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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Using Women’s Skills and Talents

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

At a recent event held by the Women’s Economist Network in London, Meg gave the following speech.


I am pleased to be here because networks such as yours are very valuable, both for you and your careers, and in helping continue chipping away at the glass ceiling!


As the Minister for Women and Equality, I often get asked ‘what does that mean?’ - I want to talk about some of the issues I deal with, along with our objectives on gender equality at work.  I think, particularly to this group, it’s not news that equality in the workplace is an economic issue, a business issue, as well as an issue of fairness for women. 


Government want to get the best use of the skills and talent that the country has in order to increase the UK economy’s productivity and output. Your own, and my own until the recent reshuffle, Vicky Pryce has pushed forward work in the Department of Trade and Industry on this. I glad that more and more businesses are recognising that those who champion equality are also the employers of choice. 


Equality Agenda

I, and the Women and Equality Unit, have now moved from the Department of Trade and Industry to the newly formed Department for Communities and Local Government.  But this does not mean that in pursuing gender equality there will be any change in our engagement with business.  Working in partnership with employers is critical in changing work cultures, and pushing forward the boundaries of good practice on equality.   


When working on the ‘equality’ agenda we work right across government departments to ensure that policies both consider the potential impacts on women and move us towards our goals on gender equality. Government has a Public Service Agreement to make improvements in gender equality across a range of indicators by 2008.   Within this overall goal, there are eleven sub-targets that cover:

  • women’s economic participation and advancement,
  • women’s social and civic inclusion and
  • women’s access to and experience of public service delivery. 


We are trying to create an environment in which both men and women have the broadest range of options open to them - that women reach their full potential. That they are not held back by stereotypical views of women’s work, by breaks in their career, or by the choices they make because of caring responsibilities.


To this end, Government have introduced a range of policies:

  • measures on maternity pay and leave and,
  • the right to request flexible working, both in the Work and Families Bill.
  • tax credits for working families,
  • the Ten Year Childcare Strategy and,
  • the New Deal for lone parents, helping them get back to work. 


Legislation is now going through Parliament which will extend paid maternity leave from six months to nine months from April 2007. We have an aim of 12 months paid maternity leave by the end of this Parliament. Government is also examining the case for extending the right to request flexible working to parents of older children in the future.


This evening I would like to focus on our agenda on equal pay.


Gender Pay Gap

Thirty years after the Equal Pay Act, whilst there have been many advances for women; we still cannot say that we have arrived at equality. Women working full time still earn 13 % less than men based on median hourly pay, and 17 % less based on mean hourly pay. The trend is downwards, but progress is slow.


For part-time workers the gap in pay is much starker. Women working part-time earn 41 % less than men working full time based on a median hourly pay and 38 % less based on mean hourly pay.


The Women and Work Commission was set-up by the Prime Minister to examine this situation and make recommendations on how to tackle it. They presented their Report, Shaping a Fairer Future, in February.  It proposed a wealth of practical ideas on how to close the gender pay gap.  Government is now considering their recommendations, how to take them forward, and we will be issuing an action plan in due course.


The Women and Work Commission revealed complex problems behind the pay gap. The disadvantage that women face starts with the choices girls make about education, training, jobs and careers, and continues when they start work. 


Girls are not aware of the consequences of their choices on pay and career progression.  Women tend to be concentrated in a narrow range of lower-paid occupations, many part time. Combining work and family life is difficult as is access to training to enable them to move upwards or to change career.


Men still dominate fields such as science, mathematics and IT. As I am sure you are all aware, the study of economics is a traditionally male preserve.  Of the twelve hundred economists in the Government Economic Service (GES) only 31% are women.  Interestingly, whilst this is an exact reflection of the % of current graduates - 45% of new recruits to the GES are women. 


Whilst this is a cause for cheer, we need to ensure that this progress is reflected in the senior levels of the profession.  According to the report’s recommendations, we need to look at our management culture, the role of networking and mentoring, and the flexibility we offer. 


40 Recommendations

The Women and Work Commission made 40 recommendations - I’ll just highlight a few.


The lack of part-time work in more senior positions is a major factor.  By offering more flexibility, challenging the long hours culture, introducing job-share registers, networking, mentoring and other initiatives companies can make strides forward on equality and productivity.            


Girls need a better understanding of the world of work. They need to experience working in jobs traditionally done by men, and have more and better careers information, advice and guidance.


Eight top companies signed up to be “exemplar employers” when the Women and Work Commission launched the report and we hope to sign up more.  For example, Serco Science provide mentors for girls at a Science and Technology school, Ford Motor Company established a Professional Women’s Network to promote role models. 


I don’t want to turn this into a sales pitch!  But if you think your company might be interested in being an exemplar company please leave your contact details and someone from the implementation team will be in touch to discuss it.    


Strong Economic Case

As I said earlier, as well as improving opportunities and reducing discrimination for women, there is also a strong economic case for eradicating gender pay inequalities. We have nearly one million women who are currently not working who would like to work. Plus, nearly 15% of the 5.1 million women working part-time would like to increase their hours.


We estimate, based on fairly conservative assumptions, that reducing the gender segregation of jobs and increasing women’s employment could be worth between £15 and £23 billion or between 1.3 - 2.0 % of GDP.


Recognising this compelling case, the Chancellor committed funding in the 2006 Budget. The funds are aimed at breaking down occupational segregation by   

  • helping Sector Skills Councils in industries with skills shortages test new recruitment, training and career pathways for over 10,000 low-skilled women.
  • increasing by 50 % the number of pilot schemes delivering level three skills, with an additional pilot focussed specifically on women with low skills: and
  • helping women return to work after a career break by  doubling the number of existing skills coaching pilots to sixteen Jobcentre Plus districts, with a special focus on helping low-skilled women return to work.



We have seen some positive improvements.

  • In 2005, 34 % of large employers had completed an equal pay review, up from 18 % in 2003.
  • Increased employee awareness of flexible.
  • In the civil service, the percentage of women at senior civil service level has now been continuously increasing over the last two years, albeit from a fairly low base.


But from talking about the larger picture I want to say a few words about a smaller one.


The Minister

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.


Recently 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.


Pursuing My Career

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. At that time little credence was given to the need to have trained managers, with the small amount of money 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 I wanted a full time role in politics. I enjoyed my job but politics remained a draw, and it wasn’t possible 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 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.


Women in the House

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.



We obviously have some way to go as we progress toward a society that recognises the equality of us all. But when I think back to what it was like for girls at school, at university, starting a job, I know we have made progress.


Women’s networks, such as this group, play an important role in encouraging younger women. They help increase the flow of information about jobs and opportunities, provide support and a space where some of the ‘gender issues’ are absent. I hope we can encourage more networking opportunities for women across the range of jobs and educational fields. Helping each other does in the long run turn out to be helping oneself.


Thank you for inviting me, I will be happy to take some questions.

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