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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Women in Leadership Roles in the Public Sector

Friday, March 9, 2007

At a conference hosted by the National School of Government on International Women Day Meg gave the following speech.


I’m pleased to be here today - celebrating women’s achievements all over the world. Today’s event gives us the opportunity to remember the women who fought for a better future. Their efforts helped us all in some measure to be where we are today - playing a significant part in society.


Today also serves to remind us that there is more that we can do to ensure the children benefit from a more equal society, one where no-one is held back by outdated ideas of ‘appropriate’ roles for girls or boys. We must be persistent in our efforts to achieving a better society.


The Government recognises the key role women play in communities and society at large. We want to see more women in key decision-making positions. This is crucial if we are to ensure we have policies that deliver for women. An increase in the number of women elected as MPs and local councillors would reflect the population.


The number of women MPs continues to increase - women currently make up nearly 20% of the House of Commons compared to 9% before 1997.  I am pleased to say that 27.4% of Labour MPs are now women, and all parties are now taking serious action to increase women’s political representation. Within the Scottish Parliament, 39% are women, while 52% of the Welsh Assembly are women.


Some of this change has come about because of legislation that Government introduced to allow political parties to use positive measures towards women’s increased participation, such as the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidate) Act introduced in 2002. This legislation is having an impact and was used by the Labour Party in the last General Election to increase the proportion of women of the newly elected MPs. For the first time ever there were more women than men elected - 26 women and 14 men - that’s 65% of the new intake of Labour MPs.


A Programme of Change

We also know that 30.4% of the Senior Civil Service are women, up from 18% in 1998. 26.3% of the very top management posts are held by women, up from 13% in 1998. This is the fifth consecutive increase since April 2002.  Progress is being made - for example- 41% of senior civil servants in my Department, Communities and Local Government, are women.  We are on track to meet the Cabinet Office 10-Point Plan target, which sets out a programme of change aimed at increasing diversity and equality in the Civil Service.


We are witnessing better life opportunities for women through increased participation of women in decision making. The full time gender pay gap is at its lowest for 30 years. It has steadily decreased from 17.4% in 1997 to 12.6% in 2006 (median).This shows that year on year the majority of women are experiencing rising pay relative to men.


The recent Pensions Bill introduced last November is a Bill which has at its heart equality for men and women. Currently around 30% of women reaching State Pension age are entitled to a full basic State Pension, compared with around 85%of men. Under the reform, which will be introduced in 2010, around three quarters of women reaching State Pension Age will be entitled to a full Basic State Pension compared to around 50% without the reform.  In 2020, around 90% of both women and men reaching State Pension Age will be entitled to full Basic State Pension.


We have also seen significant improvement in childcare.  We are providing substantial help, totalling well over £2m a day, to working families with up to 80% of their childcare costs met through the tax credit system. As of December 2006, the childcare element of Working Tax Credit was benefiting 396,000 lower and middle income families. This is well over double the number that benefited from Childcare Tax Credit at its peak, and more than 8 times the number that benefited from the childcare disregard in Family Credit at its peak in 1999.


There has also been a substantial increase in the availability of flexible working and leave arrangements in British workplaces since 1998. In April 2003, we introduced the right to request flexible working to parents of children under 6 years, the age being 18 for disabled children.


Through the Work and Families Act 2006, this right will be extended to carers of adults from April 2007. The Act will also extend the period of payment of Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and Statutory Adoption Pay to a maximum of 52 weeks. As a first step, we will extend the current entitlement of 26 weeks to 39 weeks from April 2007. This will benefit around 400,000 mothers per year.


We know that more has to be done. Currently over 50% of women in part time work are working below their skill level. If women were able to fulfil their potential at work the UK economy to between £15 billion to £23 billion - that’s around 1.3 to 2.0% of GDP.



Women also make up over half the population, but are seriously under-represented in many parts of public life. The Government is supporting initiatives like the FTSE 100 Cross Company Mentoring Programme, designed to help correct a historical imbalance and to ensure that more women join the boards of our top companies.


This UK initiative is the largest of its kind in the world. 33 Chairman and Chief Executives have signed up to act as mentors for women in the marzipan layer, that is women at 1 or 2 levels below the main Board. The mentoring will influence these women’s careers in ways designed to secure appointments as executive or non-executive Directors of FTSE 100 companies, or equivalent positions in the public sector.


We have also launched the quality part-time work initiative. This is designed to support projects across the UK that increase the number of senior and quality jobs that are available part-time. This initiative is part of the Government’s response to the Women and Work Commission’s recommendations. The Commission that was set up by the Prime Minister in summer 2004 to carry out an independent review to examine the causes of the gender pay gap and occupational segregation.


Opening up more quality jobs on a part-time basis is a key challenge. This is why we have set aside £500,000 to fund the initiative. Clearly the part-time pay gap remains unacceptably high - women working part-time earn around 40% less than men working full-time.


Encouraging Girls

In addition we have also recently launched the ‘Exemplar Employers Initiative’. This brings together more than 100 employers who are running projects to tackle inequality in the work place. The projects range from encouraging girls to find out and enter into jobs traditionally done by men, to supporting mothers returning to work, to creating better quality opportunities for staff working part-time.


The aim is to encourage change among participating companies, and to build the case for excellence by reaching out to the broadest range of potential employees. These are key attributes for companies seeking to build the best workforce for the challenges of the future. This initiative is opened to private and public sector organisations.


We are also investing £10m, matched by contributions from employers, to provide skills training, development and support that will make a real difference to the working lives of women. It will offer them the opportunity to train for a new job, or progress within their company for a higher level or a more technical role - raising skills and unlocking potential. We announced projects enabling over 1000 women to progress, particularly in sectors that are traditionally male dominated.


We recognise that women leaders in the public sector face the same challenges as their counterparts in the private sector in terms of breaking through the class ceiling.  The limited career opportunities is an issue, the constraint of traditional gender roles is another, many women leaders are still struggling with balancing work and family responsibility and there is the need to find the right mentor.


A General Obligation

We are introducing the Gender Duty from April 2007. This will place all public authorities under a general obligation to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment and promote equality of opportunity between men and women in their public functions. Under the Duty, public authorities will be legally required to:

  • draw up and publish by 30 April 2007, a gender equality scheme identifying gender equality objectives and showing the steps that they will take to implement them. They will also be required to consider whether one of their objectives should address the causes of any gender pay gap (which can include equal pay issues).
  • ensure that they assess the impact of new legislation, policies, employment and service delivery changes. If any of these has a disproportionate effect on women or men then the public authority will need to find out the cause and seek to remedy the situation. Setting equality of objectives and outcomes, publishing actions plans or collecting necessary statistics. These assessments must also be published.  

It is important to note that when drawing up the gender equality schemes or carrying out impact assessment, public authorities will also be required to consult employees and other stakeholders, including unions, consumers, voluntary and community sectors. In addition, they will be required to gather relevant data and information especially on the extent to which they promote equality of opportunity between their male and female staff, and how their functions take account of their individual needs.


There is a great deal going on to improve gender equality but there is still much to do.  It is important that we continue the momentum and ensure that the future is brighter for the generation to come. 


For further details see: http://www.nationalschool.gov.uk/women/index.asp 

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