13 women out of 98 speakers. Several all-male panels. Only male speakers highlighted in the information sent out to the press. Is this a Trump event? Nope. It’s the Northern Powerhouse conference, which aims to push forward the agenda of a business and economic boost for the North of England. Guardian article
There will be keynote speeches, including from Andrew Percy, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, and exhibitors will network with delegates at the Manchester Convention Centre on the 21st/22nd February to show off their plans to boost the economy, transport and skills in part of the country which lags behind the giant engine of London and the South East.
Unfortunately, this dearth of female speakers is only the latest manifestation of a persistently male-heavy Northern Powerhouse. THAT photo. All the men. The endless photographs of be-suited council blokes signing things, or striding about construction sites in hard hats helps reinforce the idea of the Powerhouse as an outdated men’s club which doesn’t have the vision to harness the skills and talents of the diverse people of the North. Its not just women who are underrepresented-the men in the photographs and on the conference platforms are overwhelmingly white, middle-aged middle-class men. Some of my best friends are white, middle-aged, middle-class men…but we need to see representations of the North which are far more diverse than that.
As well as helping power it forward, these people (the faces of the Northern Powerhouse) are the ones who are tasked with winning the hearts and minds of the North. Bringing us on board. All of us. Women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA people. Creatives, millennials, students. We’re all the engines of the future. The outside world needs to see that- and people inside the North need to see that.
Many of us in the North feel left behind. Austerity has hit women (and men) harder here than anywhere else in the country. Council cuts have gone further, hit deeper. People are struggling. Divided. Uncertain about a post-Brexit future. If it is true what the Conservative Government say about wanting to make sure no one is left behind (and you’ll forgive my scepticism since their cuts and policies have been shown to widen the socio-economic divide between North and South) then they will need to marshall forces to make sure that Northerners know that their potential is being recognised and harnessed. They will need to do what forward-thinking businesses recognise is good business and use the creative visions and skills of ALL of their potential workforce.
This is partly an issue of representation. The North is already dogged by stereotypes which a London-centric press is all too happy to peddle, of being outdated, stuck in the past and sexist. To say that they’ll try redress the balance next year is not good enough. Women who might have expected to be consulted such as Northern Power Women are going to team up with dynamic gender-aware Northern Council leaders such as Donna Hall of Wigan and Jo Miller
of Doncaster to hold an event at the end of April. These women have already declined invitations to other male-heavy Powerhouse events, but been ignored when they raised the issue. The Sisters Are Roaring
So as to remind conference delegates that there are women in the North, and they have lots to say, an action called Lass War will happen outside the conference on the Tuesday morning (as delegates register between 8-8.30 am) and at lunchtime from 1-2pm. Performers, poets and anyone else who cares to come along will recreate some of those classic Northern Powerhouse photo poses. We’ll wear hi-vis jackets and hard hats and point at things importantly. We’ll wear suits and ties and look happy to be signing things. We’ll remind organisers and delegates that women, and a much wider range of people, can and should help shape the image of a powerful, forward thinking North. We must not be pushed out of the picture and off the stage anymore.