Midlands Engine Observatory report spotlights lack of women at top levels in Midlands’ businesses

Date posted: March 18, 2022

New Midlands Engine Observatory and University of Wolverhampton report:

  • Spotlights lack of women at top levels in Midlands’ businesses
  • Details barriers to success for women business leaders
  • Provides recommendations to redress existing disparities

Women in business leadership across the Midlands is the focus of the Midlands Engine Quarterly Economic Briefing – an opportunity to celebrate women in leadership positions across the region, and spotlight areas where barriers to female leadership exist and how they can be addressed.

Joining the event is a panel of prominent regional female leaders including: Member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Theo Clarke MP; CEO of Home Fresh, Jigna Varu; Managing Director of Dignio UK, Dr Ewa Truchanowicz; and Head of Business Development at HSBC, Suzy Verma. Insights also come from: Clare James, Midlands Engine Business Council Member and CEO of East Midlands Airport; Jeannie McGillivray, Midlands Engine Business Council Member and CEO of Remote; Councillor Abi Brown, Midlands Engine Executive Board Member and Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council; and Edwina Dunn, Founder, Dunnhumby.

The briefing follows the release on International Women’s Day of a revealing new Midlands Engine partnership report – Women in Business Leadership in the Midlands. The research was conducted in conjunction with the University of Wolverhampton and highlights the lack of women in business leadership positions in the region, including the low percentage of women running small businesses, and details the barriers women currently face.

The report’s findings include:

  • Amongst the top 350 Midlands companies, there are 169 companies with male-only boards. This means 48% of the largest 350 companies by turnover in the Midlands do not have a woman on their board.
  • Women hold 15.8% of directorships in the top 350 public and private companies in the Midlands, which is lower than the UK’s large public companies.
  • This falls to 7.8% of executive directorships in the Midlands’ top 350 companies, compared to 13.7% and 11.3% in FTSE100 and FTSE250 companies respectively.
  • Companies with female executive directors are less prevalent in Midlands100 at only 12%, compared to 27% of UK FTSE100 companies.

Using testimonies from stakeholders, the report highlights how the prevalence of traditionally masculine-dominated industries in the Midlands, such as those in the manufacturing sector, have hampered the progression of women in leadership. The findings also confirm the wide range of barriers yet to be broken down, including masculine work cultures and exclusionary practices, negative perceptions of flexible working and unconscious bias/stereotyping.

On the agenda for discussion at the Midlands Engine briefing are the key interventions identified by the partnership to promote women in leadership. These include ousting deep-rooted cultural biases in companies, promoting women based on achievements instead of hours worked and supporting flexible working hours. They also focus on targeting funding to address the persistent funding gap in female-owned businesses, celebrating role models and effectively sharing success stories.

Rachael Greenwood, CEO of the Midlands Engine Partnership, said: Ingenuity, determination and fairness have proven to be decisive factors in business success here in the Midlands Engine region – and fully embracing inclusivity is fundamental to moving forwards together. Just as we have committed to accelerating the Midlands’ path to net zero, we can commit to embedding gender equality into everyday business practice.

“By taking on the recommendations outlined in the Women in Business Leadership in the Midlands report as a baseline – as an undisputed foundation – then there is profound potential to build from there and make the Midlands a beacon and a champion for the benefits of supporting women in business.”

Professor Silke Machold, PhD, Dean of Research and Professor of Corporate Governance at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “This report demonstrates how women in the Midlands are under-represented in boardrooms and executive teams, and that women are less likely than men to lead or own businesses.

“Progress continues to be made, and this research provides a series of recommendations at an individual, organisational and regional level to help promote women into leadership, and reap the social and economic benefits that equality will bring.”


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