New report reveals lack of women at top levels in Midlands businesses

Date posted: March 8, 2022

Today [8 March], Midlands Engine Observatory releases a new report in conjunction with the University of Wolverhampton: Women in Business Leadership in the Midlands. The report details barriers to success for female business leaders, as well as providing recommendations to redress existing disparities.

Released on International Women’s Day, key findings include:

  • Women hold 15.8% of directorships in the top 350 public and private companies in the Midlands, which is lower than in the UK’s large public companies.
  • Women hold only 7.8% of executive directorships in the Midlands largest 350 companies, compared to 13.7% and 11.3% in FTSE100 and FTSE250 companies respectively.
  • Amongst the Midlands350, there are 169 companies with male-only boards which equates to 48% of the companies.
  • Women-led businesses are least prevalent in the East and West Midlands. Only 17% of all UK small businesses are women led, and only 1.4% and 1.2% of these are in the West and East Midlands respectively, which is a lower proportion than the rest of England.

In keeping with this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BreakTheBias, the report details how women in the Midlands, in a microcosm of national trends, face a series of barriers to success in business. These includes masculine work cultures and exclusionary practices, especially in manufacturing companies.

Testimonies from female business leaders also point towards negative perceptions of flexible working and unconscious bias, including stereotyping, as further obstacles that predominantly or exclusively affect women over men.

The report gives recommended interventions to promote women in leadership, including: supporting cultural mindset changes within companies, celebrating role models, effectively sharing success stories, supporting flexible working hours, supporting the promotion of women based on achievements and not hours worked, and targeted funding, training and support networks.

The report builds on earlier work by the West Midlands Leadership Commission in 2018 to develop an up-to-date and comprehensive picture of women leadership in the Midlands, taking into account intra-regional variations, the national context, and firm-specific characteristics.

Rachael Greenwood, Executive Director, Midlands Engine, said:  

“With a clear focus on accelerating economic growth and prosperity for our communities and businesses, Midlands Engine partners understand that diversity and inclusion must be embedded in every aspect of our work.

“If we take on these recommendations as a baseline, as an undisputed foundation, then there is profound potential to build from there and make the Midlands a beacon and a champion for the benefits of supporting women in business.”

Professor Silke Machold, PhD, Dean of Research and Professor of Corporate Governance at the University of Wolverhampton, said:

“This report demonstrates how women in the Midlands are under-represented in boardrooms and executive teams, and that women are less likely than men to lead or own businesses.

“Progress continues to be made, and this research provides a series of recommendations at an individual, organisational and regional level to help promote women into leadership, and reap the social and economic benefits that equality will bring.”

Dr Samia Mahmood, Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Finance at Wolverhampton Business School, said:

“Achieving greater gender diversity in business leadership and making workplaces more inclusive is both a social and a business matter. It’s really great to see that the Midlands Engine and its stakeholders support this important work and are committed to make a change.”

Download the report:


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