Since the launch of the leadership report from the University of Birmingham, several groups and initiatives have sprung up to take forward the recommendations. Here is one such initiatives organised by Professor Kiran Trehan from the University of Birmingham calling for action not words. The only way we will shift the dial towards more diversity in leadership is through sustained action which is monitored and retuned to meet the needs of our changing demographics.
Written by Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.
How long will it be before power in Britain resembles the society that it serves? Achieving that should be an important fairness test for our increasingly diverse society. That was the prime minister’s thinking in commissioning the race disparity audit last Autumn, with a commitment to tackling “burning injustices” on race and opportunity, offering a snapshot of the scale of the challenge. National government will need to strengthen its leadership role to sustain momentum on addressing race inequalities, as a new select committee report from the Women’s and Equalities Committee notes today.
But not all of the changes that we need can be driven by Westminster and Whitehall. It is just over a year since Andy Street was elected as Mayor of the West Midlands, one of six new metro-mayors elected last year. Today, he publishes the report of the West Midlands Leadership Commission, showing how new regional devolved institutions can try to drive this agenda forward too. The commission looked at all groups under-represented in leadership roles in the region — including the role of gender, social class, race and sexuality.
The initiative reflects the particular urgency in the West Midlands to unlock the leadership of the future.
The West Midlands is a young region. Birmingham has a good claim to be, demographically, the youngest city in Europe, with a median age of 36, four years below the national average. It is perhaps the place in Britain where it will matter most to show we can make our diversity work in a way that is fair to all.
The evidence gathered for the Commission shows a mixed picture of where we are now. The NHS in the West Midlands has an especially good record on women in leadership roles, for example. But there are stark gaps. In the thousand largest West Midlands companies, over half (56 per cent) have all-male boards, while two of the thousand have all female boards.
I was a member of the Commission, chaired by Anita Bhalla, alongside leaders from the West Midlands in business, education and the public sector. Their challenge was to identify what would need to change for them to shift from being an exception to reflecting a growing norm. One member, chief superintendent Bas Javid, saw his rise up the police ranks take on a much higher profile when his experiences became central to the speech his brother, the new Home Secretary, made to the Police Federation conference.
The Commission’s priority is to see the evidence used to create a sustained programme of practical interventions in the public, private and third sector in the West Midlands. Yet there are important lessons from the exercise that should be relevant for action in national policy and in other regions.
First, having an evidence base really matters but there are still some important gaps which make it harder to explore whether and why barriers exist. There is much patchier data, for example, on sexuality than on gender and ethnicity. On social class too, effort is needed to quantify class and to collate relevant data on a consistent basis. There is a strong argument that the best way out of a “competing grievances” frame is to look coherently across class, gender, race and other issues.
National government could also do more to ensure that national data reports the granular information — especially on geography, age and gender — that would enable localised strategies and competition across regions.
Second, the evidence is only useful if there are sustained plans to act on it.
At a national level, today’s select committee report rightly warns that the government is too hands-off, leaving the requirement to “explain or challenge” racial disparities almost entirely to individual government departments. Without a drive from the centre, the likely result is that action will come mainly from departments that would have acted anyway, such as education, missing the opportunity to get departments such as Transport to think seriously about disparities for the first time.
In the West Midlands, the Commissioners are clear that what will really matter is organisational and cultural change and ownership of that from the top. A key finding is that there are many initiatives from large firms, but very little evaluation of which interventions succeed or fail and why, to inform sustained strategies across key sectors.
The West Midlands will want to seize the opportunity to lead this debate. It is often felt that the West Midlands does not quite get its fair share of voice in our national conversations – caught between the self-centredness of the capital and the swagger of Manchester. Yet the region has plenty of opportunities – with Coventry as the next city of culture and Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 – to project its new story to the world.
A key challenge becomes how to ensure that this outward-facing story is owned by the people of the West Midlands themselves. An aspirational vision for what the region would like to be, at its best, will be much more powerful if it is linked to a sustained effort to catalyse the changes that could enable the next generation to realise its potential. If Britain’s youngest region can lead the way, that could also help to shape a national story that links the vision for a fair and inclusive society with action to make it happen.
You can now read the main Leadership Commission report ‘Leaders Like You’ at http://socsi.in/nzbuN
Town Hall Symphony Hall is delighted to announce the appointment of Page \ Park Architects as Multi-Disciplinary Design Team lead for a proposed £12-million foyer development, opening the building onto a regenerated Centenary Square and reinforcing Symphony Hall’s place in Birmingham city life.
Widely considered one of the finest Concert Halls in the world, Symphony Hall sits in the bustling heart of Birmingham City Centre and as well as being home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra also hosts the best in jazz, world music, folk, rock, pop and stand-up comedy. Last year alone saw performances from Sir Van Morrison, Tony Bennett, Kraftwerk, Robert Plant CBE and Idina Menzel.
Nick Reed, Chief Executive Officer for Town Hall Symphony Hall said:
This project will finally give Symphony Hall the foyers and public spaces to match its world class auditorium. Boasting a much improved audience experience and a dedicated entrance, this permeable space will be energised with new artistic adventures, creating a sustainable future for Symphony Hall, and developing an audience that looks like the city it serves: young, diverse and creative. Page \ Park have presented some inspiring ideas on how the building can help achieve our objectives and we look forward to now working with them to develop the detailed design. We are very grateful for the early encouragement offered by both the GBSLEP Local Growth Fund and the Arts Council of England and we are now preparing final funding bids with both bodies.
Along with Town Hall, Symphony Hall plays an important role in the life of the region – connecting over 15,000 young people and adults to a world of music and performance through education, community and talent development projects – and is regularly used for community events, graduation ceremonies and conferences.
Page \ Park Architects are delighted to be appointed to work with Performances Birmingham Ltd. on the extension of the foyers to the Birmingham Symphony Hall.
David Page, Head of Architecture said:
Birmingham’s Centenary Square is being transformed into a remarkable heart of the city with its assembly of important civic cultural buildings. The new Symphony Hall frontage will provide a multi levelled balcony to that new setting and Page \ Park are delighted to be able to shape that contribution.
The project is conditionally supported through the Local Growth Fund by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.
Roger Mendonca, Director, Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), said:
For more than 25 years, the Symphony Hall has been a major draw for Greater Birmingham and Solihull, entertaining audiences in one of the finest concert auditoriums in the world. GBSLEP’s contribution to the Symphony Hall is part of our commitment to sustaining the region’s cultural and tourism offer, coming hot on the heels of Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games prize and nearby Coventry’s 2021 City of Culture win. By supporting the venue’s extension, we are ensuring that the Symphony Hall transforms its commercial offer, generates new jobs and enhances the experience of its many visitors.
As a young woman, my mother did not want to marry or be a mother, but she went on to have six children and also an amazing journey, which brought her to England. Kamal had to leave what is now Pakistan because of partition, and was packed off to live with grandparents in Mumbai – her mother had died and her father travelled to London to do his bar exams. Unable to return to India because of the political turmoil, my grandfather ended up in Nairobi with an uncle. Eventually my mother was sent for. She went reluctantly, leaving behind an extraordinary, fun life in Mumbai, spoiled by grandparents, home help and a chauffeur.
In Nairobi, a marriage was arranged for her to a handsome Punjabi who, after serving in the British Indian army, had settled in Nairobi as a civil servant. Her reluctance to marry soon disappeared, as she embraced being a mother.
In 1963, my parents made the monumental decision to leave Kenya. My father was keen to create a distance between him and my mother’s very successful but overpowering family but, more importantly, he believed life for Asians would become difficult after independence. My father, with my eldest brother, Anil, were the advance party who headed to Birmingham. Their mission was to call us if they thought England had the opportunities my parents wanted for their children.
Three months later, we got the green light from my father and almost overnight locked up our sunny, spacious house in Nairobi, gave the keys to my aunts and flew away into the unknown.
Seeing my father at Heathrow with the biggest bars of Cadbury’s chocolate is a sight I can still recall with clarity and warmth. For me, the journey from Heathrow to Birmingham was an adventure despite the grey skies and strange, smoking chimneystacks. What a stark contrast to the sun and familiarity we had left behind. My father had not managed to get a pen-pushing job but was working hard in a dusty foundry. My mother got on with the job of making our shabby, very small terrace feel like home and in making sure we were performing at school.
At the time, we were the only non-white family in school and in our neighbourhood. Mother never openly complained – she was just glad to have all her family together. With six growing children and money tight she, too, got a factory job at Cadbury’s where she was one of the first Asian women to work on the shop floor. Childhood was sweet, in many ways. Our house was always full of children from all backgrounds, either hoping to get a broken up chocolate biscuit or a chapatti and dhal. I was happier eating baked beans and chips.
Published on The Guardian website Saturday 5th November.
We are one of the youngest and most diverse regions in Europe which offers us limitless opportunities. We are the home to one of Europe’s largest digital and creative clusters with Greater Birmingham recognised as the most entrepreneurial city outside London with over 32,000 new startups registered in the past 2 years.
Our creative industries will contribute to further development over the next 20 only if we capitalise on our unique selling points. To do this we need bold leadership that is not afraid to try out new ideas and back entrepreneurship. The Mayor needs to support the creation of integrated partnerships across the Combined Authority area pulling in public, private and education sectors to put in place an ambitious strategy to fuel the Creative Ecosystem of the region. The Creative Economy has the capability to add billions to our GVA using the innovation strengths of this sector to drive new solutions, inspire new opportunities and deliver new efficiencies.
We need a mayor who will unashamedly champion the region, create a voice for the sector so we are part of the national dialogue around the creative economy, we want to be part of the international delegations and visits and have to position ourselves to become the come to region for inspiration, innovation and advice a trusted source and one of the world¹s most liveable cities by 2031.
Written for The People’s Plan.
In this video, produced by the LEP and Marketing Birmingham, I discuss the impact of the creative industries within the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area.
I will be speaking at this conference on Thursday 16 June at Birmingham City University. Register for free at eventbrite.
An essential conference for creative, cultural and digital organisations of any size, put on by Creative City Partnership, Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership with support from Birmingham City University.
- Discover new money and ideas to help your creative organisation grow
- Industry professionals discuss their challenges and tips for success
- Have your say about what’s important to you. What’s holding you back?
Opportunities – Attendees will have access to current funding initiatives and will have a chance to influence future plans for sector support & growth.
I was recently asked what I would like to see from a Metro-Mayor, you can read my reply on the Downtown in Business website, along with Rob Elkington and Gary Topp.