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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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A Real Opportunity - Women and Technology

Friday, November 3, 2006

Meg was invited to give the keynote speech at the Blackberry ‘Women and Technology Awards 2006’ event recently, her speech is below.


It gives me great pleasure to be here. When I spoke at last years event I hoped that these awards would become an annual celebration of the contribution of women to the technology industry - and here we are. I congratulate Blackberry, Research in Motion and the other sponsors for the hard work and effort that has gone into making this happen.


IT is one of Britain’s most vibrant industries, with over a million people working in it. However, only one fifth of the workforce are women - more shocking is the fact that 70% of women with science, engineering and technology qualifications are not working in these fields. What a waste of talent and ideas.


This failure to keep women with these qualifications reflects badly on the industries involved. Every one of these women has been recruited, trained, perhaps nurtured, and their loss represents a significant amount of money for their employer. Business loses out on the skills of these women, and they are left with a narrower pool of talent to draw on.


It’s an interesting fact that skills shortages are higher in sectors where one gender is dominant. Improving the diversity of a company’s workforce is a proven method of tackling these shortages. The under-representation of women in technology is something that neither Government not business can afford to ignore. Looking at the bigger picture, plugging these skills shortages helps the economy flourish, helps us to compete successfully in the global market. 


Under-representation of women

Tackling the barriers to women who have technology qualifications being able to work in the various technology strands will benefit everyone. Especially women who want to work and progress in their chosen careers. We have been working with a number of different groups and organisations to remove the barriers that women face.  


We are working to increase the recruitment and retention of women in technology with key partners, such as;

?        the UK Resource Centre for Women in science, engineering and technology,

?        Intellect’s Women in IT Forum - the trade body for the UK’s hi-tech industries,

?        the Daphne Jackson Trust, which runs fellowship and industrial associate schemes for women returners in science, engineering and technology,

?        funded a study by Roehampton University into successful methods of recruitment of highly skilled women and then disseminate examples of best practice to the sector,

?        Equalitec, the women returners network, and

?        supported the forthcoming Equalitec Diversity Forum on recruitment and retention of highly skilled women returners, which I will be attending at the end of the month.


UK Resource Centre

We want to increase the involvement of women in the science workforce. As part of that we support the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology with funding in excess of £7 million. The Centre works with employers and professional institutes to raise the profile of women in these sectors through a range of initiatives.


Over the past year the Centre’s has gained significant momentum. For example,

  • working with 27 funded partners and launching centres in Wales and Scotland,
  • disbursing £140,000 in pump priming grants and £12k in bursaries,
  • over 200 women have successfully undertaken the Open University / UKRC course for women returners. 

They have also developed a strategy to support and encourage women to apply for public body appointments. The Centre is also developing its links with existing bodies such as the Engineering and Technology Board with a Memorandum of Understanding to promote the role of women. If you don’t know about their work I suggest you give their website a visit.


Exemplar Companies

Stemming from the work of the Women and Work Commission is the ‘Exemplar Employer Initiative’. This is where companies sign up as exemplars of best practice regarding the advancement of women in the workplace, and addressing the causes of the gender pay gap. Employers, from the private and public sector, who have signed up have exemplar initiatives covering a wide range of issues, including;

?        working with schools to inform girls about careers in their sector,

?        equal pay reviews,

?        women’s networks and support for women returners. 


I hope that some of the employers here today will seriously consider becoming an Exemplar Company. Signing up says a lot about your company, about how seriously you take the issue of women working in the technology sector.


Stereotypes and Expectations

Although girls outperform boys at GCSE and A Level they don’t choose science, engineering and technology for their future career. Even today, with girls starting to make up the highest proportion of HE students, only 18.7% of those in technology occupations are women. 


Stereotypes and expectations play a major role in determining the future direction that girls and boys will take. The power of these stereotypes and expectations shouldn’t be under estimated. We have to tackle them, to change them if we are to have any long-term chance of achieving what we have set ourselves.


The Computer Club for Girls initiative is playing a big part in raising the awareness of girls’ that the IT sector can provide a career for them. The initiative was rolled out nationally in June last year.  There is an ambitious target of 150,000 girls from 3,600 schools participating by 2007/08.  It is already having a positive impact, 66% of the girls already attending say that they are more likely to pursue a career in IT.


A Real Opportunity

Award ceremonies are a real opportunity to showcase and recognise women’s talents in the technology industry - to raise awareness of the valuable contribution they make. I want to extend my warmest congratulations to all of you here who have received an award or nomination - you are proof that science and technology is not just a ‘man’s world’ and there is place for women too. 


We should look upon you as role models of what women have to offer the industry. Also as inspiration to young girls interested in pursuing a career in this field, to see what really can be achieved. 


You should all be very proud of yourselves.  

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