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Dr Samia Mahmood delivers a talk on:

From analysis to action: What works in promoting women into leadership? The West Midlands Experience

On International Women's Day 2022, the findings of the report on 'women in business leadership in the Midlands' at the Midlands Engine Quarterly Economic Briefing triggered a range of insightful discussions on women's leadership in the region. Co-funded by the Midlands Engine, that report highlighted the challenges women face to achieve leadership roles at all levels in East and West Midlands. In the region, there are traditional industries with male-dominated leadership teams that promote masculine work culture and exclusionary practices. The perceptions of the place and role of the woman lead to unconscious or implicit biases. Women are experiencing imposter syndrome, negative perceptions related to flexible working due to caring responsibilities and career breaks associated with having children.

The report's findings relating to a leadership role in small businesses showed that women lead and own fewer small businesses in the Midlands than in most England regions. In addition, East and West Midlands have relatively lower business density rates for all small businesses (1.80 and 1.58) and women-led businesses (0.64 and 0.57).

Looking at the gender distribution in the leadership role in the top 350 public and private companies in the Midlands, women hold only 15.8% of directorships and 7.8% of executive directorships, lower than the UK's large public companies. Whilst there are no male-only boards in the FTSE100 or FTSE250 companies, there are 169 male-only boards in the leading 350 Midlands companies, which account for 48% of boards.

So the question is, what works to promote women into leadership? The report recommended a series of individual, organisational and regional interventions to help promote women into leadership. Most challenging is changing the cultural mindset and society's discriminatory perception that women are unsuited for leadership. Changing this mindset and perception is a continuous effort overtime by the stakeholders to understand what measures are available and how to utilise them for impact. Implementing interventions at the regional level, such as celebrating role models and effectively sharing success stories, are also necessary to build up women’s confidence. Organisations championing women in leadership positions, inculcating gender dimensions into the strategic planning and flexible working arrangement where appropriate could also bring change. Finally, at the individual level, women-targeted funding, training and entrepreneurial and business women-led support networks will help to overcome the barriers. To read the report in full, please check here.



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