Fallout over conference's 'all-male panel'

Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall
Wigan Council chief executive Donna Hall

Wigan Council’s top officer has added her voice to growing condemnation of a northern powerhouse event at the centre of an inequality storm.

The conference in Manchester started yesterday with an apology to delegates after its advertised 15 main speakers were all male.

It prompted a fervent response, including a tweet from Leigh MP and Greater Manchester mayoral hopeful Andy Burnham which read: “Good god, how embarrassing is this?” Wigan town hall’s chief executive Donna Hall - who was given the transformational leader award last year for the northern powerhouse region - said it was “unbelievable” she and other prominent female leaders had not been invited to take part.

She said: “In Greater Manchester we are focusing on health and social care, skills, early years and issues of massive importance to women.

“I am very proud to have started a #BelieveInHer campaign to inspire females of all ages to keep pushing for equality and to not be ashamed of their ambition or talent. We need to keep pushing for equality – holding back women holds back everyone and the whole of the north.

“There are so many fantastic female leaders in the north involved in shaping the Northern Powerhouse and in this day and age it is incredibly disappointing to see them missed off the agenda.”

Conference organisers faced further criticism after revealing that figures such as Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council were on the list of speakers but were not advertised in the press release.

According to reports, the organisers conceded that women were “under-represented” but said that most speakers were selected by their companies and they vowed to do better in future.

Along with her counterpart in Doncaster, Ms Hall has organised an alternative conference for later in the year.

Ms Hall said: “Our alternative event will be aimed at ensuring the inclusivity and people focus of the powerhouse.

“The response so far has been brilliant and I’m glad the issue has been highlighted and given the national recognition it deserves.”

Doncaster CEO Jo Miller said: “Enough is enough – the sisters are roaring.” The event could be staged at Doncaster Rovers football ground.