The Northern Powerhouse conference, which purports to showcase and celebrate the best business leaders in the North of England has come in for wide criticism after it emerged that just one in seven of its speakers is female. Several panels feature no women at all.
The two-day conference is billed as a chance to “network with the key players, potential business partners and stakeholders in the Northern Powerhouse economy”.
Thirteen of the 98 listed speakers on the conference programme are female. Labour MP Andy Burnham, running to become the Mayor of Greater Manchester described it as “embarrassing”.
Chaired by the Radio 4 presenter John Humphreys, the keynotes are being delivered by Andrew Percy, minister for the Northern Powerhouse, and Lord Kerslake, chair of the UK Northern Powerhouse advisory board.
Industry guru Jackie Mulligan told CN: “It is disappointing when women are under-represented like this but it is not unique to this event, it is at every event and in publications and in the media and everywhere.
“We need to be more conscious of the fact that women are at senior levels of industry and have as much to contribute as men to debates and important issues.
“Women need to be on an equal platform to men, not invited to represent their gender but their legitimate voices on these issues. We need to do more as an industry to take the lead on levelling things up.”
Organisers have conceded that women were “under-represented”, but said that companies usually chose for themselves which speakers to field.
A spokesman said: “We’re delighted to have a range of high-profile women involved in this year’s event, including Pat Ritchie, Newcastle city council’s first female chief executive, Kirsty Styles, head of talent and skills at Tech North and Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England.
“In the majority of cases, our speakers have been selected by their firms to represent them in order to provide expert comment on the challenges of developing the northern powerhouse.
“But we entirely accept that women have been left under-represented.”
Organisers promised “to address the issue” for next year’s event.
Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, told the Guardian newspaper it was “unbelievable” and said she had not been invited to take part. “Holding back women holds back everyone and the whole of the North,” she said.
Julie Ward, an MEP for the north-west of England added on Twitter: “This is appalling & even worse that the organisers don’t understand Y #women must be involved at every level. True #equality = everyone”
The UK Northern Powerhouse conference runs at Manchester Central 21-22 February 2017. Last year’s edition, also held in Manchester, in February 2016, was attended by over 2,500 business leaders.