Leading business figures recruited to diversity taskforce

Anita Bhalla and Andy Street

Business figures from across the West Midlands are being recruited to a new taskforce tackling diversity across the region.

The body is being established to help people from under-represented parts of society make it to the top of the career ladder.

The West Midlands Leadership Commission, which will be chaired by Anita Bhalla, will include more than 20 successful people from the worlds of business, the arts, health and public services who personally understand the issues of under-representation.

The Commission, which has been set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), will reach out into communities and institutions to give a voice to views and ideas from people across the region.

The combined authority has asked the Commission to look at ways to improve opportunities for women and people from groups such as black and minority ethnic (BME), the LGBT community, disabled people and lower social economic groups such as white working-class boys.

Ms Bhalla, who is chair of Performances Birmingham Ltd (Town Hall and Symphony Hall), said: “Under-representation at leadership level limits aspiration and leads to disaffection and feelings of isolation and that’s probably felt even more keenly in such a wonderfully diverse area like the West Midlands.

“We know that change will not happen overnight but we intend to be an action orientated commission, one that gets out into the real world to talk to people and organisations about their first hand experiences.

“We will then use that information and other expert research to draw up actions that can help create an environment where future leaders can be nurtured and supported.”

The launch of the Commission follows a pledge by the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, Andy Street, to explore what lies behind under-representation at leadership level and take appropriate action to tackle it.

Mr Street said: “This lack of representation at leadership level needs to be addressed so that the people who have a significant influence on the West Midlands properly reflect its society.

“We are a diverse region but to truly thrive in the 21st century we need to make the most of the exceptional talent and potential we have in all of our different communities.”

Cllr Steve Eling, WMCA lead for cohesion and integration and leader of Sandwell Council, added: “Inclusivity in the working of the combined authority has to go far further than just the leaders of the councils.

“We should be actively engaging with a much broader range of councillors from member authorities, in relation to the functions and promotion of what we are taking forward.”

A key task of the Commission will be to draw up a strategy and action plan to tackle leadership under-representation in the West Midlands.

Early actions to be explored include:

  • The promotion of name-blind recruitment by West Midlands companies where the name of a job applicant is not revealed to those assessing the candidate
  • Encouraging applications from under-represented groups for leadership positions such as magistrates, Justices of the Peace, deputy lieutenants, school governors and non-executive NHS chairs and directors
  • A cross-party campaign to increase representation amongst political candidates for local elections
  • Targeted employment initiatives for under-represented groups

Birmingham City University, Warwick University and Wolverhampton University will be providing the Commission with research facilities with work headed up by Professor Jenny Phillimore of Birmingham University, who is director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity.

The West Midlands Leadership Commission is made up of the following commissioners;

Chair: Anita Bhalla OBE  
Davinder Prasad BOPA, Coventry
Sunder Katwala British Future
Jacqui Francis AdinaMay
Sarah Jane Marsh Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Bas Javid Commander, Solihull Police
Shaz Manir Amirah Foundation
Lawrence Barton Birmingham Pride
Anisa Haghdadi Beetfreaks
Deborah Cadman WMCA
Bishop Derek Webley Gangs and Violence Commission, DL
Vidar Hjardeng ITV
Jenny Phillimore Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS), University of Birmingham
Rosie Ginday Miss Macaroon
Professor Kiran Trehan Department of Management, University of Birmingham
Suzy Verma Head of Public Sector & Higher Education HSBC
Dorian Chan Wing Wah Group
Tim Rayner brownejacobson
Christina Michalos Barrister, Trustee at Birmingham Children’s Hospital
Professor David Roberts Birmingham City University School of English
Johur Uddin Community Connect Foundation, Sandwell
Jackie Dunne University of Wolverhampton