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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Women Leaders in the Fire and Rescue Service -

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Meg gave the following speech at a national conference organised by Avon Fire and Rescue Service to examine how women are becoming leaders in traditionally male-dominated working environments.  


My thanks to Avon Fire & Rescue Service and to the Chief Fire Officers’ Association for inviting me to give this address.


One of my Ministerial roles is Minister for Women and Equality. So, what I don’t know about fire and rescue is made up by what I do know about women in work. I’m pleased to have this opportunity to outline the new Department for Communities and Local Government’s role on the key issue of women in work, particularly the under appreciated wealth of leadership talent.


Women as Leaders

I understand that this is the first time that the Fire and Rescue Service have devoted a conference to the issue of women as leaders. It’s excellent that so many Fire & Rescue Services are represented here today - and that such a large number of the speakers during the conference are women holding senior Fire and Rescue Service positions.  Also, at a time when three out of the four UK Ministers for the Fire Service are women, it’s an ideal opportunity to raise the profile of women as leaders in the Service.


Women fulfilling leadership roles is a key issue for all organisations, be they public, private or voluntary. Organisations benefit from the mix of skills and abilities which women bring to them. For the Fire and Rescue Service it’s vital to understand and relate to all the community in order to provide an effective service - particularly the harder to reach and more vulnerable groups within communities.


The benefits of women in leadership positions to organisations may be fundamental.  For instance, the effect on the internal culture of an organisation can be very significant. Bringing different styles of management to traditionally male organisations can change perceptions of the values of the organisation and help to break down barriers.


I’m sure that other speakers will tell us how, as women, they contributed to positive change within their organisations. As well, no doubt, as hearing about barriers which they have had, or still have, to overcome.


Employment Targets in Fire and Rescue Service

From the statistics I can see that the Fire and Rescue Service is far from being an exemplar employer of women. There is clearly very marked gender segregation in the workforce, with over 88% being men. The majority of women working either in Control or administrative or support roles. But I am aware that things are changing even if that change is, as the recent Select Committee Report identified, too slow.


I understand that employment targets were agreed for women in the operational sector of the service in 2000. A joint initiative supported by the Local Government Association, the Chief Fire Officers' Association, Home Office and the Fire Brigades Union. In agreeing these targets everyone had a common goal - to see the service transformed into one that was more representative of the community it served.


The target that women should account for 15% of the operational workforce by 2009 has been criticised as being unrealistic and unachievable. However the target did focus minds on the need for positive action. For instance, the facilities on fire stations, and the need to tackle the existing culture, which can be far from welcoming to women, to the extent where cases of bullying and harassment are still reported.


At the same time that recruitment targets were set, targets were also agreed for retention and progression of women. These targets have provoked far less comment and I would suggest less attention. In 2000 just over 1% of the service’s operational personnel, and by that I mean all levels from firefighter to chief officer, were women. The most senior woman at the time was a station officer and the majority of operational women were firefighters.


By 2005, representation had risen to 2.5%.  This is well below the 2004 interim target of 9% and disappointing. But, perhaps more significantly, very few of those women who entered the service as firefighters have reached the middle to senior management levels. For example, of the 710 Group managers and 1700 station managers in England & Wales only 12 are women.  This suggests that whilst the service is struggling to attract women to the firefighter role, its performance on promotion is in a worse state. 


Women and Work Commission

It was issues like these that prompted the creation of the Women and Work Commission. It was chaired by Baroness Margaret Prosser - who many of you may have heard speak at the launch of the National Campaign to Raise Awareness among Women of a Career as a Firefighter.


Their report, Shaping a Fairer Future, was published in February and its key findings were that:

?        women’s skills are not being fully utilised in businesses and in the economy: the Commission estimated that removing barriers to women working in occupations traditionally done by men, and increasing women’s participation in the labour market, could be worth between £15bn and £23bn or 1.3 to 2.0% of GDP,

?        the pay gap between men and women has narrowed considerably since 1970 when the Equal Pay Act was introduced, but the full-time gender pay gap still stands at over 13.0%, and

?        the part time pay gap (measured by difference in hourly pay for women working part time and hourly pay for men working full-time) stands at nearly 41%, and has hardly fallen since first measured in 1986.


The Commission made a series of recommendations to address barriers to equality and identified the need for:

?        informed choice for girls at school - girls are still making stereotypical subject choices which lead them into less well-paid jobs and careers,

?        combining work and family life - 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,

?        lifelong learning and training - women’s jobs are under-valued, and women have difficulty accessing training and upward career paths in some sectors; women find it difficult to re-train for a new occupation, and

?        improving workplace practice - unequal pay arises through workplace practices, for example how pay systems operate.


Government Action Plan

The Government has accepted the vast majority of the Women and Work Commission’s recommendations and has developed an action plan which includes:

?        a fund to support initiatives to increase the availability of quality, part-time work,

?        a programme of exemplar initiatives by employers - nearly 100 signed up so far,

?        support for Equality Representatives through the Union Modernisation Fund,

?        £40m for initiatives on women’s skills and training,

?        public sector gender duty - an obligation on public sector to promote gender equality, which I will return to shortly,  

?        national standards for careers advice to ensure all young people receive careers information, advice and guidance which is free from gender stereotyping, and

?        the extension of the right to request flexible working to carers of adults from April 2007.


Among the other key initiatives the Government is investing £10m over the next two years in the Women and Work Sector Pathways initiative. This will back projects put forward by Sector Skills Councils which propose innovative ways of helping women make progress in their careers, or help with recruitment into non-traditional areas. This should help over 10,000 women have access to job opportunities in professions which have been male-dominated, such as construction or transport, or help them make progress into management levels in other sectors.


In addition £20m will be invested over 2006-8 to run pilots of programmes offering free Level 3 (A level equivalent) training to women in London in sectors where they are under-represented at management level.


Gender Equality Duty

Perhaps the most fundamental of the Government's policies aimed at changing the way society impacts on women at work is the introduction next April of the gender equality duty, which I referred to a little earlier. This new legislation will place a duty on all public bodies, including Fire and Rescue Authorities, to promote equality between men and women in all their policies and practices.


This places clear responsibility for taking action on equality with public bodies themselves, rather than relying on individuals to take action. The gender equality duty will require public bodies to ensure that their policies on services and employment address the different needs of women and men. This does not mean introducing quotas for women, or positive discrimination in employment. It will, however, require public bodies to set their own gender equality goals in the design and delivery of their services, and the way they employ staff.


Flexible Working

To encourage employers to make quality part time work available we are introducing the Quality, Part-time Work Change Initiative. This half million pound fund will support projects designed to increase the number of senior and quality roles available on a part-time basis.   


In the same vein the Cabinet Office has committed that all Senior Civil Service and “stepping stone” grades will be available on a flexible work pattern basis, wherever possible.  From next month, senior and quality roles within my own Department, Communities and Local Government, will be available on a part-time basis, where practicable.


Good Practice

All organisations can learn from the good practice of others and for this reason the Government is working with Opportunity Now to engage more employers - from both the private and public sectors - who have exemplar initiatives.  These cover a wide range of issues including working in schools to inform girls about careers in their sector, equal pay reviews, women’s networks, support for women returners, and career pathways for part-time workers.


The exemplar initiatives will be brought together at an event next year to showcase best practice and facilitate discussion on the barriers and solutions to implementing initiatives. However, a few case studies of those organisations which have already been identified.


Lloyds TSB - over a third of workforce and 47% female staff work flexibly.  They have an online jobshare register and a Flexible Working intranet site with guidance for managers as well as staff.  Reviewed training provision to accommodate flexibly working staff:  The University for Lloyds TSB is available online for staff to work on when and where most convenient.  They also provide sites for those without a PC.


Senior Civil Service - Helen Ghosh, the Permanent Secretary of DEFRA, works part time.


Mitie - Mitie Skills Centres (based in Portsmouth, Bristol, Manchester, Sunderland and Ipswich) provide training and role models for young people within the school environment.  Training leads to vocational qualifications such as the BTEC first Diploma in Construction.  Mitie converts existing space into practical training areas for carpentry/joinery, brick and block, and painting/decorating.


Two Fire and Rescue Authorities also currently appear in our list:

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority - who as you all know appointed Susan Johnson as Chief Executive of their Fire & Rescue Service. Not only is she the first woman since the Second World War, but also the first non-uniformed appointment, to lead a Fire & Rescue Service in the UK.


The second Fire and Rescue Authority listed are Avon for organising this ground breaking conference.


Awareness Raising Campaign

Having seen some of the material developed by the Fire and Resilience Directorate for the Awareness Raising Campaign to Encourage Women to consider a career as a firefighter I can see how my colleagues have been working hard on your behalf to let women know about the career opportunities in the Fire and Rescue Service.  The most recent figures from the campaign show that over 2,500 women have requested information about the firefighter role as a direct result of the advertising they have seen across the country in gyms, bars, cinemas and of course in a wide range of women's magazine's.


Although this was an awareness raising campaign, for those services that were actively recruiting firefighters over the summer the advertising had the added bonus of encouraging more women to apply.  London Fire Brigade reported that in previous recruitment drives they had been unable to improve on a 7% application rate from women.  This summer this rose to 17%.  I suspect that other Fire and Rescue Services may not have seen such significant rise in interest, but I hope that all of you have benefited in some way. I understand that the campaign will continue to November, when the last planned advertorial will appear in the Birthday edition of Pride Magazine.


Direct Entry 

What is clear in the list of speakers listed for this conference is the way the service has grasped the opportunity presented with the abolition in 2004 of the Appointment and Promotion Regulations. Now, in addition to encouraging high calibre women to come up through the organisation, it’s possible to help change the culture of the organisation by appointing directly to more senior posts.


Having prominent senior women as role models, whether through direct entry or through internal career development, provides a visible statement of the type of organisation you are. It helps redefine the image of the Fire and Rescue Service as a career of choice for women.


Centre for Leadership

Management and leadership is one of the UK's significant skills gaps. In order to have a chance of responding to the challenges of the future we have to invest in current and future managers. It may not be a surprise to you that only 11% of top business leaders are women. To be successful women’s leadership, talent and skills need to be promoted.


An important move to support the women who are the Fire and Rescue Service leaders of today, and those who should become your leaders of tomorrow, is the development of the Centre for Leadership. Its purpose is to promote and support leadership transformation and improvement.


The Leadership Centre will be responsible for delivering leadership development programmes to Chief Officers, Principal Officers and Managers, Strategic Managers, Managers with the potential to achieve the most senior positions in the Fire and Rescue Service, and working with partner organisations deliver elected member development.


It will also provide the Service with links to other Leadership Centres, such as the Local Government Leadership Centre, Centrex, National School for Government, Improvement and Development Agency, and the Defence Leadership Centre.



It doesn’t take a genius to say that tomorrows workforce will not be the same as today’s, still less than what it was 30 years ago. Demographics and lifestyles changes will take care of that. Not only more women, but men too, choose to balance jobs with family responsibilities - 47 % of mothers now work flexibly compared to just 17 % in 2002, and triple the number of new fathers now work flexibly.


We recognise these changes demand new ways of thinking, new ways of working.

As more women move into the labour market, move up the managerial ladder, the pressure to address these issues will only increase. We have to work together and ensure that the Fire and Rescure Service is going with the flow of society and not stuck in some time-wharp. If we can do that - even the odds and make fulfilling opportunities for the many talented women that are currently serving, and attract many more, we can ensure the service is indeed ‘fit for purpose’ in the 21st century.


Thank you, I wish you a very successful conference.

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