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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Driving Change - Action on Women at Work

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

At a conference organised by Opportunity Now to launch their Benchmarking Report 2006/07, Meg gave the following speech.


Thank you for inviting me to speak today.


I want to applaud the work that Opportunity Now have been doing to increase the numbers, the status and the achievements of women in the workforce. The launch today of their ‘Opportunity Now Benchmarking report’ for 2006/2007 will help when measuring progress in creating workplaces were women can be as economically active as men.


I also want to applaud ‘Exemplar Employers’ - companies that have publicly committed themselves to tackle both the gender and opportunity gaps. Government, lobby groups, we can make all the noise we want but having employers commit themselves to changing conditions on the ground is crucial - so, thank you.


Its 30 years since the Equal Pay Act and women working full-time are still earning up to 17% less then men. This gap has been reducing, but not fast enough. It illustrates the fact that women still face barriers in the work place. These barriers may be:

-        stereotyping of women,

-        women being the main carers in the family,

-        lack of confidence after taking time out to care for others, and

-        lack of access to quality part-time roles.


Removing Barriers

I know a number of organisations recognise these barriers, and have been working to remove them. Adapting workplace practices can increase the potential of all their staff. The best employers already have higher staff morale and greater loyalty.  A recent report from the British Chamber of Commerce said that around 60% of small and medium enterprises who offered flexible work patterns have noted some improvement in staff retention, and around 50% noted an improvement in productivity.


With results like that shouldn’t all workplaces have practices which tackle gender inequality? They should - but too many organisations turn their face against change. But the economic, social and moral case for change is compelling. It’s up to us to demonstrate that it works, to show the benefits it can have across all sectors, across all sizes of employer. We can’t afford to ignore it - competitor companies are taking it up, competitor countries are also.


The Women and Work Commission estimated that increasing women’s participation in the labour market, reducing gender segregation, could be worth up to £23 billion to the UK economy. More recently, a report by Goldman Sachs also emphasised the importance of getting more women into the global workforce - it predicted reduced inequality could boost Japanese gross domestic product by 16%, Italy by 21%, Spain by 19%, and the United States by 9%.


UK business must change to accommodate what is happening around us, to prepare for and succeed in the future. For our economy to flourish, the workplace of today must reflect society as it is today, as it will be in the future, not the society of 30 years ago. The prediction is that a lot of the 1.3 million jobs to be created over the next decade are likely to be taken up by women. Those employers who refuse to change will suffer.


A Wealth of Ideas

When the Women and Work Commission presented their report, Shaping a Fairer Future, to the Prime Minister in February 2006, they proposed a wealth of practical ideas which provided a foundation for moving forward. I am grateful to Margaret Prosser and all the commissioners for their commitment. 


The report recognised the role of best practice, and that the amount of expertise and knowledge already out there was not being drawn upon. The Commission recommended that Government draw together ‘Exemplar Employers’ to act as examples who would share their expertise with others. We now have 115 employers signed up to this scheme; it’s encouraging to see so many of you here.


The Exemplar Employer Initiative will be documented in a report to be published over the summer. It will set out the actions being taken to improve your work places and the impact this has had on both women and workplace culture. We will continue to undertake work in this area; we see it as a key to achieving a brighter future for the workforce.


Women aspire to do well in work, to be successful and climb the career ladder. A difficulty has been the lack of good quality part time jobs. Too many women find that working fewer hours’ means that they have to take a lower paid, lower skilled job. So I’m particularly pleased to see that many of you are staring to provide part time higher paid higher skilled jobs. Opening up more quality jobs on a part-time basis is an important component of change. That’s why as part of our response to the recommendations of the Women and Work Commission, we are funding a £500,000 initiative to support projects designed to help.


There are also other employers here who are not specifically part of this Exemplar initiative, but who are also leading the way in setting good practice. Your attendance shows that beyond this initiative there is a huge amount of positive work going on in different sectors across the country, from local authorities, colleges, large corporate businesses to small employers. The work which you are doing is commendable.


We need to do more to tackle those sectors of the business world held back by stereotypes of which sex can do the job. Interestingly these sectors often have severe skills shortages. By breaking down these stereotypes and improving work place culture, we can draw on a wider pool of skills and talents. In turn this will improve recruitment and retention rates and increase staff morale and productivity.


This work forms part of comprehensive programme of action by Government to reduce the gender pay and opportunities gap. Our recent report, Towards a Fairer Future, outlines the scope of the work being undertaken. The Gender Equality Duty, the extension of the right to request flexible working, and an increase in maternity and paternity rights are all important improvements.


Today’s event provides a good platform for leading organisations to convince the sceptics to engage with this agenda. This is a business imperative in order to succeed in the future, its not just an ‘add on’.


I hope that you will all enjoy and learn from this conference.


For further details: http://www.opportunitynow.org.uk/news/equality_1.html 

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