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

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

At a seminar at the Department for Trade and Industry held to launch 3 new research projects, Meg gave the following introductory remarks.


I'm pleased to be here, helping to support the publication of these three research projects. Research which shed new light on the challenges that women face in the labour market.


Women continue to take on employment that under utilises their skills - especially when they want to combine work with having a family. We have to understand just why women are making these choices, only then can we be clear what we need to do to reverse this situation. These projects were jointly commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Women and Equality Unit to help us achieve that.


Figures from the 2005 Labour Force Survey indicate that just over one million women not in work would like to work. At the same time, nearly 15 % of the 5.1 million women working part time would like to increase their hours. The recently published report from the Women and Work Commission estimates that reducing the gender segregation of jobs, and increasing women’s participation in the labour market, could be worth as much as £23 billion to the economy. As a society we all lose out as a result of the potential of these women not being utilised.


If the UK is going to compete in the global economy we must ensure that everyone can contribute their full potential. The research discussed here today will help us to understand how we can make this happen.


You will hear presentations on this research this afternoon, but I would like to outline some points that I consider of note from each of these research publications.


The first two reports are related and look at the issues of “women returners”, that is, women returning to the labour market after a period to care for children or other family members. This group of women is substantial; they make up a quarter of the female workforce, so the decisions they make have a significant impact on the labour market and the economy.


The first report is from the University of Manchester. It shows that women often return to jobs with lower pay or status in order to combine work with caring for children. Indeed the researchers estimate that on average they lose 16% of their salary by doing this. This is often due to a perception that they would not be able to work to the same level on a part-time basis.


There is also the need to change perceptions of male dominated occupations such as construction and plumbing, which face significant skills shortages. Encouraging women returners into higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs would therefore help us to reduce such skill shortages.


Job perceptions are also important in the second piece of research carried out by the University of Sheffield. The researchers took a practical look at what would help women to return to, or train for, occupations which are experiencing skills shortages - in particular occupations traditionally done by men. Not surprisingly the research shows that almost all women who return to work after a period of family care seek work that is traditionally female. They also harbour a perception that traditionally male jobs are not suitable for women with childcare responsibilities.  The good news in the report is that many of these women returners are willing and able to re-train provided they have the support and opportunity to do so.


The study also shows that women are influenced by advice, and their experience through life. That they would participate in male dominated professions if they were encouraged by employers and offered flexible working arrangements.


The third piece of research, by the University of Surrey, examines the perceptions that young people have of particular occupations. It examined vocational jobs such as care work and construction, and found that young women’s perceptions of jobs were less to do with tangible benefits such as pay and more to do with “making a difference”. 


What I found particularly interesting is that the researchers tried an experiment whereby they gave young people advice about certain jobs, both with and without information on pay and lifestyles the jobs could give them.  When young people were presented with details about the pay and lifestyles that different jobs would provide, their perceptions of even the most gender stereotyped jobs did change.


All three pieces of research are very timely, for they build on the report that the Women and Work Commission presented to the Prime Minister just two weeks ago. The report focused on the gender pay gap. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that women working full-time earn, on average, 13% less than full-time male workers, whilst women working part-time earn 41% less than their male counter-parts. The Women and Work Commission report identified a number of barriers that women face in the labour market.


The results from the three research projects presented today confirm and reinforce a number of these conclusions. Namely that:


  • Girls are still making stereotypical subject choices which lead them into less well-paid jobs and careers;


  • There is a lack of quality part-time work and women find it difficult to find a job which matches their skills when returning after a career break


  • Women’s jobs are under-valued, and women have difficulty accessing training and upward career paths.


These three research projects take us forward in determining what needs to be done to tackle these problems. The DTI is working with other Government Departments in examining the information, advice and guidance available to women to ensure that it is clear about the benefits of job choices. The sector skills councils all have a role here in putting diversity at the heart of their skills policies.


Everyone without a qualification equivalent to five good GCSES is entitled to support to obtain one. The research shows this could benefit those women who have brought up their children and lack the skills necessary for today’s labour market.


Government is committed to taking action on all the causes of the gender pay gap. We will produce an action plan within six months, detailing how we will take the Commission's recommendations forward. 


It is to the detriment of all of us that women still face barriers that deny them the opportunity to fulfil their potential. We must all work together to ensure that such barriers are removed as quickly as possible.   

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