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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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One Click Away

Monday, April 24, 2006

On Friday 21st April Meg spoke at the ‘One Click Away’ conference in Sheffield organised by the South Yorkshire Women’s Development Trust. The conference was held to launch a new website and report on their ‘Change Up’ consultation.

For further details visit: http://www.sywdt.org/pages/home.htm


Good morning - I am pleased to be here today.


As a woman, born and bred Sheffielder, South Yorkshire MP and Minister for Women and Equality I’m bound to have an interest in the progress of the South Yorkshire Women’s Development Trust. Having Helen and Julie as contacts has helped me keep abreast of the Trust’s activities - I’d like to thank them for keeping me in touch.   


Conferences like this offer much - sharing information, building relationships, linking up and networking. Networking is particularly important. It’s often said the best bits of conferences are not in the plenaries listening to people like me, but at the coffee breaks, lunch, and the informal meetings. How many of us find out information in these unofficial ways?  


But before you all rush outside let me also say that formal networks are also crucial. It can be difficult and intimidating trying to breaking into male dominated, so called ‘old boy networks’.  By building women’s networks we offer an alternative.  Examples are networks such as those which connect women who are not in the world of work, helping provide some sense of belonging, of not being left behind and forgotten. 



The recommendations from the consultation undertaken by the South Yorkshire Women’s Development Trust are interesting, flagging up the importance of providing support for women in South Yorkshire but connecting this with economic growth and development of the region.  The consultation brought out many of the same issues that have surfaced during the ‘Today’s Women: Your Say in the Future’ consultation currently ongoing.


I’m sure a number of you would have attended the event held here in Sheffield at the beginning of February.  It was a lively and vibrant occasion - with a diverse cross section of women from Yorkshire.  It was the second of six such regional events be hosted by me and Tessa Jowell as ministers for women and held to bring out the issues that currently concern women. At each event we have discussed five distinct themes:

  • Work and Family: Life Balance
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Education and Skills
  • Money, Debt and Savings
  • Safety, Security and Crime


Discussions at the events held so far have been wide-ranging. We are about half-way through the planned meetings, we will then collate and analyse the information for a final report.


My impressions, having been to all we have had so far, is that three things stand out -


  • Communication is so important. Women often do not realise just what has changed over the past few years because of government action, they don’t know where to go for information and how it could affect their lives. 
  • Respect - respect for women, respect for self, respect for individuals, parents, teachers, professionals.  A lack of appropriate role models for younger women. A lack of respect was something that was felt very strongly. 
  • The need for cultural change.  This relates to almost every aspect of life, whether it is asking partners to take on more household duties, saving rather then spending, looking at prevention in health and not simply for a cure, employers changing the way they treat their female members of staff?.I could go on.


I encourage all of you to visit www.todayswomen.org.uk and let your feeling be known.  There is a short survey and then space for you to tell me anything you would like.  Your time and effort will not be in vain.


Gender Pay Gap

The world of work has changed, cultural and economic shifts are removing most of the remaining barriers that have kept separate the places for men and women. This should mean equality at work - which should mean equal pay.  Women can never truly be equal until we close the gender pay gap. 


The good news is that the full time gender pay gap continues to narrow and is at an all time low - 13%. This means that woman today earn 87p for every pound earned by her male colleague. The bad news is that if she works part-time she earns a measly 62p to the pound.


That is why the Prime Minister set up the Women and Work Commission. It had a remit to look at why there is still such a huge gap between the pay of men and women, and to examine the wider area of women’s opportunities in work. 


This is the first time the gender pay gap has been examined in this way. The report outlined the causes of the gender pay gap: the complexity of the issues that go together to disadvantage women and act as a brake on the economy. 


The roots of the pay gap are at school.  The Commission found that from “A” level onwards, girls and boys tend to choose different subjects and this channels them into different jobs at different rates of pay.   But two-thirds of young women would have considered a wider range of career options had they known of the different pay rates.


As the gender pay gap increases with age, the Women and Work Commission want women to have access to learning and training, careers advice and guidance throughout their lives. Career pathways need to enable women to reap the rewards of up-skilling, especially providing meaningful part-time pathways.


The Commission also highlighted the need for companies to provide quality part-time work, to ensure that they don’t waste their female talent.    The Commission found that nearly half of women workers with children under five are in jobs that under use their skills. Their report also outlines a wide range of solutions to ensure flexible and part-time work become embedded into working culture - providing a real culture change.


The report of the Commission has generally been viewed as a success. One reason for this is that right from the start it brought together all the key players round the table - small and big business, the public sector, trade unions, the education world and the voluntary sector. There are a number of recommendations which are practical and acceptable to all - government, business, education and individuals.


I shall be taking a keen interest in how we take this up in my Department.  Officials in the Department for Trade and Industry’s Women and Equality Unit are working to produce an action plan over the next few months.  


Copies of the Women and Work Commission’s final report, Shaping a Fairer Future, are available on the Women and Equality Unit website - please have a look and come back to me with any suggestions you may have. 


Being Visible

Women make up 51% of the population yet still hold only around a third of all public appointments.  Probably one of the most visible public appointments is to Parliament. 


There are currently 126 Women MPs in Westminster, accounting for just under 20%.  That may sound low but before the 1997 General Election it was only 9%.  So women have made tangible progress, but remember this - there have only ever been 291 women MPs, there are today more than 500 male MPs.


There are over 900 national bodies in the UK who are responsible for delivering key public service and between then they have 20,000 board appointments.  I know women are taking up some of these.  43% of appointments to NHS Trusts and 47% of appointments to Primary Care Trusts are held by women. So given the will, the picture can change for the better.


Public appointments generally want candidates with experience of financial management, negotiating skills, the ability to plan ahead with strategic vision and clear and practical thinking.  I think I have probably described everyone in this room. Often women don’t realise that the skills you have running a small charity or voluntary organisation are transferable. 


Is it not the case that you have to be resourceful in financial planning? Is it not the case that you have to think strategically about your objectives? Is it not the case that you deliver services? Is it not the case that you negotiate with a number of bodies such as funders on a regular basis?  All of these skills, all of them are valuable.  Don’t do yourself a disservice by thinking otherwise. 


As Alice Walker, the author of the Colour Purple, said “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any”.


I hope the new website will be an important resource for the women of South Yorkshire. The name - ‘One Click Away’ - is great. In one click a world of opportunity will open up to any women.


The internet can be an area where women can develop - there is a huge amount of information out there that can be collected and used to advantage - whether it’s for you, your family, your group or your locality. There are jobs and wealth being created that was undreamt of only a few years ago, with little capital cost to enter it really is a world of possibilities.


I hope you all enjoy this day and take the most you can from it.


Thank you.


The photo shows Meg with Jenny Watson, Chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission.

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