There can't be very many events in Britain today where you can rub shoulders with Tories, Lib Dems and Labour stalwarts not only being nice to each other (just before an election), but more unusually, all singing very much from the same hymn sheet.
600 guests attended The Opportunity Now 2005 Workplace Awards for Gender Equality and Diversity at the London Hilton on Thursday last week. Those attending were a pretty diverse bunch themselves. Tory grandee Lord Howe was squiring his award-winning cross-bencher wife, Baroness Howe of Idlicote CBE; Ken Livingstone's Policy Advisor Anni Marjoram headed up the red rose contingent, and bankers, public sector workers, the military and academia all fielded their quota of diversity cheerleaders. Every colour, race and nationality was represented or so it seemed (as you'd expect).
Citigroup won the City Focus Group award for its 'Growing diverse female talent' programme, beating rivals Goldman Sachs (Gender recruiting strategy for analysts) and Credit Suisse First Boston (UK parents network: Pregnancy to Pre-school group).
Other City participants read like a Square Mile smorgasbord: Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lloyd's TSB, HBOS, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers. The whole shebang was sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland. The march to equality is speeding up a notch or two, it would appear, and the financial world is up there with the front runners.
Investment banks are going great guns on improving workplace conditions and providing support networks for women in the workforce. A Citigroup spokesman commented: 'Although almost half of our employees are women, at a senior executive level, women remain a minority. It was apparent that there were obstacles to women moving up the ranks. Obviously our business would suffer if we didn't fully utilise the talent, energy and creativity of half the workforce. To remain competitive, we couldn't afford not to take action.'
It would be easy to scoff at the political correctness of an event where the great and the good compete with each other to see who's managed to put diversity and gender equality at the top of the agenda and keep it there. The pay gap between men and women still exists, and the paucity of women filling the top management slots in companies spell out that there is still a long way to go before real equality is achieved.
But the evening was all about celebrating progress. The commitment and enthusiasm were palpable, and pride in the awards won very real. Whoops of delight greeted the announcement of the winners and the noise levels grew as the evening progressed. Diversity's glitterati let its collective hair down and celebrated 10 years of making a difference to workplace practices.
Women have come a long way since my first job (in the age of steam-driven typewriters and Tipp-ex). The City of London can pride itself on being at the forefront of improvements in diversity and gender equality. Last week people of all political hues got together to celebrate the fact and congratulate the winners. You'd never have guessed we're in the middle of an election campaign.