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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Gender Equality in the Boardroom

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Meg attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Management and gave the following speech.


Thank you for inviting me here to speak to you today. 


I know from my own experience prior to becoming an MP as a senior manager in the public sector, and also on the board of a co-operative enterprise, how difficult, but also how rewarding, management can be. It seems to me that some people take to management like the duck to water, others can be trained, and some are ‘genetically programmed’ to do it poorly - the puzzle is why the latter group so often end up managing us!


The idea that only men have the attributes to be good managers is long gone - or has it? Few of the captains of industry would say such a thing now, certainly publicly. But, we know that once women do get into male dominated occupations, many fail to progress and reach the top in their chosen career.  Only 11% of women work as senior managers or officials, compared with 19% of men. 


More Improvement Needed  

It is true that we have made progress toward a more equal society;

  • we recently celebrated 100 years since women were able to stand for their local council,
  • the gender pay gap is at it lowest ever at 12.6% [full-time median], and,
  • female employment rates are rising - currently at 70%. 

But progress such as this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there is much more improvement needed. Indeed, improving the status of women should be something that concerns us all - research shows that by removing barriers to women working in occupations traditionally done by men, and increasing women’s participation in the labour market, could be worth £15 billion to £23 billion pounds to the economy every year.


It is in the boardroom where we are let down, both in who they let in, and the signal it sets for lower level management about important the issue is. Women hold only 10.3% of all FTSE 100 Directorships, and what is even more surprising is that 23 of the FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all.


Clearly women’s skills are being underused in management, and in the boardroom. It’s not just women who lose out because of this, businesses lose by not having a wider pool of talent to recruit from, and the economy loses because it operates below its productive potential.  The end result - that the UK is held back in the global market. 


Tackling the Challenges

As a country we need to have a flexible workforce that can respond rapidly to change. We also need a world-class skills base with higher-level skills to drive innovation and growth starting right from the very top. Therefore we should make the best use of all our human capital, and this means drawing from all corners of our diverse workforce - especially women.  As part of this it’s vital to get more women into senior roles, and ultimately top executive positions. 


We commissioned the Tyson and Higgs report to look at boardroom diversity. Based on their recommendations we published in 2004 the ‘Building Better Boards’ guide.  The guide is like a best practice tool, offering recommendations and tools to help companies improve recruitment and performance. This has stimulated a fresh focus on the issue of diversity in the boardroom.


Balancing Work & Family Commitments

Women aspire, and rightly so, to do well, be successful and climb the career ladder. But the problem many women in the labour market face, especially those at more senior levels, is combining a demanding career with family responsibilities. We need to give all women and men too, genuine choices about how they balance their work with family commitments. 


Opening up more quality jobs on a part-time basis is an important component of change. That’s why as part of the Government Action Plan in response to the report of the Women and Work Commission, we are funding a £500,000 initiative to support projects designed to increase the number of senior and quality jobs that are available on a part-time basis. Projects funded will have a powerful effect in encouraging best practice.  We will be reporting on progress one year on from the Commission in a few days.


FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Scheme

We have supported initiatives like the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Scheme, which is backed by 33 Chairman and CEOs, who have signed up to act as mentors for women in the ‘marzipan layer’. The mentoring will help women’s careers in ways designed to secure appointments as executive or non-executive directors of FTSE 100 companies, or equivalent positions in the public sector. I’d really like to commend this UK initiative, which is the largest of its kind in the world.


Of course, this is not just an issue for the private sector; we need to get it right in the public sector too.  The Cabinet Office’s 10-Point Plan is taking this forward centrally, a programme of change aimed at increasing diversity and equality in the civil service.  Progress is being made - for example 41% of senior civil servants in the Department of Communities and Local Government are women.


Next week, the Public Sector Gender Duty will come into force.  In essence, this means that public authorities will need to take proactive steps in their roles as employers and service providers to positively promote equality of opportunity - rather than solely taking steps to prevent discrimination. 


Cultural Attitudes 

A real issue that I believe we must tackle is the culture and attitude that exist in workplaces.  The long-hours culture is the worst offender. Why is it that unless you are seen to be in the office beyond 9 to 5, the assumption is that you are not pulling your weight?  This has to be challenged by senior managers. Today, achieving a work-life balance is an issue that affects us all - women and men.



Companies that better represent the society in which they operate should lead to improved competitiveness and productivity. We can’t afford to ignore the benefits of having more women in senior roles and in the boardroom.  It makes good business sense;

  • it extends the portfolio of skills at the top of the organisation,
  • it provides female role models for younger high potential women,
  • it guarantees that all levels of management are filled with the best executives. 

What better way is there to gain a competitive edge than through your workforce?  I’m sure many of you here would agree when I say that the benefits to be had of greater diversity will not only be felt by women themselves, but by business and the economy.   

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