Bradford’s becoming known for strong female leaders

To the tourist, the Bradford region is probably best known for stunning Victorian buildings, Bronte country, David Hockney and curries. To the reader of the business pages of the Yorkshire Post, it would be as the home of Morrisons and Provident Financial, engineering and manufacturing excellence and an entrepreneurial population forging its own future.

As Chairman of the Bradford Economic Partnership, I know that the region is becoming known for something else too: a hotbed of outstanding female leaders. In the private, public and third sectors, and in arts and culture organisations, there is a growing cadre of dynamic women leading organisations going places.

The Economic Strategy for Bradford District 2018 – 2030 sets out a plan to increase the value of Bradford’s economy by £4bn. To achieve this, everyone has to have the chance to realise their potential. The emergence of outstanding women from diverse backgrounds, and the breadth of sectors in which they work – ranging from technology and high-value engineering, to food and drink, and arts and culture – bodes well for our vision of sustainable, inclusive growth.

Entrepreneur Gemma Andrews began blogging about cooking while living in London, before returning to Bradford to set up a business supplying food ingredients. Today Superfood Market has revenues of £10m and trades in 48 countries worldwide. Despite her busy diary, Gemma still finds the time mentor the bosses of local start-ups.

Joanna Robinson, managing director of Bradford-based air management expert Mansfield Pollard and a board member at the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, was named on Northern Power Women’s Future List, which recognises those making a difference. As one of the few women in senior positions in her industry, Joanna certainly is. She said: “I am extremely proud to represent Mansfield Pollard on this list and would like to thank my team for helping me to promote manufacturing and engineering to girls and women with the hope that we will inspire them to pursue careers within the industry.”

Dynamic female leaders are at the head of local businesses with longer histories and a bright future. Debbie Mellor is boss of Keighley Laboratories, a firm incorporated in 1920 which specialises in the heat treatment of metals and which works with transportation, marine, aerospace, defence, rail, oil and gas firms. Debbie is a great role model in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. And Victoria Robertshaw, co-owner of the Keelham Farm Shop, had a successful career in the City of London before returning to Yorkshire in 2004 to run the family business. Keelham now employs more than 300 people and Robertshaw is an award-winning boss.

Bradford’s outstanding artistic and cultural heritage is providing a solid base upon which a group of female leaders are forging a new legacy. Syima Aslam, founder of the Bradford Literature Festival has transformed the festival from a two-day affair in 2014 to the international event through ambition, vision and hard work. A list of New Radicals 2018 published in a national newspaper recently highlighted the pick of social enterprises around the country doing good for society or the environment – and Bradford was well-represented. Ruth Ibegbuna, a community leader from Bradford, was a judge. The top 50 included Evie Manning, co-founder of Common Wealth, a community theatre group that brings audiences together, raises awareness and inspire change.

Our plans for economic growth are ambitious and will only succeed if we take people from across the community with us. We are fortunate to have inspirational women leaders in civic roles who are utterly committed to this cause. Adeeba Malik is Deputy Chief Executive of Bradford’s QED Foundation, which seeks to reduce poverty, disadvantage and discrimination. Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council, spends her days working towards ensuring that economic growth is sustainable and championing diversity, equality and civic leadership. Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, is one of the region’s big hitters and helped write the Economic Strategy for Bradford District 2018-2030.

As well as celebrating the leaders shaping our region’s future, it’s fitting to pay tribute to a public servant whose history is characterised by championing diversity and equality and working for the public good. Ian Greenwood OBE sadly passed away this month: he was a towering figure in local government, having twice served as leader of Bradford Council – and holding many more regional roles besides – in a career spanning four decades. Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East, spoke for us all when he described “a tremendous loss to the City, the wider region and civic politics”. But Imran got it right when he pointed to what Ian leaves behind: “What will endure is his legacy of positive change across Bradford, his belief that we as a City are stronger when we all work and come together, and his drive to make Bradford an even better place.”

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