British companies should not be forced to impose diversity quotas even if more executives from minority backgrounds will boost profits, according to Labour's new business tsar. Anthony Watson, the chief executive of finance firm Uphold, made the argument when he spoke to IBTimes UK.
The former Barclays, Citi and Wells Fargo executive has topped the list of the 50 most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in business. The rankings, compiled by Out at Work and The Daily Telegraph, aim to highlight positive LGBT role models in business.
"Most minorities are underrepresented in the business community. That's for lots of reasons," Watson said.
"Those companies that are highly diverse, from the board-level down, are far more profitable institutions than those who aren't. This isn't just the morally right thing to do, it's the right thing to do from a business and profitability aspect as well."
But Watson, who has also been appointed chair of Labour's Business and Enterprise Advisory Council this week, revealed he is "aghast" at the idea of diversity quotas. "If somebody said to me 'we're going to have a quota of LGBT people', I would be aghast," he argued.
"I want to be in the room because of the merits of my background, my skills and the value I bring – not just because I happen to be a gay guy. I suspect, and when I talk to female executives, they feel the very same way."
He added: "The reality is companies aren't moving fast enough.
"Boards have to have a very hard look more broadly and some would have to self-sacrifice and say for the good of the organisation 'maybe it's time I stepped back to allow a candidate from a diverse background to takeover for the good of the overall organisation'."
Watson, a Labour donor, will be advising the shadow business secretary Angela Eagle in his new role for the party. He claimed the Conservatives have "failed" the UK because they have not been able to "exploit the opportunities we have as a country".
The 39-year-old also points to the debate around the forthcoming EU referendum as an example of how the British political class are letting down the electorate.
"I'm aghast at the Brexit conversation. I will be voting to stay in Europe because the data is completely obvious – we would be a far more prosperous nation, with far more influence leading from the centre of Europe as part of a strong, united EU.
"It's disgraceful the way Iain Duncan Smith referenced terrorism as reason to leave Europe. You are just scaremongering, you are creating a theatre of fear."
He added: "The 'In campaign' are just as bad, I'm aghast at them as well. They are saying the world's fifth largest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a G7 nation and a member of Nato would suddenly fall off a cliff tomorrow, that's not going to happen either. It's just a nonsensical argument.
"Whilst I want to stay in Europe, I want us to have a conversation that's based on the reality of the situation.
"I would like both sides of the debate to move from the outskirts of the debate of scaremongering and to have a sensible, rational and logical conversation, which is based on the merits of us staying in Europe or not. Right now I think both sides of the debate have failed the country."