It was a pleasure to attend the Lloyds Banking Group ‘Women in Leadership’ panel event celebrated International Women’s Day with this year’s #BalanceforBetter campaign in mind, with a specific focus on achieving greater gender balance in the workplace.
The event was hosted by Jo Harris, the Lloyds Banking Group Ambassador for the Midlands. The panel also included West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, Emma Reynolds MP, Abigail Hay, co-director of Motonet (used car garage in Coventry) and Hayley Powell, Community lead at The Haven (Women’s refuge in Wolverhampton). Including an academic perspective on the panel added to the diversity of backgrounds and experiences, allowing for a rich and lively discussion.
Chaired by Marie Watson, Lloyds Banking Group’s Head of Connect, the panel event was well-attended by individuals from local charities, students from Ormiston North East Wolverhampton Academy, as well as apprentices, graduates and colleagues from Lloyds Banking Group itself.
Andy Street initiated the discussion, stating that pushing the agenda for gender balance in the workplace is morally right, as is encouraging women into senior roles.
The business case argument – attracting the best talent – was also considered crucial. The panel agreed that greater workforce diversity would facilitate creative and innovative ideas through the consideration of issues from multiple perspectives: ‘kaleidoscope thinking’. Andy commented that greater gender balance on boards makes financial sense; which is evidenced by research on this topic.
Thereafter, the panel spoke in detail about the challenges women face in progressing into leadership roles; notably the potentially high levels of unconscious bias. This point was brought to life by Abigail Hay, who recounted her experiences as a woman working in the male-dominated car industry.
The conversation then turned to the persistence of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with Emma Reynolds applauding the government changes to proxy voting. This would allow both women and men to nominate an MP to vote on their behalf when they take parental leave. Both Emma and Jo Harris advocated for more robust provisioning of organisational policies and processes for women returning to work and the importance of managerial accountability in this regard.
The panel finally considered the solutions and support available to help more women to fulfil their potential. The central themes to emerge from this discussion were the importance of networks, mentors and role models in encouraging and inspiring women at work.
Enjoying and being passionate about your career choice was also deemed fundamental to driving the career ambitions of women. Hayley Powell spoke about her decision to change jobs, opting to help her community more proactively. Hayley spoke about the need to challenge stereotypes and referenced how her work at the refuge centre aimed to help women and children with experiences of domestic abuse move forward with their lives in a positive way.
This panel event highlighted the determination and resilience of women working across all sectors. The discussions left attendees feeling motivated to continue advocating for progress and greater female representation in all areas of work. The end goal of such events on International Women’s Day is to catalyse institutional change, so that career progression opportunities are accessible, fair and open to all.