Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-130)

E -SKILLS UK AND FINANCIAL SERVICES SKILLS COUNCIL

2 MARCH 2005

  Q120 Mr Evans: Maybe this is something my party should adopt to try to get more women into politics.

  Mr Caple: That is a good idea—especially for Wales.

  Ms Cantelo: What you have said about television is very interesting, because television is something else we have seen: within the IT industry in television programmes you often get this really pale, geeky guy, who never sees the light of day. I got a BBC commissioning editor, the producer of The Bill and a few other soaps, etcetera, around the table for dinner one night and discussed this with them. We showed them a presentation on the problems. They actually said, "This is wrong—because stereotyping is very, very poor drama and that is exactly what we are guilty of." He was about to commission Spooks at that time and he was promising to make a change. The trouble with a programme like that is that my paymasters were saying, "Yes, but how can you prove that you have made a change?"—and it is very difficult to prove that, because it is very much sort of at the back of the brain what is changing things—so it was not a programme that carried on. But I thought it would have been very valuable, because, as long as you approach it from the drama producers' viewpoint, which is that they want to make good drama, you can then say, "Look, I can help you make good drama because I can show you real IT institutions or real financial institutions and you can see what is going on—you can get it more real, you can have a better relationship with the industry, you can find out real drama stories—and you stop stereotyping." So you see it from their point of view, you cannot expect them to be altruistic about it, but actually there is a way of working with them without seeming to be bossing them around or anything but just working in a partnership to get these images much better and more accurate.

  Q121 Mr Evans: That has been more effective, has it, in getting representation of women working in jobs with which you do not normally associate them?

  Ms Cantelo: It was a one off. They were very positive when I spoke to them, but it was a one off, because, as I say, funding it was very difficult. It was just taking them out to dinner, but, even in the public sector, it was sort of, "Yes, but what have you achieved?" and I said, "Well, they are talking to us, this is great" but it did not carry on. I would have loved that to have carried on because I do think it was effective. There is an organisation called PAWS as well about getting writers to be aware of science. They give awards to writers who have managed to put science into their programmes in a good way. I was not so impressed with that organisation—it was a great idea, but I do not think it carried it through in the right way.

  Q122 Chairman: How effective do you think these campaigns are when they are set alongside the lurid stories of sexism and abuse that the high-achieving women in the city seem to have to undergo because of the culture of male chauvinism?

  Ms Cantelo: I think you convince them that that is an old stereotype that has been done to death, that actually there are far more interesting and more accurate stories out there that are just as dramatic. The way for them to find out about them is to have a much closer relationship with the industry they are trying to portray. If they are trying to do something about IT, then they really need to come and see what is going on in the IT industry. There are some fascinating stories—some really dramatic stuff. The IT industry controls everything from defence to health.

  Q123 Chairman: Let's look at the financial services as distinct from IT. One hears of these stories of quite outrageous behaviour that is tolerated. I have spoken to stockbrokers who have said, "Well, we don't like it, but there's nothing we can do about it because that is the way they behave". It may the public-school beatings they had and things like that, but, those of us who did not have that background find it a wee bit hard to understand.

  Mr Caple: So do I. My background is a Welsh grammar school, but I did play rugby and the locker-room mentality and the locker-room culture is quite pervasive, I think. One has to understand—and one only solves these problems by understanding—that everyone who works on a trading floor or as an investment analyst works under enormous pressure, enormous psychological pressure. That is an issue to which we have perhaps not paid sufficient attention in recruiting and developing people for these jobs. That pressure becomes doubled, yes, if you are a woman—because it is a very macho culture and all the usual games and tricks get played—but do not let me paint a picture that this happens in every stockbroking field and in every trading team. It does not. What we see and what gets publicised and sadly what appears . . . no, not sadly . . . what quite rightly appears in a courtroom, are genuinely exceptions. What do we do about it? It is no good just saying, "They are exceptions, we can't do much about that." Neither is it any good saying that we cannot do anything about it. I do not accept that. That is weak and weedy as a response. The question is: How do you change culture? The one measure that you establish is through setting quality standards, through actually saying, "This is not good enough." One of the things that the regulator does, the FSA, through its Conduct of Business Rules, is to set standards for ethical behaviour. We set standards as well which are about performance. We also happen to be in a position of setting standards for exams. Those processes embody demonstration of ethical behaviour—not just in passing an exam but in actual job performance. Those are some measures.

  Q124 Chairman: How long have they been in place?

  Mr Caple: Only for the last two or three years. You will not solve it simply by—

  Q125 Chairman: That is why I asked because I was not sure how long—

  Mr Caple: In a culture of the sort I have described, behaviour is changed by two drivers. One is other people saying stop it—and that is where senior managements in firms, particularly, are more active and are becoming more active, because they begin to understand the reputational damage that bad news brings to the firm. The second driver is through the influence of those clients of these firms, many of whom are major corporations within our economy or in the global economy—and there, I think, the responsibility of ourselves as a Skills Council is to talk to them about this issue of appropriate behaviour and ethical behaviour in terms of good business practice. After all, if you are given the choice of buying a car from Arthur Daley or a Ford main dealer, who would you prefer to go to? The message needs to be got over in that kind of language. We have a part to play in that.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q126 Judy Mallaber: Could we go back to the question of hours which you touched on earlier. Do you think that, in order to help deal with the problem around women workers finding jobs where the hours fit in with domestic commitments, the proposal that has been made to us that it should be mandatory for employers to offer part-time or flexi-time work, including for higher paid occupations, is something that we should consider?

  Ms Cantelo: No, I would prefer the carrot approach. If you are a really good employee, whether you are a man or a woman, you can go to whoever you want as an employer because they will all want you. Basically, as we were saying earlier, it is a knowledge industry. The companies that are profitable and good get their reputations on how good their employees are. A very good employee, therefore, should be treated just like a customer. The best employee can choose who they work for, so therefore employers need to treat them almost like customers. They have to have very good working practices and therefore they will get the best employees. If companies start understanding that—as some of them do—you sort of spread that best practice message. We had a company in Scotland called Absolute Quality and they were offering a 24/7 IT service: a helpdesk, etcetera. A lot of people said there was no way that that company could work part-time, but in fact everyone almost worked part-time, right up to the directors. They said that it was a huge amount of hassle but the returns they got were amazing, in that they could recruit whoever they wanted in the area. Everyone saw them as the employer of choice, which meant they had the best staff, which meant they were the most profitable company. It was as simple as that. Once companies understand if you work very good working practices then you can employ who you like, you can employ the best people, you become the employer of choice and therefore you become the most profitable company—it is a simple straight line like that. I think it would be far more effective if companies actually began to understand that and we spread that message around.

  Q127 Judy Mallaber: Do you think that is unique to the IT sector, because there is now this tradition about much of the work being done by people operating, in effect, as consultants or self-employed businesses? I speak as someone who has a sister in IT, who now seems to do very well going around and helping companies and organisations sort out their systems.

  Ms Cantelo: I think individuals and micro businesses quite often are different, because people can work as they want. For major business, quite often it is a long-hours' culture, particularly during certain projects, and it seems that the contract with the customer quite often demands a certain project manager to be available or a lot of mobility. That makes it impossible for women to work part-time on that project. That is something that goes into public sector contracts sometimes as well. So the public sector is putting out a contract saying, "We demand this, this and this," and it makes it impossible for the employer then to offer part-time working. The customers also need to look at the contracts they are demanding from the IT industry, and if you want the best companies working for you then somehow you have to accommodate flexible working within that.

  Q128 Judy Mallaber: Is there a legitimate argument that in a high tech, high knowledge sector like yours you do need that continuity of certain individuals over the project because of their knowledge base?

  Ms Cantelo: I think you can still have continuity but having flexible working within that. It is a matter of dividing it up sensibly. Yes, it takes a bit more effort. Absolute Quality said to us, "Yes, it takes a bit more effort but the payback is huge, absolutely huge."

  Q129 Judy Mallaber: You have given us the ideal, how do you persuade employers to do that without making it mandatory for them to offer the part-time contracts?

  Ms Cantelo: In the same way that you find out what motivates girls, and you convince them. You say, "What is going to motivate employers?" What motivates employers is their bottom-line and how it impacts on the bottom-line. Does it make them a more successful business? A lot of them at the moment are saying, "No, it is too much hassle, it is going to cost a lot," but if they can actually see it is quite the reverse—that, yes, it is a hassle but actually it means you have access to people you would not have access to otherwise—become the employer of choice and therefore you become a more effective company. It is understanding that message, which I do not think is out there. At the moment there is "part commitment", it is seen as a hassle, etcetera, but a huge number of people could be in the workforce, could be making huge contributions to these companies. They are not at the moment because they cannot fit in their lives around it.

  Mr Caple: Also the productivity argument is very powerful. If you look at the levels of productivity of people doing particularly repetitive work over 35 to 40 hours, compared with two people doing the same work split over that time the net productivity is greater for part-time workers. That is a very simple business argument. I do not think you need to legislate to convince employers that that is worth looking at.

  Ms Cantelo: I think you make the economic argument, and I do not think that economic argument has been made very strongly so far. I think it is has all been done from altruism. As I say, you will convince the good companies but you are not going to convince the others—and it is the others you need to convince.

  Q130 Judy Mallaber: Do you have any other examples you can give us now or send on to us of good practice or of ideas that we could suggest government can do.

  Ms Cantelo: There are a few things. One of the things we keep coming up with time and time again is the duplication of initiatives. Someone runs a project for women and someone else starts one there, etcetera, etcetera. It seems to me that a very sensible solution is that for any publicly funded project, any one where there is public funding, it should be mandatory to produce one page which says who it is aimed at, what it is about, where the money is coming from, who is in charge of it. That should go on a central database, so that anyone who is about to run a publicly funded project, say on women and pay or whatever, would type in those words and it will come up with anything that is already going on. Then you stop the duplication straight away. As I have said, it seems crazy that you have so much duplication and things starting off, which, just as they are starting to be effective, they end because of pump-priming etcetera. I think the other thing is that the Government as a public sector customer needs to look very carefully at contracts, to make sure that contracts are not actually mitigating against companies being allowed to offer part-time work or forcing mobility which also causes so many problems for women.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. That was very helpful.





 
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