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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Gender and Leadership:

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Meg was invited to give the keynote speech at the 2nd annual conference of the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC).  The conference set out to tackle the issues which contribute to the under representation of women in these important sectors of the economy.

For further details visit: http://www.setwomenresource.org.uk/


Thank you for inviting me here to address this very important conference, I’m pleased to be here. In view of the launch at the beginning of last week of the ‘Women and Work Commission’s’ report, the topic of ‘gender and leadership’ is particularly timely.   


Government recognises the very important role that the Science, Engineering and Technology community play in the UK economy.  Part of that recognition is knowing that the role women play within these disciplines must substantially improve if we are to satisfactorily manage the changing workforce demographics and the growing skills gaps.


Women currently account for only 24.1% of the Science, Engineering and Technology workforce. In these sectors there are just 12.5% female managers. This set against 70% of women with relevant qualifications choosing not to work in these areas.  


Does this matter? I think it does. Our economy loses this huge resource of trained women, women with talent and ability. Without their contribution companies miss out on the important new ideas for the future and the resultant profits, social enterprises lose the important insights women in these sectors can bring. Jobs are not created, wages not earned. We are failing to utilise the female talent that we have.


Leadership is Crucial

Leadership is crucial to this.  It’s not just within the Science; Engineering and Technology fields that women fail to achieve a significant proportion of leadership roles.  The Female FTSE released by Cranfield in 2005 showed that only 78 of the top 100 companies have any female directors. In engineering for example, just 3.9% of professors are female.  Across the main sectors, just 180 women hold professorships; from a total of 3195 positions available that is just 5.3%!


Would we expect leading organisations, companies, universities, to waste other valuable resource in the same manner as they do with the skills of their female workforce?  There is a strong business case for the inclusion of women at leadership levels - why do they ignore it?


In America the Catalyst Fortune 500 study indicates a direct positive connection between board diversity and financial performance.  Aside from the obvious gender diversity, women bring substantially increased skills and experience to Boards.  Having women visible in leadership roles provides a role model for others, but also enables those women to better influence organisational culture change.  We have for instance Dr Julia King, who during her role as the first female Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics identified opportunities where she could introduce changes that would enhance women's progression within both Physics and the Institute.


With increasing public scrutiny, awareness of corporate social responsibility and the growth in ethical investment, companies that are not gender aware and gender diverse will lose out.  Conversely companies embracing the gender agenda reap the benefits. A good example is Jaguar and Landrover, who last year were the first recipients of the UKRC Award at the ‘Employer of the Year’ ceremony.  They consider gender diversity as crucial to their future success and operate policies for retaining and progressing women. They have achieved 99% of women returning to their jobs after maternity leave, a resounding success.


There is also a need for women to be not just leaders alongside men, but as leaders within their own companies.  One example is Sopra Newell and Budge.  Founded in 1985 by Ann Budge, the company has successfully grown into a £30m IT services group.  More than half its board and senior management staff are female.  We recognise the importance of encouraging the start-up and growth of this area and are setting up a dedicated Women’s Enterprise Taskforce. 


Support for women to take on key leadership roles is vital. Women who are successful need to be more visible, to act as role models for those just starting out on their career.  I know that the UKRC has launched its new ‘Get SET Women’ database, which will help increase the visibility of women in SET. I urge all women employed within Science, Engineering and Technology to register themselves on this database.


A Range of Barriers

There are a range of barriers that hinder women’s involvement with SET.  These include a lack of flexible working, gender bias - both conscious and unconscious in workplace culture, as well as a lack of role models, opportunities and awareness of women’s potential.  These barriers extend well beyond the workplace. General culture carries stereotypical perceptions of occupational opportunities that help determine what jobs kids are attracted to.  


So how do we counteract this?  Equal Opportunity Commission research showed that 70% of employers in England thought atypical recruits could bring positive benefits to the business. In addition, 8 in 10 thought a better gender mix would create a better range of skills and talents.  What we need is for organisations to recognise the importance of these issues and take measures to address them.


Flexible working at all levels has to increase, and staff need to recognise that a culture of long and excessive working hours is no longer acceptable for both male and female employees. Workplace cultures, practices and policies have to change to allow for the changing workforce. One of the available tools in doing this is the Cultural Analysis Tool developed by the UKRC. It identifies actions for cultural change, which might include addressing gender stereotyping of roles, inappropriate language, social networks and activities being gender exclusive.


More work needs to be done to address the gender pay gap, much of which is a result of occupational segregation.  Whilst the median gender pay gap has fallen from 17.4% in 1997 to 13% last year this is still unacceptable. Instead of occupying the majority of posts within traditionally lower paid professions women need to have equal opportunity to reach their potential. This will not only benefit themselves, but whoever they work for, as well as the country at large.


Change of Tack

Having covered some of the problems we face, a change of tack! I am very honoured to have been asked to launch the UKRC’s ‘Women of Outstanding Achievement in SET’ Photographic Exhibition.


Women within science are virtually invisible. This is true historically, and remains much the same today. This innovative collection, to be added to on an annual basis, can help change this situation, raising women’s visibility as significant contributors in the fields of Science, Engineering and Technology.


I understand that the inspiration for this exhibition came from a desire to address the lack of portraits of women scientists and engineers available in public art collections.  The exhibition portrays six truly inspirational women in science today in a modern and contemporary way creating a legacy for future generations.


A total of 58 nominations were received for this competition, a remarkable number for its first year. I know this gave the selection panel a very difficult task in choosing the first six women to be profiled in this way. 


The exhibition sought nominations under three categories and two women have been selected for each area as follows:


For Scientific Discovery and SET Innovation:


Professor Wendy Hall - Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton.  Wendy is described as an outstanding researcher and an inspirational research leader. In particular she has seized the opportunity of being appointed only the second ever female president of the British Computer Society to champion women in technology and help bridge the gender gap, Wendy is currently Senior Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.


Also for Scientific Discovery and SET Innovation:


Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell - who holds a visiting Professorship at the University of Oxford, and a Professorial Fellowship at Mansfield College. Jocelyn was instrumental in the discovery of pulsars, opening up a new branch of astrophysics for which her supervisor gained a Nobel Prize. Numerous prizes, accolades and the Herschel Medal demonstrate Jocelyn’s amazing contribution to astrophysics that is felt worldwide.


In the second category for Science Communication:


Professor Kathy Sykes - the Collier Chair in Public Engagement in Science and Engineering at the University of Bristol. Kathy works well beyond the parameters of her original interest in physics and bio-degradable plastics, seeking to achieve much broader public engagement in science and the surrounding ethical issues. Well known for her Television work, particularly on Rough Science and most recently BBC2’s ‘Alternative Medicine - the evidence’, Kathy’s evident passion and enthusiasm makes her an ideal role model and inspiration for young scientists.


Also for Science Communication:


Dr Maggie Aderin - worked as a scientist, managing multi million pound projects developing bespoke instrumentation, from hand held mine detectors to satellite detection systems to help understand climate change. Maggie has formed a company with the primary goal of public engagement in science, particularly targeting girls and those from ethnic minorities. She has delivered a very popular ‘tour of the universe’ to thousands of young people and is currently planning to set up links between UK and African schools.


In the third category for SET Leadership:


Professor Julia Goodfellow - of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the first female Chief Executive of any UK Research Council. She has worked both sides of the Atlantic and her ongoing research interests include using computer simulation techniques to study the structure and function of large molecules. Cited as embodying the concept of multitasking, Julia’s versatility and ability to cross divides are demonstrated by her being a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Institute of Biology, the Institute of Physics and the Royal College of Arts.


Also for SET leadership:


Rebecca George - who as a director of IBM manages their central government business development in shared services, and also has responsibility for raising the company profile. Having worked worldwide in various roles, Rebecca champions female engagement in IT through a wide variety of activities. She constantly seeks and helps to engender change, not only within the workplace but also more fundamentally. Rebecca is cited as using her success to inspire others, and goes to great lengths to encourage and help other women succeed.


Amazing portraits of six outstanding women. They are all eminently worthy of inclusion amongst those of the UK’s finest talent in SET.


About the UKRC

Before handing you back to the main business of the day, I want to say a few words about the UK Resource Centre and its achievements over the past year. The Centre was established in 2004, and has come a long way in a short time. It has found new and innovative ways to tackle the gender issues within SET, as well as building upon more established work.


Over one thousand four hundred (1412) women undergraduates and postgraduates are being supported through mentoring and networking schemes by 13 funded university initiatives.


Over three hundred (306) women seeking to return to SET are currently engaged with the Return services.  Last October the Centre launched the T160 Women Returners course, developed with the Open University, which over 100 women have already completed and a further 80 are currently enrolled. 


79 employers are actively engaged in the Centres services ranging from working through the Cultural Analysis Tool to mentoring schemes.


The Centre has funded over 20 projects and organisations as well as launching two new Resource Centres in Scotland and Wales.


The Centres website and information service has already handled a staggering one thousand five hundred (1546) enquiries.


I am also pleased to see the collaborative work between UKRC and EPC Global that has produced a very interesting report on Women and Engineering.  I am told that it is attracting considerable media attention which all helps to raise the profile and issues around Women in Engineering.  And of course, the launch of the Get Set Women Database I mentioned earlier.


This only gives you a flavour of the wide and varied ways in which the UKRC are working to help Women in SET.  I urge you to explore further the support and services that are offered, take advantage of them yourself or for your organisation. Please spread the word about the UKRC - help them grow, helping more women progress faster and further


This conference promises to be an occasion that will be significant for all involved, delegates and speakers. It tackles a subject that is crucial, for us as individuals as well as the larger picture. I wish you a very successful, enjoyable and fruitful day and look forward to receiving reports of proceedings in due course.

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