growing each year. In fact, U.S. Census figures point to a much-changing U.S. society around 2044, when the various ethnic minority groups will comprise the greatest share of the population demographic.
Although Brexit has prompted much concern and debate, many are confident that this is just a roadbump along the global path to diversity. Furthermore, plenty of U.S. companies stay steadfast in their mission to diversify their companies and their supply chains, no matter what the political world brings.