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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Equality and Diversity

Friday, December 1, 2006

At the third meeting of the Equalitec Diversity Forum, Meg made the following speech. For further details visit: http://www.raeng.org.uk/about/diversity/equalitec.htm


Thank you for inviting me to speak at this the third meeting of the Equalitec Diversity Forum. I congratulate Equalitec, the Royal Academy of Engineering and other partners for putting together today’s event.


The Information Technology, Electronics and Communication sectors are some of Britain’s most vibrant industries, and they employ over a million professionals. Despite this, only one fifth of the workforce are women. If these industries want to remain successful we have to develop strategies to tackle the under representation of women in this important range of businesses.


It is a 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. It will help to improve growth, productivity, and the bottom line. I believe this makes good business sense.


Looking at the bigger picture, addressing these skills shortages will help the UK economy to thrive and improve our competitiveness within the global market. The under-representation of women in technology is something that we can’t afford to ignore. Our labour market is becoming older, and more diverse - more women, greater numbers of older people, and more individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds.


Insight into Recruitment

I understand that in today’s conference you have had some insight into recruitment procedures and the impact of these on the recruitment and retention of women returners. If the UK is to further develop and sustain a flexible, highly skilled workforce, one able to cope with the twin challenges of globalisation and rapid demographic change, we have to ensure that all our talented people are involved.


Sadly, women still face barriers in employment - our pay is still only 87% of men’s, and mothers are at a disadvantage when returning to work after having children. This situation needs to change; we have to ensure greater equality of opportunity in the workplace. It’s an issue of changing demographics; it’s also an issue of fairness.   


We are tackling the barriers that prevent more women from working in the ITEC sector and advancing their careers.  We are working to increase the recruitment and retention of women in IT by supporting:

  • 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 industry,
  • the Daphne Jackson Trust, which helps women IT specialists to return to work after career breaks,
  • Equalitec, the women’s returners network who organised today’s event, and
  • funding a study by Roehampton University into successful methods of recruiting highly skilled women and then disseminating examples of best practice to the sector. I understand this will be discussed later today and I encourage your involvement in this work. 

You may know that the Women and Work Commission was set up to examine the continuing problem of the pay and opportunities gap. As part of their enquiries, the Commission brought together small and big business, public sector, trade unions, education specialists and the voluntary sector. They undertook a detailed examination of the problem, commissioned new research, and visited across the UK.


Their Report estimated that increasing women’s participation in the labour market, and removing barriers to women working in occupations traditionally filled by men, could be worth between £15 billion and £23 billion a year to the British economy, that’s up to 2% of GDP. This is a staggering amount. We have to remove the barriers that women face and create a more level playing field.


A Wealth of Recommendations

The Women and Work Commission’s report offers a wealth of recommendations, practical and acceptable to all key players.  These will help to address major issues, including the barriers to informed choice at school, combining work and family life, lifelong learning and training, and improving workplace practice. 


If you were thinking that the Women and Work Commission report was ‘just fine words’ - it also leads the ‘Exemplar Employer Initiative’. This is where companies sign up as exemplars of best practice for 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 initiatives covering a wide range of issues, including;

  • working with schools to inform girls about careers in their sector,
  • equal pay reviews, and
  • women’s networks and support for women returners. 

I would like to take this opportunity to ask those employers here today to 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.  Large organisations such as IBM and Microsoft have made this commitment, and have begun to reap the rewards, and I hope you will do the same.


It doesn’t take a genius to say that tomorrow’s workforce will not be the same as todays, still less than what it was 30 years ago. Businesses that adapt to this when recruiting for the most important resource they have, their workforce, have a greater chance of succeeding in what will be an even more competitive world than it is now. Part of the challenge to them will be adapting to ensure they include women - women with talent and leadership. Let’s ensure that UK companies look to the future. That way we all win. 

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