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“State-imposed quotas won’t help”

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“I’m instinctively opposed to quotas,” he told us at the Real Business/CBI First Women Awards event last night. “Businesses ought – in their own interests – to say to themselves ‘we want to be fishing for talent wherever it can be found’. And I don’t think state-imposed quotas help on that.

“Companies should have the common sense to realise that if they’re missing out on half the population, they’re missing out on a lot of good things," said Lambert, pictured above with Real Business publisher Mike Bokaie.

“Yes, you need regulation to prevent abuse and exploitation. But this stuff needs to come from the ground up, not the top down. “

Lambert admits that the CBI itself has “a lot of work to do to become a more diverse organisation” but says that supporting events such as the First Women Awards is an important step in that direction.

“There was an astonishing array of winners tonight,” he said, admitting that there were one or two of his old friends in the line up. “If Julia Cleverdon, chief executive of Business in the Community, hadn’t won the Public Sector award, I would have made a noisy protest!” he joked.

He was also impressed with BAE Systems’ Rosalind Murray, winner of the Manufacturing award, who told the audience she wanted to “make a difference to the way submarines are built”.

“I was thrilled to be sitting next to Baroness Boothroyd [the first female Speaker of the House of Commons],” he said. And she regale him with any parliamentary anecdotes? “None that I dare repeat,” he quipped.

Lambert believes that businesses are getting better at recognising the value of diversity but said “there’s still a lot to be done – and there’s still a pay gap”.

For more information about the First Women Awards and details of all the winners, click here.

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