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International Women’s Day: We Can’t Empower Women Without Engaging Men

06/03/2019 Blog

LEP Chair, David. A. Kerfoot MBE DL

In July 2018 the Government published Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships, which aims to set out the role and responsibilities of Local Enterprise Partnerships in driving local growth and productivity. As part of that review, government said 1/3 of every LEP Board must be women by 2020, and 1/2 of every LEP Board by 2023. Many LEPs have already met or exceeded this, whilst others are working on action plans to improve gender diversity on their boards. LEP Chairs meet with Teresa May in 2018.   As a LEP, we recognise and embrace the benefits of having a diverse Board, and see that increasing diversity at Board level is an essential element in maintaining a competitive advantage.  Diverse Boards make effective use of differences in the skills, regional and industry experience, background, race, gender and other distinctions between Board Members.  I am proud to say that with five women sitting on our board, we already meet the 2020 target. But, there is still a long way to go and to meet the target for 2023 and we must take action. This is why we have appointed Ruth Smith, the Chair of our Skills and Employability Board, as a Diversity Champion. Ruth will not only ensure that as a LEP we’re continually progressing towards diversity, in all its forms, she’ll help to champion this focus within the region. We already have some fantastic examples within our region of businesses championing gender balanced workforces and reaping the business rewards of accessing all the talent that is available. The region has been alive this week (it’s National Apprenticeship Week!) with businesses engaging in apprenticeships to bring women into STEM roles. Drax, Dale Power, Sirius, Fera and Portacabin are all fantastic examples. However, there’s an elephant in the room. In our LEP area, the majority of local authority leaders are men, as are the NP11 members and LEP Chairs, myself included obviously! If we take the lead from the businesses we see embracing diversity, we can ensure that the leaders and decision makers in our region are also sourced from the broadest possible talent pool. We can make the same gains as businesses do, for the benefit of our region. In terms of a ‘balance for better’ in economic growth and productivity, the evidence to support this is vast and compelling. Women reaching their full potential in the workforce is worth £23 billion to our national economy. The argument for progress is obvious. International Women’s Day helps us to recognise this. However, it is important to stress that reaching for gender balance is not a battle for women alone to fight. Gender diversity is not a women-only issue, it forms part of a much broader topics, such as performance, productivity and innovation. Men are a key factor in addressing the unbalanced workforce. Without changing the way we men think and relate to women, gender diversity cannot and will not be achieved. Be honest, how many men do you know that are leading the charge for gender balance on Boards? Or in the workplace? How many companies without a gender-balanced workforce are missing the opportunity to reach their full potential to succeed? Recently, when I have spoken at events and on panels, attended photo calls for the press, it has been female colleagues who have drawn attention to a lack of diversity. I have of course agreed that there should be a balance, but it’s pointed out for me more often than not. I’m determined for this to change. Gender equality is a win for everyone both personally and professionally. But we cannot empower women without engaging men in #balanceforbetter.
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