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East Midlands Chamber News

Chamber president Eileen Richards MBE on women, boards and the future of leadership

To mark International Women's Day, East Midlands Chamber president and ER Recruitment owner Eileen Richards MBE reflects on the importance of promoting women in senior leadership positions.

The United Nations announced in November that the theme of International Women’s Day 2021 was to be women in leadership. 

Getting women into leadership positions has long been of interest to me. I’m an advocate of female entrepreneurship.

The UN asked how women might go about achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.

Many would (and have) cited the importance of networking. But we all know it’s not always easy to break into new networks.

This is why there is value in activity such as the Chamber’s Enterprising Women events, and we’ve seen some great nominations come in for the Enterprising Women Awards.

More to do

Many boards are aware they have further to go in reflecting the society in which we live.

Green Park research published last month showed that only 10 of the 297 chairmen and women, chief executives and finance chiefs of the FTSE100 are from an ethnic minority background. This is 3.4%. That’s the same level as in 2014.

Change is happening. But it’s sometimes happening slowly. It was such statistics that persuaded me to partner ER Recruitment with Freeths, Brewin Dolphin and De Montfort University in a project to increase ethnic diversity among graduate recruits and business leaders in Leicester.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff are less likely to be in senior positions. Yet they are simultaneously more likely to hold higher academic qualifications.

Research published in the McGregor Smith Review four years ago estimated that full representation of BAME individuals across the labour market would bring an estimated £24bn boost to the UK economy.

Wouldn’t that be welcome as the country moves towards recovery?

Changing boardrooms

Business culture is moving towards closer reflection of society. And business culture is (at least formally) shaped by board members.

I’ve been recruiting directors to East Midlands boards for the best part of 20 years. Our clients range from regional SMEs to multinational corporations.

Inevitably, the outlook of directors is changing along with that of the customers they serve.

Yet the C-suite members I speak with often believe change is incremental. Could, as the UN suggests, the arrival of equal futures be hastened by Covid-19?

The events of 2020 accelerated much planned structural change in business. My organisation was no different.

Executive recruitment wasn’t previously at the forefront of our offer. It’s now one of our headline services. Why? Because the demand for leaders who can offer creative solutions is rising quickly.

Future leaders

Boards are responding to the twin pressures of ensuring profitability today while shaping organisational purpose for tomorrow.

Huge companies are repositioning in response to customer demand and a raft of external pressures. But what does it all mean for their people?

Dambisa Moyo wrote last month in the Harvard Business Review of looming systemic risk for organisations.

The economist argued that the needs of people must be balanced with, for example, automation, remote working and societal purpose.

Elsewhere, Mintel forecasting of trends through to 2030 is dominated by the personal and the experiential: values, rights and purpose.

Structural change must be delivered in an unprecedented business environment. It is going to involve people. So how do we do it?

Projects such as the Chamber’s Generation Next are recognising and integrating our future leaders. We all know the importance of succession planning in ensuring business continuity.

Our young people will be the ones implementing the region’s structural change in coming decades. The East Midlands freeport, for example, is not going to happen overnight.

Meanwhile, these young people will include the female leaders of the future.


Eileen is also co-chair of the Enterprising Women network, which will host the free Celebration of International Women's Day event on Friday 12 March from 1-2.30pm. To register, click here.