The complete lack of women's representation, and lack of diversity more broadly, in the Northern Powerhouse has gained increasing attention over the last two years - from the 'stale, pale, male' images of devolution signings in Greater Manchester and Merseyside, to the manels (all male panels!) advertised at the Northern Powerhouse Conferences in 2016 and 2017, and most recently the appointment of two white men as our metro mayors.
This lack of diversity is neither inevitable or desirable.
I'm looking forward to attending a round-table event this afternoon in Manchester. The key theme is - 'Diversity & The Northern Powerhouse: Why didn’t it happen?'
As a woman who grew up in Greater Manchester, surrounded by strong and talented women; who has predominately worked in the North, across public, private, voluntary and civic sector; and who has spent most of my time and energy working to grow women's voice, opportunity and influence, as a legal aid solicitor, a coach and most recently as one the drivers and facilitators for DivaManc and the Parliament Project; I know that the North is home to a huge array of talented women whose skills, energies and determination are relied upon day-in and day-out, to get things done and done well.
In order to move forward, we have to first look back. It is important therefore to reflect on 'why didn't it happen' but to make the changes needed it is important that we don't just focus on what isn't but on what is, on the good stuff that we can learn from and build upon.
The stark lack of diversity in the Northern Powerhouse has sparked a flurry of overdue research and data on gender in the North to include reports by Fawcett Society and IPPR, and the establishment of a Commission by Fawcett and LGIU which recently published their interim report. It has also sparked an array of brilliant events and projects to include the Northern Power Women, DivaManc and the People's PowerHouse. These run alongside local campaigns around women's empowerment and leadership to include #Believeinher in Wigan, and national projects on political representation like the Parliament Project, and 50:50 Parliament. The Northern Power Women awards have done a good job in highlighting lots of the work both women and men are leading in the workplace to improve gender equality and representation. Our recent DivaManc event in March, highlighted just some of the many 'Divas In Action' who are leading change in the community, in education, in health and social care and across civic society.
So what do we want to have happen next?
This is what I am now keen to focus on. I believe we have all the intelligence, creativity and energy we need within the North to come up with the solutions. To do this well, and at scale, we need to work together, as women and men, as leaders and citizens, as employers and employees, as the marginalised and the powerful. Public, private, voluntary and civic sectors need to be working on this together to develop the framework, systems and culture that will deliver the changes sought.
To make the changes required will rely on good design and a facilitative, co-productive approach.
As Nicola commented back in October 'Progress on Gender Equality in the UK: Making it Happen' following the publication of the British Council report she co-authored, we have to be intentional, we have to 'design it in'.
Nicola helpfully set out five key themes we need to pay attention to in the design process:
1. Planned action on gender equality (be strategic & make a plan)
2. Production of world class statistics (know & use data)
3. A strong and vibrant women’s movement working in partnership with government, funders and business (empower ourselves & others to act)
4. Levelling up of rights for women and girls (an inclusive approach)
5. Partnerships to change the culture and social norms (look at the culture)
Back in January I wrote about my favourite book of 2016 'Gender Equality by Design'. The framework Iris Bonet sets out at the end of the book has provided a useful guide in my own subsequent thinking and planning for how we can now DESIGN in gender representation and equality in the North - see infographic below.