#BreaktheBias – International Women’s Day 2022

As the time it will take to close the gender gap increases globally, Blackpool & the Fylde Coast are striving to set a better example

According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the time it will take to achieve gender parity has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

Pre-existing gender gaps have been asymmetrically amplified between men and women by the Covid crisis, even as women have been at the frontlines of managing the pandemic as essential workers. The hardest hit sectors by lockdowns and rapid digitalization are those where women are more frequently employed. Combined with the additional pressures of providing care in the home, the crisis has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries.

In January this year, Lancashire Live reported on a number of initiatives that Blackpool Council have undertaken to help women in the workplace and to try to eliminate underlying biases and achieve more gender equality. These include family friendly policies (such as shared parental leave), flexible working and staff support groups for those going through the menopause, with new guidance and training for managers introduced.

Notably the latest figures showed that women employed by Blackpool Council continue to get comparatively fairer treatment when it comes to pay. In a pre-pandemic 2019 report into gender pay gaps by the Local Government Association, women were, on average, paid less than men in 262 authorities; in 58 the reverse was true. Blackpool town hall’s latest annual report into the gender pay gap shows rates are slightly in favour of women for the fourth year running. There is a negative pay gap of just under one per cent (-0.94 per cent) which indicates women are on average paid a greater hourly rate than men. The previous year’s figure was -0.77 per cent.

Whilst these figures are favourable for the council, there is the continued need across the county to improve, monitor and champion gender equality in all workplaces. One way of achieving this is by continually discussing these issues and potential remedies on all platforms and also by hearing directly from women and men alike about their experiences relating to these topics.

As part of Blackpool Makes it Work’s support of International Women’s Day 2022, we’ve been speaking to some of the female leaders across the public and private sectors that are shaping the region in the hope that their stories can help inspire others and #breakthebias of gender discrimination.

One of these inspirational women is Gemma Walker, Director of Operations at Helispeed Solutions and Global Crewing Solutions, based at Blackpool Airport: 

Tell us about your connection to Blackpool & the Fylde Coast

I’m the Operations Director of Helispeed which was a family business that we started 5-6 years ago in Lytham St. Annes, which has now grown exponentially into a global company based in Blackpool Airport providing crewing solutions worldwide. We also have HeliSpeed Academy which provides specialist helicopter training for both beginners and experienced pilots.

What do you think has helped you in your career?

My background has been in oil and gas – I’ve worked on oil rigs and vessels as a logistics coordinator for oil-industry around the world for a number of years, and often been in all-male environments, but there’s nothing that is gender-specific for success, it’s about working very hard and becoming good at what you do. My achievements are purely down to being determined and very hard-working!

There are certain challenges where you may be judged by certain people for being in a male role or environment, but these people are often small-minded. You can let your actions and work speak for themselves and prove those people wrong!

In my current industry, aviation, there are some really inspiring women who are where they are because they’re good at what they do and they’re great leaders – I believe that merit is on the whole given to those who deserve it, regardless of their gender.”

What is one thing that you are proud of in your role?

 I’m proud of having built a business that is now the largest helicopter pilot provider in the world.

I was also Highly Commended at the 10th Anniversary Enterprise Vision Awards for Business Woman of the Year last year which was also fantastic.

Has Blackpool & the Fylde Coast been a good place to find success?

There are great opportunities in the area for all different types of industries. There are so many sector clusters around Blackpool & the Fylde coast, such as in engineering and aviation. The council is great at trying to do things to bring more opportunity for students trying to have successful careers here, but we can always do more to support them. HeliSpeed Academy works with schools in the area, such as my old school Lytham High School, to try and encourage more young men and women to think about a career in aviation.

What advice would you give other women / young women in the region?

Be really determined – that’s all I’ve been! I’ve worked very hard but most importantly, I’ve never thought I was self-limited because I was a woman. I’ve been so determined and I knew what I wanted to achieve, so I went out there and built it.

Remember that success is achieved by ordinary people with extraordinary determination, so stay focused – if I can do it, then you can too!

How can someone support women in their organisations?

I think support works the same way across genders and we should be careful not to segment women’s issues as a problem that can only be solved by women – men and women should try to support each other by listening and helping each other in the workplace, regardless of gender.

Inclusivity and opportunities for all is what we should aim for.

What would you like to achieve next?

I’d like to keep growing our business, to continue being the biggest helicopter solutions provider but also to take on more staff locally and provide more opportunities within the business locally.

I want to provide some opportunities for other young people in the area that haven’t been given to them so they don’t have to fight as hard as I did. Now I have the ability to give those opportunities I really want to guide young people on a similar path.