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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Diversity in the workforce

Monday, February 13, 2006

Meg Munn visited ABB, the international engineering company, to tour their St. Neots site and speak about diversity in the workforce - her remarks are below. 



It’s a pleasure to be here today, and I thank you for inviting me. I understand I will be allowed a tour of this impressive site later, I look forward to that.  


The Government recognises that the country’s science base is the bedrock for a successful economy, both now and for the future.  The increasing demand for science, engineering and technology skills, coupled with the fact of an ageing population, are issues none of us can ignore. The implications for doing so range from a serious negative impact on the UK’s productivity, competitive position and level of innovation - to an individual company’s future competitiveness being open to question.


The science, engineering and technology industry increasingly reports a skills shortage.  This, at the same time as we have 70% of women who have science, engineering and technology qualifications not working in the industry. That seems strange to me; those trained women are a resource and talent base we cannot, and should not, overlook.


Public perception plays an ever-increasing role in the success of an organisation.  Positive press coverage, being listed in the ‘Times 100 Best Companies’ or winning an award like ‘Employer of the Year’, helps the image of a concern. Research would suggest that organisations that actively promote gender equality benefit from a more motivated and productive workforce.  This in turn leads to better customer service and happier customers, happier customers are more likely to be return customers.  


I presented an award at the ‘Employer of the Year’ event in December last year, where Jaguar and Land Rover won the ‘Women in SET’ Award.  The management at those company’s decided to take seriously their skills shortage, took action and have generated some fantastic results.  For example, 99% of women who took maternity leave returned to those companies. As a comparison, research by the Institute of Physics showed that in the science, engineering and technology industry generally, only 14% of those who left to have children returned to the same posts.


In addition to their success in employing and retaining women, Jaguar and Land Rover realise the value placed on women as part of the design process.  Apparently women influence 80% of car purchase decisions, so it makes sense to have female input into the design process.  Let’s not forget that it was a woman’s idea to have colour coded fluid reservoirs under the bonnet of a car.


Replacing professional employees is expensive and can cost anything up to 150% of their annual salary. Just think for a moment the savings to Jaguar and Land Rover - saving the skills and knowledge of the women returning, no need to enter the expensive and time consuming job advertising/short listing/interviewing round.


It’s in the interest of every company to retain their trained staff, particularly at a time of skills shortages.  




I welcome the continued fall in the full time median gender pay gap from 17.4% in 1997 to 13.0% last year. In 2005 research shows that year on year the majority of women are experiencing rising pay relative to men. The Government remains committed to further reducing the gap between men and women's earnings and making sure that women's talents are properly used and rewarded.


We firmly believe that women have the right to expect a fair deal in the labour market.  That is why the Women and Work Commission was set up in 2004, to examine the persistent problem of the gender pay gap.  The report is due to be presented to the Prime Minister very soon and I look forward to its findings.


We already know that occupational segregation is one of the main reasons for the gender pay gap between men and women. It narrows the pool of talent that employers can choose, and is a major factor behind the skills shortages I mentioned earlier.


There is a clear correlation between sectors experiencing skills shortages and sectors in which women are under-represented.  For example only 8% of employees in engineering occupations are women.  If more women move into higher skilled, higher-paid occupations the productive potential of the economy could increase by between £2bn and £9bn.


An extremely useful project I want to mention is the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC) based in Bradford. I visited the Centre last year and saw just how closely it works with business to help address the participation and position of women in Science, Engineering and Technology. The UKRC is doing excellent work and I invite you to explore their website if you have not already done so. It provides an excellent source of guidance for both employee and employer.  Annemieke Silk from the Centre is here today, and I know she will be happy to answer your questions.


Government actions can only go so far, it’s the responsibility of business to take this further.  The work you have done here at ABB by establishing a Women’s network, and the ‘Diversity & Inclusion Statement’ is a good step in the right direction.  Women’s networks offer support and a platform in order for women to express their ideas and concerns in a supportive environment.


Women who enter engineering have to ‘fit in’ to ‘a masculine culture’ and ‘men’s space’.  If we are to address the issues we need to not only look at gender inclusive policies but also at gender exclusive dynamics.  I will give you an example: references like ‘We put our key men forward’ ensure that women are invisible; if you are invisible you don’t exist.


There is a distinct ‘image problem’ surrounding engineering which has an impact when trying to recruit young women into the industry.  The male engineer is still seen as the norm, being a female engineer marks you out as unusual.  Many young women, bright with ideas the sector needs, would not even consider a career in engineering.


The classic stereotype is of a brilliant man, passionate about technology, but not good at interacting with people.  This image not only says ‘technology is for men’.  It also says being ‘into technology’ means not being ‘into people’.  Since women are stereotypically ‘into people’, the image carries the implicit message that the women engineers are not ‘real women’ - or perhaps ‘real engineers’!


Diversity training, involving everyone in the organisation, can be effective in raising awareness of these issues.  Senior management have to be involved in this, otherwise everyone will know it’s for show. It’s too easy to be cynical from the start without senior management confirming this by their absence. 


We need women to contribute fully at all stages in their careers. To help this happen a culture change is needed.  We applaud the companies who have been taking positive steps towards increasing female representation within their workforce.  The success of measures comes only where commitment permeates from the very top to the bottom of an organisation. Where the issues and barriers are identified and understood, where action is taken that is relevant, and progress can be measured.


Jaguar and Land Rover have been successful in their diversity programmes because equality and diversity are included as a mainstream business item. Equality and diversity are integral to, rather than an ‘add on’, to company policy.


By 2012, only 20% of the workforce will be male, white and able bodied. What is the rest of the workforce going to be? The smart companies are changing their recruitment skills now, so that they improve their ability to recruit from the ‘other’ 80%.  We need to move away from closed recruitment processes associated with "the old boy’s networks". A new approach to advertising jobs for engineering posts is needed, one where there is no subliminal message that “only men will thrive here”.


I congratulate you for taking steps to address diversity within your company. I hope to see you winning awards such as the ‘Women in SET’ in the not too distant future.


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