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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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I ain’t no tea lady

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Meg was invited to launch the report, ‘I ain’t no tea lady’, as part of the ‘Women into Work: Building Futures’ programme recently. The event was organised by SOVA, for further info visit:




I’d like to thank Julie Otter and SOVA for inviting me here today to launch their report.  The work done by SOVA in taking forward the ‘Women into Work: Building Futures’ programme is important and deserves our thanks and continuing support, as I’m sure many of you would agree.


Society has come a long way in tackling various forms of inequality.  Women, for instance, are more active in the labour market - female employment rates have risen from 55 % in 1983 to 70 % last year. But the type and pattern of work done by men and women remains very different.   Men tend to dominate the higher skilled, higher paid occupations whereas women’s employment is highly concentrated in the lower skilled, lower paid occupations.  This divide in employment sectors is commonly known as occupational segregation.


In tackling issues like occupational segregation, it’s important we know what this actually is and what it means for women and men, business and society.  Today men dominate sectors like science, engineering and finance. In the construction industry men make up a staggering 90 % of the industry’s workforce.  On the other hand, women tend to dominate sectors sometimes referred to as the 5Cs - clerical, cashiering, catering, caring and cleaning. 


Tackling occupational segregation

Occupational segregation is one of the main reasons that men’s and women’s pay remains apart - the gender pay gap. This not only has an effect on the women themselves, but it negatively affects business and the wider economy.  That women dominate the lower skilled, lower paid occupations can often result in the individual woman not being able to fulfil her potential, narrowing the pool of talent from which employers can choose from.


This narrowing of the pool of talent is a major hurdle for economic growth in the UK - just at a time when we are experiencing serious skills shortages in various industry sectors.  Evidence has shown that there is a clear correlation between these sectors experiencing skills shortages, and sectors in which women are under-represented. Only 8% of employees in engineering occupations are women and just 1% in construction and plumbing, and these industries have serious skills shortages.


There is no doubt that many women face barriers to entering into non-traditional occupations. It’s important that we challenge these. Women must be able to fully participate in the labour market in their chosen career, not just confirm to stereotypical views. 


Women and Work Commission

The timing of this event could not have been better, as the ‘Women and Work Commission’ produced their final report on Monday of this week. A key area that they have looked at is occupational segregation and its relationship with the gender pay gap. It includes examining skills shortages and access to life-long learning.


Their report provides an important body of work that will help us all in tackling the various barriers women face in the labour market. I, along with colleagues across Government, will want to analyse and consider all of the various recommendations they have made.


Women make a very valuable contribution to the labour market. The contribution could be even greater, including in non-traditional sectors. We have to ensure that barriers to this success are overcome. Government is committed to making sure that women’s talents and skills are properly used and rewarded.


Barriers to Women

It was interesting that I ain’t no tea lady identified similar barriers to non-traditional occupations that were identified in Government commissioned research published in November last year. They highlighted inflexible hours, childcare arrangements, masculine workplace cultures and stereotypical attitudes as some of the difficulties women face in the science, engineering and technology sectors. The report published today re-iterates these, and calls on us all to take action to remove these barriers to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men across the labour market


Government has been challenging these barriers, and taking action such as those in the Employment Act 2002. This Act allows parents with children under the age of 6, or disabled children under the age of 18, the right to request flexible working patterns.


By increasing awareness of the benefits of flexible working practices for employers and employees, the Government aims to increase opportunities for women throughout the labour market.  So far, almost a quarter of parents with children under 6 have requested to work flexibly. The latest figures have shown that only 11 % of flexible working requests are being declined compared to 20 % before the law was introduced.


Not only is flexible working good for individuals, but businesses are benefiting.  The ‘PWC Challenge Fund’ Reports Evaluation July 2004 shows that workplaces where flexible working measures have been introduced reported financial savings, reduction in staff turnover, a reduction in absenteeism, and improved productivity.


We see the Work and Families Bill, currently going through Parliament, continuing this progressive change to work places. The Bill aims to further extend the scope of flexible working, enabling those with wider caring responsibilities, such as carers of adults, to request to work flexibly


These measures are in addition to Government’s wider support for families which include making childcare more affordable and accessible, the introduction of Tax Credits, and the funding of skill training courses.


Childcare can be a barrier for women entering or returning to the labour market, something that this report identifies.  To help overcome this, Government is ensuring that good quality, affordable and accessible childcare is becoming available so parents can work, train or learn. This includes access to free, part-time early education for all 3 and 4 year olds.    



I want to talk about stereotyping - this has played a large part in occupational segregation.  Certain jobs are seen as men’s jobs, with others as women’s work. As society changes we are gradually moving away from these stereotypes, this change needs to be faster. 


Having the confidence to challenge stereotyping from an early age is important. The Government will tackle this partly through the Skills White Paper, where young people will be encouraged to consider all types of apprenticeships. A key criterion for apprenticeships from the outset has been that the programme should be open to all young people regardless of gender, ethnic origin or disability. All apprenticeships should provide equal access, particularly to those from socially disadvantaged or marginalised groups.


We have also been successful in engaging women learners through the Employer Training Pilots, 54% of learners in the pilot were women.  In April the Government will start rolling out the programme nationally as ‘Train to Gain’. We will ensure that it helps those groups, including women, who otherwise find it harder to access good training in order to develop their careers.


Today has highlighted some important points, particularly about occupational segregation.  We have made progress in tackling inequality in the workforce, and we understand the complexity of making yet more progress. I welcome the production of this report; it highlights the scale of the job we all have to do to ensure equality of opportunity for everyone. 

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