Leading businesswoman Sue Cooper is joining the board of Skills 4 as the demand to get firms to help more women into senior positions intensifies.
Cooper was HR Director for Atkins’ UK & Europe region, bringing a wealth of management expertise from the leading FTSE 250 engineering consultancy which she joined almost 20 years ago. She retired from Atkins in October 2014.
Her appointment comes as she is shortlisted for a WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) award which recognises outstanding contributions to the representation of women in science, technology, engineering and Maths (STEM).
Cooper becomes the third major appointment to the board of Skills 4, based in Leeds, as the company expands to promote and support gender diversity in workplaces throughout the UK. Cooper has accepted this non-executive position on a voluntary/unremunerated basis.
Skills 4 chair, Lynn Tomkins said: “Sue was instrumental in the development of women at Atkins and to have her expertise will be invaluable. Sue is passionate about supporting and developing women so that they can fulfil their maximum career potential. The fact she has been shortlisted for the WISE Champions award is testament to the positive actions she has taken to promote female talent in STEM, within Atkins and beyond.”
Cooper was a lecturer in further education and a quality manager with responsibility for health and safety before becoming an HR professional. She is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and has benefited from a number of residential leadership programmes at prestigious business schools.
Cooper, who was also runner up in this year’s Directing Diversity Talent Award (run by Opportunity Now in partnership with the CIPD, Business in the Community and The Times) lives near Leatherhead in Surrey and enjoys hill-walking particularly in mountainous parts of the World.
She said: “Skills 4 provides a blend of development opportunities and practical support which women are finding is crucial for them to thrive in a world which will increasingly value the qualities they bring to leadership positions. “Engineering has a fantastic range of opportunities but we need to see more girls choosing it as a career and, when they do, there needs to be the right environment for them to develop and thrive.
“Skills 4 has really filled a gap here and has an excellent understanding of the engineering and technical sector.”
Cooper has been encouraged by the reduction in female resignations since the Skills 4 Development Programmes for Women was introduced in Atkins as well as other initiatives such as setting up a women’s professional network and providing unconscious bias training to managers.
More than 200 women have so far completed the programme, with a further 90 undertaking it this year. The percentage of female resignations has fallen by 20% in the UK businesses whilst the number of women in senior positions has increased by almost 1% within a year.
The Atkins’ annual staff survey has also shown an improvement in women’s scores in many areas including 93% of the 4,400 UK responses answering positively to the question ‘The organisation values the diversity of its employees’. Skills 4’s managing director Jayne Little said: “I am delighted to have Sue on board as she introduced and supported our programme at Atkins – one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies employing 17,500 people worldwide– to ensure talented women are able to progress to senior positions in an industry which is traditionally dominated by men.”
Cooper joins fellow non-executive director Jacqui Henderson CBE and chair Lynn Tomkins as new appointments to the Skills4 board in the last 12 months. She will find out if she has won the WISE award at a ceremony in the Grange Hotel, Tower Bridge, London on November 13.