NECC seminar highlights role of women on boards

PR professional Hilary Florek and Northumbria University's Lucy Winskell offer advice and inspiration to North East business community

Lucy Winskell
Lucy Winskell

The crucial role of women on boards throughout region’s businesses is to be discussed at a seminar held at Newcastle’s Brewin Dolphin offices.

Part of the North East Chamber of Commerce’s Inspiring Females initiative, tomorrow’s event aims to introduce members of the business community to women entrepreneurs and business leaders, inspiring others through their success.

Speakers include the managing director of the Newcastle-based HFPR, Hilary Florek, as well as NECC chair and Northumbria University pro vice chancellor (business and engagement) Lucy Winskell.

Both women have enjoyed rich and varied careers in North East business and have accumulated considerable experience in non-executive roles.

Winskell said: “I’m very pleased to be taking part in the seminar as I think it’s really important for people to come together to discuss these issues.

“It’s also important to recognise the significance of women on boards as far as the business case in concerned.

“Businesses make better decisions if a diverse board is involved in discussions.

“I want to talk about what business can do to develop people’s talent and remove whatever blocks there are to doing that.”

Winskell said she had witnessed some “limited progress” on the issue in recent year, with some sectors moving forward on diversity quicker than others.

Some blocks were created by holding on to stereotypes, she said.

In other cases, a “tick box approach” was being adopted.

“A plc, for example, might consider it great progress that it has brought a woman on to the board,” she said.

“But to me, when young talent and diverse talent is coming through, it helps to have three, four or five year plans for those people.

“And businesses could consider what the best techniques for doing that are - whether it’s through mentoring, shadowing or anything else.

“But having a woman on the board is an important start when it comes to encouraging more to get involved.”

Indeed, Winskell, who was a lawyer for 28 years, got her career off the ground at a firm she selected, having been inspired by the fact that there was a female partner there.

In recent years, she has held non-executive directorships and governance roles in organisations including Government Office North East, the Newcastle Gateshead City Development Company and 1NG.

As well as chairing the board of NECC, she is also vice-chair of the BE Group.

“The most diverse board I have been on in terms of gender was the board of Darlington Building Society,” she said.

“People might think of building societies as being risk averse but there was about a 50:50 split between men and women there.

“I found it to be a very constructive atmosphere in which to work.”

Gender, however, was only part of the diversity discussion, she added.

“Being part of a team at the university, for example, it can be helpful to hear the voice of someone much younger,” she said.

“Likewise, other business could benefit from hearing the voices of those from different backgrounds, such as those from ethnic minorities.”

Inspiring Females, which aims to highlight the achievements of women in North East business, inspiring others to emulate their success, is organised by NECC’s Women’s Advisory Board.

On top of her work with HFPR, Hilary Florek is deputy chairman of the Port of Tyne, a member of the Development Board of Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle, a non-executive director at Isos Housing Ltd and a member of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne School of English Advisory Board.

In recent years, she has also served on the boards of the Community Foundation for both Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, and for the County Durham Foundation.

Florek is also a former trustee of the Sunderland Youth Enterprise Trust and was a board member of Project North East for six years.

NECC director of policy, Ross Smith, said: “It is important that we encourage more women to play a key role in the regional business community and showcase the great work that is already being done by North East businesswomen.

“NECC welcomes the opportunity to play a more prominent role in supporting and helping empower businesswomen and women who have an innovative business, but is maybe struggling to decide on her next move.

“Our own Women’s Advisory Board plays an important role in helping shape NECC policy and ensuring that helping women in our region reach their potential in business is always at the heart of our plans.”

Anyone wishing to attend the event should email events@necc.co.uk

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