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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Women Creating Change

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

At a recent seminar for the National School of Government, Meg was asked to speak to a gathering of middle-ranking women civil servants - her speech is below.


Good morning and thank you for inviting to speak today.


Women creating change, there’s a topic meant to put shivers up the spine of some of our ‘elders and betters’! But before we can focus on moving ahead we have to look at where we are today and just where we need to go.


Presently 28% of the Senior Civil Service are women, up from 18% in 1998.  24% in the very top management posts are women, up from 13% in 1998.  This rise represents the fifth consecutive increase since April 2002. We are moving in the right direction but still some way to go to meeting the Government target of 37% of women into the Senior Civil Service and 30% women filling top jobs. The Cabinet Office’s new diversity plan will accelerate progress towards a more inclusive and representative civil service. 


Helpfully the public sector duty on gender equality - know better as the Gender Duty, will also benefit the civil service.  Very much in the same vein as the race and disability duties, this will put a statutory duty on all public authorities, including government departments,  to promote and ensure equality of opportunity between men and women. This is due to come into force in 2007 and will improve opportunities for women.


A possible pointer for the future comes from my own department. Each year the DTI run a competition to find the very best and brightest in the department.  The Accelerated Development Programme offers successful applicants an intensive learning programme and opportunities for rapid advancement - provided they put in the hard work!  In 2005 45% of all applicants to the programme were women.  Crucially 55% of successful applicants were women - future leaders in the making. 


Leaders like Catherine Bell who recently left the DTI after acting as Permanent Secretary for much of last year.  Not only is Catherine an extremely capable and dedicated civil servant with over 25 years of policy and delivery experience mainly in the DTI and the Cabinet Office but Catherine is also a wife, mother and daughter. 


An advocate of flexible working she was encouraged to return to a high profile role after her maternity leave, working three and a half days a week.  Even when acting as Permanent Secretary she still managed to work at home one day a week.  Catherine was given support and encouragement in her career, and flexibility, which allowed her to use her talents, to progress and to make a real difference. 


Looking outside the civil service we can examine how things are in industry. Since 1999 the Women and Equality Unit in the DTI helps sponsor an annual report which details and ranks the FTSE 100 companies in terms of how many women are on each of their boards.  The Female FTSE 100 Index provides a large part of the evidence base for measuring diversity in UK boardrooms.  


The 2005 report shows that a record number of FTSE 100 companies - 78 - now have women directors, up 13% on last year.  Six companies have appointed their first ever female directors.


Yet there are still only 11 FTSE 100 companies with female executive directors, only one female chief executive and one female chair. Overall, women still only account for 10% of directorships, and just 3.4% of executive director posts.


I recently spoke at the launch of A Women’s Place is in the Boardroom which researched the real reasons for the small numbers of women executive and non-executive directors. It argued that large multinational companies are governed almost entirely by men and that organisations would be a more powerful engine of economic growth and value for shareholders if women were directly involved in their guidance and governance.  


It was there that I learned about the FTSE 100 Cross Company Mentoring Programme.


The aim of the programme is to help women from the marzipan layer in the FTSE 100 - those women just below board level. They receive help to manage their careers so that they are able to secure appointments as executive or non-executive directors of FTSE 100 companies, or equivalent positions in the public sector. 


The Chairmen, acting as mentors, provide the women with advice and guidance; in some cases they make or suggest introductions; in some cases they give “homework”.   The programme is designed to help redress the gender imbalance and level the playing field for women. 


The mentees have been nominated by the Chairman of another FTSE 100 company, hence the “cross-company” aspect. Research has shown that Board level appointments are still largely made on the basis of introduction, and a tangible by-product of the cross-company aspect of the programme is that it helps bring different people to the attention of Chairmen and Chief Executives so that as career opportunities arise, they may be able to introduce mentees to others.


Two mentees from public sector organisations are being mentored by Chairmen.  This is because two private sector companies were unable to nominate a suitable mentee, and the places were offered to two women from the public sector in line with the recommendations made in both the Higgs and the Tyson reports about widening the gene pool for non-executive directors. Both mentoring relationships are working extremely well. Not only do the women benefit from the support and advice of the chairmen but the men also learn more about the barriers that face women. 


This is a great British innovation, the largest of its sort anywhere in the world.  The US, Canada, the Netherlands and France are interested in trying to replicate our success.  Now that is how you become a global leader - leading by example.


So we know that some FTSE 100 companies are doing their best to encourage diversity on boards.  But why is there still a gender pay gap at almost 13%.   Why after almost 30 years of the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act are women still only making 87p for every pound a man makes?


To find out the Prime Minister set up the Women and Work Commission.  We know that for women that work many are segregated into some of the lowest paying jobs - commonly referred to as the 4 C’s - clerical, catering, cleaning and caring.


The Women and Work Commissioner’s  remit is to look at why there is still such a huge gap between the pay of men and women and other issues surrounding women’s opportunities in work. The recommendations will be published shortly and I have no doubt that they will be practical and innovative in their quest to reduce the gender pay gap and improve options for women.


Finally as a believer in learning by example I’ll talk about a topic I know very well - me.   When talking about what I am up to as Minister for Women and Equality I know people wonder just how I arrived at this job - so I thought I’d finish my contribution with a potted case study about me.


Coincidently, over the weekend we were having a bit of a clear out at home when I came across a diary that I had written in 1974 the year I became 15. The contents included information on a forthcoming work experience in social work, which I had already decided I wanted to do as a job. It also included details of both the General Elections held in 1974, plus the fact that I had joined the Labour Party.


So we probably have to go right back to my childhood to find the route that brought me to my present job. As you will see, I blame the parents!


I grew up in a family interested and active in politics. My father was a local councillor, my mother an active Labour Party member. I was encouraged to do well, going to university before finding a job as a Social Work Assistant. After three years I returned to university to obtain a social work qualification. Shortly after I was encouraged by my local Labour Party to stand for the council and found myself at the age of 27 on Nottingham City Council. I enjoyed the experience enormously - representing local people within the council, trying to resolve their every day problems but also the wider political questions facing the administration running a city.


During that time I met and married - more accurately I should say I was 'match made' by a mutual Labour Party friend. My husband was also involved in politics and he understood the time pressure that being a councillor and working full time brings with it. Indeed when I came off the council 2 years later I worried that the additional time we would spend together might be difficult for us!! Over the next few years, while remaining active in politics, I pursued my career - moving up the management grades. I quickly learnt that if you move around every 2 - 3 years then you will have moved on before the changes you make have gone wrong!!


Having been brought up to value education, and seen my mother develop her career through further education and training after returning to work having had children, I was keen to gain management training. Unfortunately at that time little credence was given to the need to have trained managers with the small amounts of money that were available being directed to front line staff. I decided to fund myself through the Open University, obtaining the certificate and diploma in management studies over three years.


By 1999 I was Assistant Director for Children's Services in York. It was around then that I had begun to think about whether to consider a more full time role in politics. I enjoyed my job but politics remained a draw. With a demanding full time job it would have been impossible to consider the local council. I decided to try to be selected for the European elections.


The process involved going to many party meetings, giving a speech and answering questions on almost any issue - learning how to answer even the most bizarre and unexpected question with something like a sensible response. It was during that time that the bug really got me - not only did I enjoy this strange and nerve racking process, but people I respected told me they thought I was good at it! Although I was not successful that time round - which wasn't a surprise, I was determined to pursue other options should they arise.


It was late in 1999 that I heard that the MP for the area in which I had grown up was retiring. I thought this might be a real opportunity for me. The process was without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done - endless knocking on doors and selling yourself. It's gruelling, and selling yourself, despite what you may have read about politicians, rarely comes easily.


However the hard work paid off, and in July 2000 I was selected to represent Sheffield Heeley constituency, and was elected to Parliament in June 2001.


In Parliament I focused on a variety of areas including education, small businesses and reforming adoption law. Women do need to speak up on matters that affect women to ensure they are on the political agenda. The reform of law on domestic violence legislation is one area that probably wouldn't have happened if women MPs had not pressed for it. The prominence of child care and issues affecting carers also owes much to the efforts of women MPs.


Having women in the House of Commons is important, people forget how few there have been and that achieving increased representation has only made significant strides through all women shortlists. In nearly 90 years of women standing for Parliament currently only 20% of MPs are women. There have only ever been 291 women MP’s; there are over 500 male MPs in parliament at this moment in time.


So what got me to where I am - role models of other women in public life were important but more than anything aspiration - instilled at home, ambition encouraged by my husband and other friends, and sheer hard work.


So that’s a quick gallop through my history, of how I ended up here before you. So, again thank you for inviting me to speak.

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