In its policy document, Strengthened Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Government said it would work with LEPS to improve gender representation with women making up at least one third of Boards by 2020 and parity by 2023.

Since then the LEP Network held its first Women Leaders’ Roundtable to see what further additional actions LEPs can take to achieve better gender balance. And this June it is holding its first Women Leaders event at Westminster to encourage more women to get involved with their LEP and be at the heart of local economic decision making. 

Here we look more closely at Hertfordshire LEP Board and the wider issue of diversity across its decision-making boards.

Over the past couple of years, Hertfordshire LEP has completely refreshed its main LEP Board and now has five female board members, meeting the Government’s 33% target set for 2020. Currently they are:

  • Dr Sally-Ann Forsyth, CEO Stevenage Business Catalyst;
  • Tina Barnard, CEO Watford Housing Community Trust, Not For Profit representative since 2016;
  • Cllr Sharon Taylor, Leader of Stevenage Borough Council, Local Authority Rep since 2016;
  • Cllr Linda Haysey, Leader of East Herts Council, Local Authority Rep since 2015;
  • Zoe Hancock, Principal, Oaklands College, higher education representative since 2017.

Between them they bring a huge wealth of experience and expertise to shape and deliver the LEP’s key strategic priorities including regeneration of both our existing New Towns and planned Garden Town settlements; strategic infrastructure, skills and employment and the development of our key sector industries.

Let’s look a little closer at its main Board configuration. Hertfordshire LEP is responsible for recruiting nine of its 15-strong Board members. Of the remaining six:

  • Four are local authority reps: one from its Accountable Body, Hertfordshire County Council, and three representing the 10 district councils across Hertfordshire who are appointed by the Herts Leaders’ Group;
  • Two are educational reps: one from the field of Higher Education and one rotated between Hertfordshire’s four FE colleges.

Out of its five serving female Board members just two, Tina Barnard and Dr Forsyth, were directly appointed by the LEP. Currently the Board is well represented by women from both the FE sector and Local Authorities, but this situation could change when these posts are up for renewal. 

In order for Hertfordshire LEP to reach the 50% quota in 2023, it is aiming to appoint five female business leaders directly to its Board and, where possible, ensure that at least one educational rep and two local authority reps are female.

Hertfordshire LEP Chair Mark Bretton said: “While the selection of local authority and FE reps is not within our control, there are positive steps we can and will continue to take to ensure that we are recruiting from the widest talent pool. I am confident that in our current Board we have fielded the best candidates, not just in terms of gender balance but, just as crucially, in the business acumen, skills and networks they can bring to help us to deliver our Strategic Economic Plan.”

The composition of its Board and the Government targets for female decision-makers tells just one story. Sitting underneath its main LEP Board are a number of strategic programme boards who play a vital role in the overall decision-making process. Here women are particularly well represented on its Skills and Employment Board, with 41% female members, and over half of its Executive Team are female.

Female business leaders are represented in its Envoy programme including Sally Hopper, Assistant Director for HR at Hertfordshire County Council, Miranda Knaggs, Business Development Director at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst and Claire Dicks, Chief of Staff to the Deputy MD UK and Portfolio Management Director for MBDA Missile Systems. Together in their roles as critical friends and external ambassadors for the LEP, they can help review current practices, identifying, where possible, workable solutions. 

But it is in its Enterprise Adviser Network and its interactions with schools where Hertfordshire LEP has the biggest opportunity not only to shape positively young people’s future careers but also influence their approaches to addressing gender balance and championing diversity in the workplace.

Currently two thirds (62 out of 93) of its Enterprise Advisers are women, such as Danie French, CSR and Office Manager T&B (Contractors) Limited. Danie is an EA at Heathlands School, a school for deaf children in St Albans.

She said: “Through my role as Enterprise Adviser, not only have I learnt so much about the needs of those with disabilities but I’ve also learnt a lot about myself. We get very content in our bubbles of life and can take a lot for granted; working with Heathlands has made me appreciate a lot but especially my hearing.

“I’m now broadening the awareness of deafness to my friends and work colleagues by educating them about the needs and struggles of these young adults, who are our future.”

Blog by Hertfordshire LEP, Head of Communications Lucy Gravatt