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West Midlands Leadership Commission, chaired by GBSLEP Board Director Anita Bhalla, launches ‘Leaders Like You’ report

The West Midlands Leadership Commission, chaired by Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) Board Director Anita Bhalla, has spent nine months reaching out into communities and institutions to give a voice to the views, real-life experiences and ideas of people across the region.

The Commission’s report – Leaders Like You – has focused on the experiences of black and ethnic minority communities, women, the LGBT community, disabled people and lower social economic groups such as white working-class boys.

Among the recommendations is a call for existing leaders to ensure diversity in their workplaces, identify talent and then mentor and coach that talent to produce future leaders.

Anita, who is also chair of PBL Town Hall and Symphony Hall, said: “It’s not good enough to say that HR policies are in place if those policies are not rooted in an organisation’s culture.

“There needs to be ownership of this issue at the very highest level. Leaders need to build diversity into their workforce so they are able to produce future leaders through mentoring and coaching.”

Anita said the region had an exciting opportunity to rapidly grow economically but would be held back if it did not tackle the lack of diversity in leadership roles from people of all backgrounds.

“There needs to be a determination to put into place actions which not only embrace it as a concept but adopt it in all of our societal and political decisions – this needs to happen in our streets and neighbourhoods as well as our public and private institutions,” she added.

The report was launched by Anita and Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, who said:

“The diversity of our region is one of our greatest assets but this lack of representation at leadership level can lead to a sense of alienation amongst certain groups and a feeling that it is not possible to get to the top.

“Yet greater diversity in leadership can bring fresh talent and alternative ways of looking at an increasingly globalised world and that can generate greater prosperity and less marginalisation and disaffection amongst excluded groups.

“So I echo the Commission’s call for existing leaders to take on board the findings and recommendations of this report, think about what difference their actions can make and help the West Midlands become a place where everyone can fulfil their potential.”

The West Midlands Leadership Commission is made up of 19 role models who have succeeded in the worlds of business, the arts, health and public services and who personally understand the issues of under-representation.

Their report was presented at the ‘Leaders Like You’ conference at Great Barr Academy in Birmingham which was attended by members of the Commission, students from the academy and senior figures from the private and public sector.

The event featured a video message of endorsement from Prime Minister Theresa May (available here) and a video montage of Anita talking about diversity at leadership level and students talking about their dreams and aspirations (available here).

The report has been shaped by strong academic input from the universities of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Birmingham City, Warwick and Coventry. The work was pulled together by the University of Birmingham’s IRiS (Institute for Research into Superdiversity),

It found that while the West Midlands has a better rate than many other regions in the adoption of equal opportunity policies and practices more needed to be done.

In addition to mentoring and coaching talent from within, the report also recommends:

  • The WMCA leads by example and act on an ambitious plan to bring more diverse leaders into its own organisation, networks and governance
  • The public and private sector work together to support organisations struggling to diversify their leadership and workforce by helping them put in place proven HR policies
  • The development of more peer-to-peer learning networks where leaders from different organisations can learn from each other
  • Raising levels of aspiration for young people in marginalised communities by creating a Youth Combined Authority to build future political leadership capability
  • Working closely with schools to encourage young people from underrepresented groups to aspire to leadership positions and to expand events like Professional Services Week to help youngsters access opportunities
  • Closer collaboration with universities to create a leadership programme for young and emerging leaders from the faith communities and the Young Changemakers Academy