We need to see many more women in our boardrooms
Christine Gaskell MBE DL is Chair of Cheshire & Warrington LEP, She has spent most of her career in the motor industry and from 1995 until 2012 she was a Member of the Board at Bentley Motors Limited with responsibility for 4,000 employees worldwide. She was also Chair of the Rolls Royce and Bentley Pension Fund. Christine chaired the first LEP Network Women Leaders’ round table in September.
Earlier this year in Cheshire we launched a 12-month celebration of female endeavour, to mark not only the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote, but also the founding of modern Chester, 1111 years ago by Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great.
Indeed, I believe, Cheshire is a trailblazer when it comes to appointing women leaders in all walks of life.
Five of our 11 MPs are women, and one of them is a Secretary of State; Cheshire East and Cheshire West councils are led by women and their deputies are women too; Cheshire East’s acting chief executive is a woman, as is the chief executive of Marketing Cheshire and Cheshire’s High Sheriff; and we have all manner of female business leaders. And I lead the Cheshire and Warrington LEP, which goes from strength to strength in driving for a £50bn regional economy by 2040 and building on the success of our globally significant Cheshire Science Corridor Enterprise Zone.
On September 25th I brought together for the first time women LEP board members from around the country to meet with women business leaders and Government officials to find ways in which we can encourage more women to join LEP boards.
These are vitally important roles, they have impact. To date LEPs have leveraged more than £7.6bn in private sector investment; helped build 93,200 new homes; helped to create more than 180,600 jobs, and supported more than 196,000 businesses. They are helping to shape our country.
The Government is looking to strengthen LEPs, and as part of this process has asked us to increase the number of women on LEP boards to 33% by 2020 and 50% by 2023. This actually meets our own ambition to make our LEP boards more inclusive and diverse and therefore stronger.
We already recruit in an open and transparent competitive way to attract the best business talent to our boards and to ensure they reflect local business communities. But it’s imperative we improve the way we do this to balance the gender mix. Of course some LEPs already meet or exceed the one third aspiration, while others have some work to do and are striving to achieve it. The hill to climb is not too steep – with some LEPs having vacancies and others having board members due to retire soon – it’s a valuable opportunity to maximise more recruitment from women applicants.
In some ways, the most important question is not what we’re doing or how we’re doing it, but why we’re doing it.
Women’s rights, roles and influence is a major theme of our time and needs to be encouraged. This year’s International Women’s Day encouraged people to #PressforProgress, sending out a “strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.”
In the US they are calling 2018 ‘The year of the woman’ as more female candidates than ever before fight for seats in Congress and for US governorships in November’s midterm elections. In the UK, and elsewhere, the gender pay gap is a national conversation.
As a senior female professional who worked in the automotive sector and who now plays a prominent role in local and national economic development, I am fortunate enough to have a platform from which I can champion female achievement.
Certainly, we need to see many more women in our boardrooms. According to the World Economic Forum, during the last decade the proportion of female leaders increased by an average of a little more than two per cent across the 12 industries it studied.
Along with my LEP Network colleagues, I passionately believe in equality and diversity of opportunity to develop skills and capabilities to create a pipeline of future leaders, regardless of gender. There is lots of evidence that points to a correlation between diversity and success.
I am under no illusion that we can tip the scales overnight, but over time I’m confident we will achieve parity.
In Cheshire, our celebration of women’s achievements was also about shining a spotlight on progress to help bring about gender equality change more quickly.
As Time magazine said when naming its 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst “shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.”
We must also aspire to do the same. For everyone, the prize is great.