In Conversation with Chamber President Emma Holt

Date: 29/11/2023
Author: Simon Cronin
Company: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

In the first of a new series of ‘In Conversation With…’ interviews, Chamber President Emma Holt talks about equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

On becoming President in April, Emma Holt said the key focus of her term of office would be skills, and she also has a keen interest in equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Emma has 30 years’ experience in legal services businesses and most recently in higher education at Manchester Metropolitan University. During her career she has seen the position of women improve in the workplace but recognises that employers still have more work to do to create a truly equal, diverse and inclusive workplace.

She says: “When I started out in the legal profession there were a number of women working in the area of law I specialised in, so I was lucky in that sense. But I know that for other women working in other areas of the law it was more male dominated, so they had a different experience to me. Things have improved but there is still a long way to go.”

Emma also believes women themselves have changed in their approach to work: “There’s a recognition that women bring different talents and perspectives to the workplace.” This is compared, she says, with a number of years ago, where perhaps women felt that they had to be more like men to succeed in the workplace.

When it comes to changing the culture of a workplace, Emma says leadership must come from the top, so that all employees see the importance of an organisation’s culture and staff training is vital for giving people the support they need.

Emma believes one of the key things to creating a more inclusive workplace is recognising that employees may be dealing with health issues or caring responsibilities. She says that with training employers and other colleagues can give the support needed without feeling embarrassed. With this issue in mind, she recently took part in a webinar about menopause in the workplace. The event highlighted the fact that many employees face the menopause at a critical point in their careers and a lack of support can halt their progression and impact business culture. By taking the menopause seriously, discussing it openly and putting policies in place to support their employees, the event showed how businesses can mitigate the potential negative impact of symptoms for their employees and provide support. The webinar was a collaboration between Co-operative Bank, Greater Manchester Chamber, DLA Piper and Women in Banking and Finance - download slides from the event here.  

Emma explains: “I’d like to think employees going through the menopause feel they can talk to someone about the health issues they may be facing at work. They may feel more comfortable speaking to a woman, but they could speak to a man as well. If people have the right training, then they should feel able to have these conversations. They don’t have to be an expert – they just need to be able to have that conversation.”

Employers also need to recognise that staff have a life outside work, which may involve family commitments. “Caring responsibilities are often assumed to be something that mainly affects women,” Emma says, “But we shouldn’t just assume that. Male employees also have caring responsibilities. Also, people may not just be caring for children either, they may be caring for elderly relatives, sometimes both at the same time.”

Emma believes the increase in working from home since the pandemic has benefited workers: “Working from home has helped people with their work life balance, family commitments and childcare. Now, we are in the post-pandemic workplace, we should not lose the value of improvements in work life balance as we settle into the best ways for individual businesses to operate in the future.”

While many employers now have policies on equality, diversity and inclusion, Emma looks forward to the time when they are a just a natural part of how a business operates.

She said: “I’d like us to get to the stage where equality, diversity and inclusion isn’t something that we need to even think about because it’s just part of what we do.”

About Emma Holt

Emma is the current President of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and a non-executive director on our board.

Emma is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and a Solicitor (non-practising). 

Emma graduated in Law from the University of Manchester in 1990. After qualifying she practised Law for almost 25 years including 10 years in senior management and leadership roles in the legal services sector at Pannone LLP, where she was Managing Partner, and at Slater and Gordon. Emma also has significant experience in risk management in legal services.

Emma joined Manchester Metropolitan University (Faculty of Business and Law) in 2019, where she is Programme Leader for the Global Online MBA and MSc Finance and Strategy. Emma leads the Business Law units at undergraduate level for Accounting and Finance and Banking and Finance.

Emma co-leads a Continuing Professional Development unit for undergraduates, helping students develop employability skills.

Emma also co-leads the Centre for Professional Excellence at the university, working with ICAEW (NW) and the Chartered Banker Institute, to bring practical experience, knowledge, and research on current issues, to students, professionals, and academics.

Emma is also an experienced non-executive director.

We’ll be featuring more ‘In Conversation With’ interviews with leading figures over the coming months. Next time, we’ll hear from Kim Royds, Regional Director - North West at British Gas, about how businesses can be supported on their journey to Net Zero and reduce their energy bills.