Amanda Murphy: How more women can lead from the front and make their mark in business

THE corporate world abounds with opportunities for women to succeed '“ several organisations across the UK and globally are making a conscious effort to promote women in leadership roles and achieve a gender balance in the workplace. Senior management is supportive and flexible working environments encourage women to progress their careers.

The time has come for women to make a breakthrough in the boardroom, argues Amanda Murphy.

Why, then, do so few women hold leadership roles? I recently came across a list of 100 most powerful individuals in Yorkshire – only eight of them were women. But there are many statistical reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for women in business in Yorkshire.

Here are two: employment for women in Yorkshire is at a new record high, with over 1.2 million women in employment; and the economic inactivity rate, which counts people who cannot or have given up looking for work, is at a record low (27 per cent) for women in the region.

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However, figures only tell half a story. Last week, I hosted some of Yorkshire’s leading female business leaders and entrepreneurs at the historic Aspire Building in central Leeds for an evening to celebrate and discuss this vital issue.

From founders and owners to chief executives and financial directors, it is clear that Yorkshire boasts some of the most inspiring and successful female business leaders in the country.

It is important to raise the profile of the issue of gender in the workplace. As such, it becomes critical for businesses to create a culture that takes pride in mentoring young women and investing in their learning and development. This is not up to one business alone, but it can become a reality if every organisation does its bit, closing the gap and building gender balanced teams across sectors.

Equality can mean better business. A recent study of 22,000 firms in 91 countries has found that businesses with more women on corporate boards or in high-level executive positions experience a 15 per cent increase in net revenue.

Business leaders have a responsibility towards their female employees – as they do towards any employee and their families – to ensure that they are confident in their abilities and not afraid to play a pivotal role in taking their companies forward.

While there is much to do to break down stereotypes and overcome disparities in the business community, progress is being made.

The female business leaders in the room in Leeds had a clear responsibility to thousands of employees and their livelihoods, which make a significant contribution to regional, national, and international economies.

As a group, they are continually creating new jobs, new products and new services, exporting and importing, and playing a key role in our continuing economic recovery and growth.

Whenever I meet friends, peers and colleagues at ‘women in business’ events, I am struck by a similar determination to succeed. This latest event was an opportunity to make new business connections, share ideas and challenges and explore ways to inspire further success in our roles and for our businesses.

Yorkshire is alive with examples of positive, proactive female contributions to internal growth, from Jacqui Hall’s expert management of Contract Natural Gas, one of Yorkshire’s fastest growing businesses, to Bridie Warner-Adsetts’s advocacy for female careers in manufacturing as chief operating officer of Naylor Industries.

In our business, while 54 per cent of our overall workforce is female, we are striving to improve the diversity of our senior management. Currently, less than a third (29 per cent) of our senior manager roles are held by women.

Women are significantly under-represented at that level within HSBC, and that is something we are determined to change. That’s why we recently announced a 50/50 recruitment target to increase the number of women moving into senior management roles.

We have the opportunity to build a different type of bank through the creation of HSBC UK, which is more responsive to customer needs and fully reflects the diversity of society. Our aspiration is to create a true meritocracy where everyone has the opportunity to develop their career, regardless of their background, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, ethnicity or beliefs.

There are no silver bullets to achieving gender equality in business, but Yorkshire’s future is bright.

Amanda Murphy is the UK Head of Corporate Banking at HSBC.