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Women Scientists

19. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If she will meet the chairman and chief executive of the Engineering and Technology Board to discuss career opportunities for women in science, engineering and technology; and if she will make a statement. [195879]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith): I welcome the support that the Engineering and Technology Board has put behind our strategy to increase the number of girls and women taking up careers in science, engineering and technology, and I am pleased that my noble Friend the Minister for Science and Innovation frequently meets Sir Peter Williams and Alan Clark, the chair and the chief executive of the ETB respectively, to discuss all matters concerning the board, including career opportunities for women in science, engineering and technology. Their next meeting is in November and would be a perfect opportunity to discuss the matter further.

Michael Fabricant: I thank the right hon. Lady for that constructive answer. She recognises the problem of skills in IT, particularly with young recruits. Gartner Consulting and e-skills UK reckon that 179,000 graduates are needed each year, but only 18,000 students have gone in this year—only a small proportion. Worse than that, only 20 per cent. of those in the IT industry are women. What can the Government do to encourage more women to go into IT?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point by identifying the link between areas in which we need to encourage more women and areas where there are skills shortages. The first step is to make the argument clearly that where talented people are needed, they must be recruited from the whole population, not from only part of it. Through the work that we are supporting with the UK Resource Centre on science, engineering and technology, which is working with employers, kitemarking good employers and providing good practice advice among many other things, we will be able to make progress. My colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and in the education system more widely are looking at careers advice and how we can encourage more girls and young women to do technology subjects, particularly information technology, and to carry on to get the benefits of working in those areas.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): During her discussions, will my right hon. Friend meet an organisation called WISE—Women Into Science and Engineering? Women play a significant role in all types of engineering and should play a greater role on the craft side of engineering and science. Will she do her utmost to encourage women to take up positions in new modern apprenticeships that deal with craft issues?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. I join him in commending the work of WISE, which is supported by the Department. It does an excellent job. He is also right
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that there are already some excellent women working in engineering. We as employers and Government need to do more to make sure that we encourage that. This week I was pleased to visit the British Gas Engineering Academy in Leeds, where I met young women who are undertaking apprenticeships and training in gas engineering. They certainly thought it was a good job, and I was pleased that British Gas was making such an effort to recruit those young women, to their benefit and to the benefit of the business.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I am delighted to hear that the Minister needs no encouragement to encourage women in that direction, but she will be aware of her Department's research that found that women with science, engineering and technology degrees were economically less active than their male counterparts or female non-SET graduates. There is a particular problem when women have had a career break, which makes it difficult for them to return. What is the Minister doing to address these problems?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Lady is right. That is why one of the programmes of work of the UK Resource Centre, backed up by investment of £1.5 million from the Department for Education and Skills, aims to examine the issues relating to women returners—for example, helping them to keep up to date with scientific research during their career break, helping to train them when they come back into employment, and giving good practice advice to employers about how to bring women back into the workplace and keep them engaged. There is both money and action through the UK Resource Centre aimed at the issue that the hon. Lady identified.

Women Non-executive Directors

20. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What progress has been made in increasing the proportion of women non-executive directors. [195880]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Patricia Hewitt): In 2000, only 57 FTSE 100 non-executive directorships were held by women. That increased in 2003 to 84, but it is still not good enough, which is why we are working with business leaders, recruitment firms and others to widen board recruitment.

Dr. Cable: How does the Minister explain the fact that whereas women make up 30 per cent. of all company managers, her own figures suggest that they account for only 6 per cent. of the magic circle of non-executive directors, and only 1 per cent. of chairmanships? What is the Laura Tyson initiative, which I think the right hon. Lady launched, helping concretely to deliver in this respect?

Ms Hewitt: A real problem that was clearly identified in Derek Higgs's report is that of non-executive directorships being recruited from far too narrow a pool of people who are already known to the existing board members, and particularly the chair. Since the Higgs and Tyson reports, we have held round tables with a series of leading businesses, remuneration committees, headhunters, search firms and so on; we are now working on a document entitled "Better Boards" that
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will be launched later this month, drawing on the business case for widening and diversifying board appointments; and, crucially, we have established a mentoring scheme with 20 chairs and chief executives of the FTSE 100 already signed up to act as mentors to women who are one or two steps below a board-level appointment, but who with the right support will form part of the next generation.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Does the Minister agree that it is somewhat ironic that only 6 per cent. of non-executive directors are women when a non-executive directorship is the perfect job for a woman? We are always talking about flexibility and part-time employment, and that is exactly what a non-executive directorship is. I am pleased to hear what the Minister has said about the "Better Boards" report, and I look forward to seeing it. I find myself strangely in agreement with most of what she has just said, but please will she assure me that she will not go down the road of introducing quotas or coercing companies into employing women? It should not be necessary. The business case itself should convince all companies that the best companies are already employing best practice with regard to women, and I hope that she will continue encouraging and not coercing.

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with the point made by the hon. Lady, and I can happily give her that assurance. We have no intention whatever of imposing Norwegian-style quotas on boards, but I cannot help reflecting that it is rather a pity that the Conservative party proposes to slash through my Department's budget, and the Liberal Democrats propose to abolish it completely, so no one would be left to pursue the excellent work that she has just welcomed.

Women Chartered Engineers

21. Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of programmes designed to enable a greater number of women to become chartered engineers. [195881]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith): As I said earlier, a large number of programmes are designed to encourage more women and girls to take up education and employment opportunities in engineering, stay in those careers and progress to the top of them. However, it remains the case that the percentage of female applicants and acceptances through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for engineering courses has remained stable at only 14 per cent. during the past 10 years. My officials are discussing with the new UK Resource Centre for women in science, engineering and technology the possibility of conducting a piece of research designed to map and evaluate these programmes, and will ensure that any best practice is subsequently shared.

Mr. McWalter: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, but earlier she mentioned Alan Clark of the Engineering and Technology Board, and at a recent meeting with him I suggested that possibly the greatest single measure that could be taken would be for there to
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be zero fees for engineering students with proper Government funding for engineering places, so that the subject would be regarded as of national strategic importance, and so that women would be able to get the skills that would get them to the top of the boards of industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make representations to her colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills with a view to seeing whether really effective action in this matter might some day be taken.

Jacqui Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend's objectives, but I am not sure whether I agree with his proposals. It is important to encourage girls and young
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women to be interested in science and engineering at an earlier stage, which will increase applications, and to find ways post-higher education to keep people in the science, engineering and technology professions. It is, of course, viable for those companies that depend on engineers to consider ways to help student engineers with their fees, which employers in other industries sometimes do. We have a comprehensive range of activity to get young people, and particularly young women, interested in science, engineering and technology, to get them into university and to keep them in those professions afterwards. We are spending a significant amount of money and are focusing it in the right place.

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