Public Sector Focus

21.04.17

The Peoples Powerhouse: Breaking the mould

Source: PSE Apr/May 17

Despite its many brilliant female leaders, the Northern Powerhouse often forgets to shout about the women working tirelessly to transform the region. But this is all about to change, Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, tells PSE’s Luana Salles.

According to the Fawcett Society, only 12% of council leaders and 13% of directly-elected mayors were women in 2013. And according to Local Government Information Unit data, women make up just 21% of council leaders in the Northern Powerhouse, with only one of the seven chairs of established and proposed combined authorities in the region being female. Of the 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse, 72% of these are occupied by men. 

Fortunately, this dearth of women’s voices at the top does not always trickle down into other layers of local government: Manchester City Council, for example, has achieved equal representation of both sexes, and several other authorities, such as North Tyneside, Leeds and Hull are almost there. 

But with decision-making powers so intensely concentrated at the hands of men, it is more important than ever to shine a spotlight on the female leaders in the sector. Award ceremonies like Northern Power Women go some way towards accomplishing that. But other, more nationally recognised events may not be doing enough in this arena. 

One of these female leaders, Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, has recognised this for years – but finally decided that enough was enough. Teaming up with fellow local government colleague Jo Miller, CEO of Doncaster Council and president of Solace, Hall set out to expose the systemic sexism that permeates the Northern Powerhouse – often to the point where the project is dismissed as an old boys’ club. 

Northern Powerhouse Conference 

The catalyst for this backlash was this year’s UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference. Held at Manchester Central on 21-22 February, the major exhibition, which brought together private and public sector leaders alike, was slammed for its lack of female representation at all levels. Despite costing over £400 to attend and network with what event organisers described as “key players, potential business partners and stakeholders”, just 13 of the 98 listed speakers were women. Several panel sessions featured no women whatsoever. 

As people began airing their discontent online – with Leigh MP Andy Burnham calling it “embarrassing”, Sunderland Central MP Julie Ward branding the line-up “appalling” and many even planning to picket the conference – event organiser Keith Griffiths decided to issue a formal apology as the first matter of business. Before Lord Kerslake took to the stage, Griffiths promised delegates in the auditorium that the conference was keen to address its gender imbalance in future instalments in order to harness the “ideas, drive and insight” of women “for the good of everyone”. 

But apologies can only do so much to fix a deep-seated problem. To bring women to the limelight more effectively, Hall and Miller decided to take affirmative action. “This has been going on for years – it really has,” Hall told PSE. 

“We were sick, fed up and tired of all-male panels for events to do with the Northern Powerhouse – mainly privately organised conferences that are making a lot of money out of it. And they’re approaching it in a very macho way, talking about transport and property and buildings and tower blocks and railways and things like that – not about people. 

“Some of the barriers we face to full participation in closing the gender pay gap are around childcare, education, mental health and skills – and they just completely ignored all of it. It’s fuelled by machismo and it’s not rooted in either a commercial awareness of the whole population of the north, or an inclusive awareness of the whole population. If you discriminate against women, you discriminate against everyone – you hold the whole of the north back.” 

It was from an effort to change that focus and talk about inclusive growth – about health and social care, homelessness, a place-based approach to ensuring residents benefit from the new jobs and opportunities emerging in the north – that the Peoples Powerhouse Conference was born.

Logo edit

Showcasing brilliant women 

Taking place on 12 July at Doncaster Rovers Football Ground from 10am to 4pm, the conference has been described as a “demonstration of diversity and inclusivity of all the people and organisations who will deliver growth in the north”. 

As PSE went to press, several speakers were still awaiting announcement, but some major names had already been confirmed – and this time, nobody forgot to invite the women: Dame Louise Casey from the Casey Review; DCLG permanent secretary Melanie Dawes; Manchester City Council CEO Joanne Roney; and HS2 commercial director Beth West, amongst others. 

“We have to break the stereotype, really,” Hall told us. “It’s so important, especially in the north, because you have this culture of ‘only men can do well’. Not just in the north, but I think it’s more prevalent in certain parts of it, so we have to work even harder to tackle it. 

“But it’s not just local government or the north, either – it’s international. Christine Lagarde, CEO of the International Monetary Fund, said it’s an ‘insidious conspiracy’ the way women are treated in society. 

“We have so many brilliant leaders in the north who are doing such good work – we have to showcase that to give other, younger women the confidence that they can be leaders, that they can shape the future of the north.” 

Starting from the bottom 

Interim Greater Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd, she argued, has made sure that the region has as many women in leadership or deputy leadership roles as possible, as well as guaranteeing that good female leaders are being coached and mentored in order to take over when men move on. 

“For me, though, it goes right back to aspirations in school,” added Hall. “My father was a really strong trade unionist and was passionate about women doing well, but I was really lucky to have that. In a lot of families, despite their academic attainments, women are pushed down into more menial roles. It’s about parenting, about making sure our young girls get that encouragement and support, and get that all the way through school.” 

This and many other prevalent northern issues will be discussed at the upcoming conference. According to the Guardian’s Helen Pidd, who will chair a few of the event’s sessions, corporate sponsors will be asked to subsidise tickets for delegates who can’t afford to travel otherwise, and the event will largely focus on how to boost the life chances of everyone in the region through economic growth. 

“We have had so many people wanting to come, I think we could sell it out several times over,” joked Hall. “It’ll be men as well as women – it’s also about men who support gender diversity and inclusive growth.”

For more information

To attend The Peoples Powerhouse Conference, visit:
W: www.transform-lives.org/events

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Watchdog slams local product recall systems as ‘not fit for purpose’

21/07/2017Watchdog slams local product recall systems as ‘not fit for purpose’

The UK has a “fragmented” product safety and recall system that is putting people’s lives in danger, a major consumer watchdog ... more >
Edinburgh region given £1.1bn boost to drive investment and inclusion

21/07/2017Edinburgh region given £1.1bn boost to drive investment and inclusion

A deal worth £1.1bn to drive investment and address inclusion in the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland area was yesterday signed by the UK ... more >
Council wins ‘landmark’ Supreme Court battle to recoup £1.3m licensing costs

21/07/2017Council wins ‘landmark’ Supreme Court battle to recoup £1.3m licensing costs

A London council has this week celebrated a landmark judgement which could see it recover up to £1.3m in regulatory and enforcement costs. ... more >

editor's comment

15/06/2017Challenges remain

As PSE went to press, we were days away from finding out which political party or parties would be leading the country following Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election for 8 June.  Whoever enters the door at No.10, irrelevant of their political colour, is faced with serious challenges, from social care to the NH... read more >

last word

National policies won’t fix local problems

National policies won’t fix local problems

Andrew Carter, the recently-appointed chief executive of Centre for Cities, argues that the new government will only succeed if it focuses on implementing policies that are adaptable to place-bas... more > more last word articles >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

Councillors celebrated in Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2017

19/06/2017Councillors celebrated in Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2017

A number of local government leaders and figures have been named in the Queen’s 2017 Birthday Honours list. The list recognises the achievements of people across a number of different sectors by handing out awards for services to their respective fields. All in all, 1,109 people received an award this year, as 554 (50%) of peop... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

comment

Changing our commissioning approach

03/07/2017Changing our commissioning approach

Michelle Atkinson, commissioning manager at Leeds City Council, explains how the local authority has changed its approach to commissioning homeca... more >
Reinventing local government

03/07/2017Reinventing local government

The time has come for councils to adopt a ‘changemaking’ culture in order to drive a radical reinvention in local government, argues ... more >
Public sector outsourcing: a marriage that must work

03/07/2017Public sector outsourcing: a marriage that must work

Kerry Hallard, the president of the Global Sourcing Association, argues that despite some highly-publicised cases of breakdowns in public sector ... more >
Harnessing data sharing in transport

30/06/2017Harnessing data sharing in transport

Simon White of Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) argues that the UK can be at the forefront of innovative mobility solutions if the government enc... more >

interviews

‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

30/06/2017‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

Keith Smith, public sector business development manager at Virgin Media Business, tells PSE’s Luana Salles that health and social care orga... more >
HSCN: The enabler for a more joined-up public sector

26/06/2017HSCN: The enabler for a more joined-up public sector

Mark Hall, Chief Assurance Officer at Redcentric, discusses NHS Digital’s project, the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) and what b... more >
Maintaining the momentum for further devolution

25/04/2017Maintaining the momentum for further devolution

Ahead of this year’s mayoral elections, Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, tells PSE’s David Stevenson why the argu... more >
New social care funding misses the point

13/04/2017New social care funding misses the point

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee, reflects on the social care funding released in this year’s ... more >