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

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Meg spoke at a Fabian Society seminar held to launch a paper by Patrick Diamond entitled ‘Equality Now: the future of Revisionism’; the paper will be available at: http://www.fabian-society.org.uk/int.asp. Meg made the following remarks.



I’ve been asked to say a few words on the topic ‘Economic Equality and Gender’. Some may wonder why this is still an issue - 35 years after the Equal Pay Act and 30 years since the Sex Discrimination Act. Unfortunately women at work still face discrimination. It’s not usually overt discrimination, but it’s consequences affects many - their careers, their finances including pension provision which we’ve been hearing about lately, their self-worth.


Today more young women than young men are likely to gain degrees. However, that level of attainment is not carried through into work. Instead, many women work in lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs. Recent research by the Equal Opportunities Commission and Sheffield Hallam University found that more than 50 per cent. of women in part-time work are working below their skill level.


One consequence of women working below their potential is the gender pay gap. The latest statistics show we have made progress in tackling inequality in pay from the staggering 30 per cent 30 years ago to the 13.2% it is today for full time workers. However, this still means that for every pound earned by a man, a woman will only earn 86p.


The Women and Work Commission will issue its report on the gender pay gap in January. From my discussions with Baroness Prosser, the chair of the commission, I know that it is considering practical ways to make a difference to women's working lives. We need to make significant and speedy progress to ensure gender does not determine how much someone receives an hour


Encouraging women into higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs would help us reduce the current skill shortages and ensure that women had the opportunity to reach their potential in the workplace. Currently women are over-represented in certain types of low-paid jobs, and under-represented in other sectors, such as science and information technology. If there was no segregation between men and women in particular occupations, GDP could increase by between £2 billion and £9 billion a year, assuming that workers from higher-skilled occupations were not displaced.


Greater equality of treatment at work could attract more women into the labour force and encurage those in part-time work. Research shows that 25 per cent. of women who currently work part-time would be prepared to work full-time if better pay and more flexible working conditions were on offer. There would be additional GDP benefits of between £14 billion and £20 billion and those figures added together could amount to 3 per cent. of GDP. That is a significant figure that the UK economy misses out on.


An example of a sector where we misse women’s full contributuion is information technology. IT currently accounts for almost 5 per cent. of the UK economy and is set to increase. Employment is set to grow at five to eight times the UK average in the next decade. But the sector is at a disadvantage when only 20 per cent. of its work force are women, compared with just under half of the UK's national work force.


Around 70 per cent. of women who have science, engineering and technology qualifications are not working in sectors that use these skills. That is a significant loss to the economy - the country paid for the training that that is not being used, business lose out from not having qualified women working for them, and many of the women lose out by not pursuing a well-paid, interesting career in the sector.


As you will appreciate, encouraging girls into business, into the higher managerial posts in the public sector is difficult without role models. Women work hard to get a foot in the door, but once there, they get stuck at a certain grade and do not appear to be able to progress past this.  When women are held back by ‘sticky floors’ or the ‘glass ceiling’, it is difficult to convince young women that the effort is worth it.


The ‘glass ceiling’ has risen slightly over the past couple of years; however it is still very much in place. It is a serious hindrance. A look at the female FTSE 100 will confirm this - we have seen steady improvement in 2004 when 17 per cent of new FTSE 100 board appointments have been women (up from 13 per cent in 2003 and 10.5 per cent in 2002). 


But in the UK, only 9.7 per cent of the top UK companies’ board members are women, and only 4.1 per cent of those are in executive roles. Only one woman made it to Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and only one woman chairs a FTSE 100 board. 


Getting more women on to boards of directors isn’t just about furthering the careers of women, though there’s nothing wrong with that! A strong relationship is evident between companies having women directors and market capitalisation.  18 of the top 20 companies (90 per cent) by market capitalisation have women directors, but only 8 (40 per cent) of the bottom 20 firms do so. 


A key strand in the Governments approach toward business is to encurage entrepreneurs - be they social enterprise, or business. It is striking that, while female entrepreneurship in the US stands at 89 per cent. of the male level, in this country that figure is only 46 per cent. If we had the same rate of female-owned start-ups as that of the US, we would have 750,000 more businesses. So boosting women's enterprise in the UK is vital. It is not a matter only of equality of opportunity, but an economic imperative if we are to capitalise on the potential that women have to offer.


Women have just as much to offer as men in the area of economic activity. Women are playing an increasingly important part in our economy - creating wealth and jobs. It’s estimated that by 2010 there will be 2 million more jobs in the economy, 80 per cent of which will be filled by women. Ensuring that there is gender economic equality is not just about what is right for women, it’s in all our interests that we do so.

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