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Blog post: Ambitious women are conducive to success

28 September 2018

This week I was invited to speak at a lunch that brought together an incredibly talented group of business leaders. The room was represented by, among many others, Lloyds Banking Group, The British Film Institute, Bosch UK, Weber Shandwick, Housing Finance Institute, Goldman Sachs, BBC, PWC.

The topic? How do we strengthen women in leadership.

Yes, this was a women leadership roundtable and needless to say, the room was buzzing with ideas.

Some commentators question why, in 2018, women representation at senior executive level is still a challenge for us. Why are we still tackling the clichéd ‘pale, male and (for some) stale’ Board room view? Indeed I have spent many years advocating for equality and diversity at leadership level. Not only for gender equality but for serious and widespread reform for diversity across the private and public sector. The way I’ve chosen to do this, is from within.

The lunch this week is particularly timely for me. This year, I head towards the end of my seventh, and final, year as Chair of SEMLEP. This is also the year that government has challenged Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure that by 2021, one third of our Boards are represented by women. With 50% representation by 2023.

So, in preparing for what I would say at the lunch, I considered why only three of 38 LEP Chairs are women. And what we, as a national network of public-private partnerships, need to do about it.

  • Firstly, women on LEP Boards need to be much more vocal about our successes. We need talk about why we decided to do it and what we’ve got out of it. Reflecting on my reasons, I took it on as I am interested in bringing the private and public sectors together so they can see what they have in common and how much they can learn from each other. There’s a lot to be said for that.

The mix of public and private sector in the LEP partnership is unique. We can bring together the best of commercial and corporate practice with local civic leadership. 

  • We need to promote the opportunities available, creatively and actively. Women are particularly strong in the skills aligned to what’s required to do the job so we need to make the job appealing to women.

The nature of local enterprise partnerships requires the skills and competences women (not exclusively) possess. I list them as the 5 ‘Cs’

  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Coordination
  • Convening
  • Communication

These skills and competences are what’s required to make things happen. The last point – communication - is particularly important. Advocacy and promotion of our places is a fundamental role of the LEP. Chairs and Board members must have these skills to make sure the LEP and their places are firmly on the map.

  • The third action is to live by what we preach. The best way to improve our impact and presence is through diversity. It’s a fact that more diverse Boards make better decisions. It’s also a fact that diverse organisations are more effective. They value the whole range of skills and experience of individuals within them more than others.

 All LEPs have equality and diversity policies. These must be fully embedded into everything we do. Our goal is for LEPs to reflect the society in which we operate.

SEMLEP is recognised by government as a highly-performing LEP and we’re ambitious. Being ambitious is conducive to success but we’re not complacent. We must strive to have the very best leadership at the helm. By taking these three actions, we stand a much better chance of achieving this.

This week SEMLEP has launched a recruitment campaign for new private sector Board directors to join us. With a campaign to find a new Chair starting soon. This campaign has equality and diversity at the core.

The new Board members will be ambitious, they’ll be successful and they’ll be leading a highly successful private – public partnership that will shape the future success of the UK’s economy. 


Dr Ann Limb CBE DL

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