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Posted on:
8th June, 2019

"For me getting more women leaders is not about bumping up the numbers."

Christine Gaskell CBE DL is the Chair of the Cheshire & Warrington LEP, Vice Chair of the Northern Powerhouse 11 (NP11), and was the first woman on the board of Bentley Motors. Christine opened the LEP Women Leaders 2019 event on Thursday 6 June, her speech is below.

"For me getting more women leaders is not about bumping up the numbers."

Good morning and welcome to the LEP Women Leaders Conference 2019.

Today we aim to shine a spotlight on women leaders. Celebrate their achievements. And inspire more women to get involved with LEP boards.

I’m Christine Gaskell and have held the position of Chair, of Cheshire and Warrington LEP, since Local Enterprise Partnerships were formed in 2011.

I’m also a company director of the LEP network and am involved with other initiatives such as the National Digital Skills Partnership.

All initiatives that I am seriously passionate about. That give me tremendous personal satisfaction and motivation.

Today, holding a portfolio of Non-executive director roles, I look back fondly on my corporate career where, for 16 years I held a senior leadership position with Bentley Motors.

I was the first woman on the board, and the first senior woman executive in the Volkswagen Group, in what was a male centric engineering environment.

It wasn’t always easy. And it was certainly a journey, to reach a position of influence. But it was hugely rewarding – drawing on my natural traits and a woman’s inbuilt gut reaction as well as my learned behaviours and technical knowledge to get the most out of my team and my board.

8 years ago, as LEP’s were being formed, I found myself again in a minority position. A position where the majority of LEP chairs were male, and the female faces across the LEP boards nationally, were few and far between.

But that wasn’t a sufficient reason for me not to put myself forward. I was confident I had a lot to give, my own unique set of skills that I could bring to the role.

As it’s not always about being the first, or the only woman in the boardroom. It’s about making a real difference.

That’s often what matters most to women, knowing they have earned the right to be there based on their ability to get things done.

Professionally, collaboratively and with passion.

There’s a long and varied history of women leaders who have made a significant difference in their field.

From politics, to science, to society and business – women leaders who are recognised and respected for their achievements. Leadership isn’t always about being at the front, nor being the only one.

A strong leader within a team. Within a family. Within a social group. Playing a vital role in bringing people together. Positively challenging and making change. And getting everyone working towards the same goal, whatever that might be.

We need leadership built in at all levels. Leaders who have different abilities and are prepared to work together.

I believe that’s where women leaders excel. They are happy to work as part of a team and for collective efforts to be recognised. It’s often not about personal glory for women, but the satisfaction that comes from that pulling together. The team effort.

Tackling gender balance and pay gaps is a key component of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. In the FTSE350 for example, there are just 20 women chairs, and only a quarter of board members are women.

Additionally under new reporting laws, 1400 companies have revealed a gender pay gap of over 18%.

It’s true these numbers are shifting in the right direction, with major progress made over the past few years. But we’ve a long way to go.

For me getting more women leaders absolutely isn’t about ‘bumping up the numbers’.

Having more women in leadership positions has to be about equality – securing those roles because they are the best person for the job.

The person who can bring the best range of skills and experience to the table in order to achieve more and challenge the status quo.

As women we do have to be brave and take risks. In many situations we have to work harder to get our voice heard. To secure that promotion, or achieve the same salary and benefits.

It’s true that women bring an alternative perspective. Our range of skills and the way in which we deal with challenges is fundamentally different. We are wired differently!.

And that breadth and diversity is a critical component of business.

Women are more prepared to take risks and persevere. They have tenacity and an innate ability to multi-task. Women are good at giving feedback and can do so with empathy. Making others feel confident and encouraging them to reach their full potential.

For many women they won’t simply go through the motions. They bring genuine passion.
They have to believe in what they do and it has to give them something back. Taking on a senior leadership position is often part of a wider lifestyle decision. Where risk and reward is considered alongside work-life balance and a desire
to regularly check-in emotionally.

The passion to care that the love for that role is still there, and of course, that they are effecting change.

Which is why LEP’s across the UK want more women on their boards, you are here today because it matters to you, and so you’re exactly the kind of leaders we need.

We need boards that are made up of different voices from many different backgrounds. We want to see local communities represented on boards, not replica boards across all 38 LEPs.

We know that there are women currently working in the public, private and charitable sectors that have entrepreneurial spirit. That have an attuned set of leadership skills. That will mentor other board members and the teams within the LEP’s.

And will ultimately be passionate about the future of their local economy and the opportunities we are creating today for the next generation.

Collectively 28% of our LEP board members are women. We want to increase that to 50% on all LEP Boards. Last month, the Public Accounts Committee spoke about diversity in LEPs. We know it’s not just about having more woman board members – it is also about having business representation from all backgrounds including gender, ethnicity, age and business type.

Our message is that we are getting there, but we are not complacent. We know there is more to be done and this event is part of our journey.

In September last year we held a women leaders’ roundtable with a group of women business leaders who weren’t involved with LEPs, and some of our women LEP board members.

We wanted to hear their ideas on how we could raise the profile of LEPs with senior women leaders and encourage them to join our LEP boards.

What we heard was that women don’t respond to traditional non-executive director recruitment methods like advertisements on a LEP website or in the local newspaper written in business jargon.

Women like to talk to people and to hear about what’s involved and how they can make a difference.

That’s what inspires women to get involved and that is why we are here today.

We want to use this event to:

  • Hear your thoughts about the challenges and barriers women leaders face, and how we can address those.
  • Learn from each other about how we can inspire future generations of women to become leaders
  • And to share with you the impact that LEPs are having on their local communities, and how women leaders are part of it.

We have a great line up of speakers and panellists today and all are women. We want to thank them for sharing their thoughts and ideas to help us engage with women leaders.

Details of all our speakers and panellists are in the conference brochure which has been emailed to everyone.

This is another first. We wanted to reduce the environmental waste of printing a large number of brochures so decided to make our conference materials available online rather than printing copies.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Goldman Sachs.

We are hugely grateful to them for their support today. We’ll be hearing from Charlotte Keenan later in the programme.

Charlotte is Head of the Office of Corporate Engagement International at Goldman Sachs, and she oversees the 1000 Small Businesses programme, but I’ll leave Charlotte to say more about this fantastic programme later.

Before I finish, for those of you in the room who are not as familiar with LEPs, I wanted to share some thoughts on our collective impact.

LEPs are central to the government’s vision for leading local economic growth.

LEPs have increased private sector involvement in economic decision making, encouraging greater collaboration between public sector leaders across administrative boundaries, and ensuring that effective investments are made across areas in growth priority projects.

LEPs are a great example of collaborative leadership.

Our strength is in our ability to convene local organisations who are working to improve the economy in a place, and ultimately the lives of the people who live there.

Our boards are made up of private sector, public sector and education leaders.

And we work together to solve local economic issues whether that’s about skills, infrastructure or a lack of housing.

To date LEPs have

• Leveraged over £7.6bn in private sector investment
• Helped developers build 93,200 new homes
• Supported over 196,000 businesses.
• Helping them to create over 180,600 jobs

LEPs don’t just focus on their own local area, they are also working collectively regionally and nationally on a variety of key issues.

Housing, skills, energy, the rural economy and maritime & logistics are just some of the issues that we are co-ordinating activity on.

From 2020 it is expected that LEPs will be charged with delivering the UK Shared Prosperity Fund which is replacing European Structural Funds.

These funds will be used to improve infrastructure and deliver the skills that business needs to achieve inclusive growth.

This will be underpinned by our local industrial strategies that will help to bring more economic prosperity across England.

That’s just a brief snapshot of what we are doing.

I mentioned at the outset that back in 2011 I was a minority within the LEP network, and whilst we have more women Chairs, I’m also delighted that 40% of our Chief Executives are women. And many of them are here today. They are joined by 56 of our women board members. They can tell you about LEP impact in their areas and how LEPs are making a real difference.

Hopefully you can catch up with them as you network throughout the day.

I am sure you will enjoy hearing from all our speakers but we very much want this to be a 2-way conversation so please ask questions and get involved with the discussions.

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