How can you tell if someone is a visionary leader? Here’s my answer to that question: you know when you’ve met one if people follow her because they want to, not because they have to.

A visionary leader acts with authenticity, inclusivity, integrity and purpose. She also understands that the world doesn’t revolve around her needs – instead she looks to create the best working environment for her team and to actively contribute to the wider community.

I founded Northern Power Women in 2015 because I wanted to recognise, celebrate and showcase the many visionary-leader role models who help create a better working world. I also wanted to establish the north of England as a centre for good in achieving gender balance.

Double-glazed ceiling

My campaign provides a platform for phenomenal women – and men – who can inspire up-and-coming leaders to dare to accomplish great things.

Equality is absolutely not a women’s issue – it is gender-neutral. There are many male leaders who create environments in which women can thrive.

Yet they are often modest about their achievements. That’s why half the categories in the Northern Power Women Awards are open to men.

I believe there should be as much transparency as possible around workplace diversity, which is why I support gender pay reporting. But diversity extends way beyond gender.

Women from black and minority-ethnic backgrounds face not just a glass ceiling, but a double-glazed one. Fortunately, awards exist that highlight their achievements and help to create role models – initiatives such as the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, and the Precious Awards for black and Asian businesswomen.

Progress is being made in both legislation and society – just not as fast as it could be.

When I think about businesses that stand out for their vision in areas of diversity and inclusion, large professional services firms such as EY and PwC are leading the way.

They are constantly evolving their diversity strategies and exploring how they can attract people from a broad range of cultures. Other exemplars include Brother UK, Sage and Vodafone.

Raising profiles

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to embedding diversity within organisations. What works for one business won’t necessarily work for the next, so leaders need to focus on their own company culture to set a vision that moves it in a different direction.

At the 2017 Northern Powerhouse Conference, which brought together businesspeople from across the North of England, only 13 women featured on the event’s list of 98 speakers.

I am working with the conference organisers to ensure the line-up for next year has a more even gender balance.

While I enjoy helping to influence change, the best part of my advocacy role is raising the profile of all gender-diversity visionaries. I believe they are the people others will follow; the people who will lead us to a better place.

Simone Roche is founder of Northern Power Women. Follow her on Twitter @SimoneRoche

Find out more about role models in this learning item from the Institute