Examination of Witnesses (Questions 131-139)|
UK RESOURCE CENTRE
2 MARCH 2005
Q131 Chairman: Good morning, Ms Williams.
Perhaps you could introduce your colleagues.
Ms Williams: Jane Butcher, who
is the Women Returners Manager for the UK Resource Centre for
Women in SET, and Ros Wall, who is the manager of JIVE Partners,
one of the projects we have highlighted in the brief document.
Q132 Chairman: Thank you very much. I
think you have been sitting in, so you have seen the general approach
we are taking. We recognise, from what you are saying and what
we know already, the paucity of women in senior positions, whether
academic or industrial, in the SET sector. It has been noted,
however, that women have broken through in medicine and the law,
which are also traditionally male-dominated positions. Why is
it they have been able to do it there, but science, engineering
and technology are areas of technical expertise that still do
not seem to be attractive to women? It took 100 years for women
to get advanced in medicine. Do you think we are going to have
to wait 100 years for that?
Ms Williams: I do not think we
Ms Wall: I think we are looking
at two different perspectives. When you think about the non-traditional
areas in which women have not yet achievedalthough there
some women who do, obviouslywe are looking at perhaps the
harder end, which has a different image, or we are talking about
health and medicine, caring industries. I think times have changed.
I think there are much more deep-rooted cultural issues around
the construction, engineering and technology areas which need
additional attention, but also we do find that in those areas
there are still the vertical obstacles for women to rise to the
top of the professions in law and medicine as well. That kind
of discrimination is still evident in those areas.
Ms Williams: Even in the sciences
where women are well represented, the biological sciences, women
are still not reaching the top of those professionswhich
would be parallel to law and medicine.
Q133 Chairman: You have described for
us in a number of your papers the barriers which exist. Since
the 1970s this has been seen as a problem and there has been effort
put into it. The barriers still remain. How much success do you
think there has actually been? Are we now waking up to the fact
that there is a skills gap which men cannot fill and we now have
to start using female labour to do it? Instead of just the idea
of equality, there is now an issue of clear economic necessity.
Ms Williams: Yes, I think that
is the significant difference between what was happening in the
70s and 80s and what is happening today. I think there is an increase
in demand which, from our point of view, is an opportunity really
for those of us who have been working on equality issues for a
long time. The success of those issues from the 70s, 80s and early
90s has always been limited because of the difficulties that women
experience in employment. There has been an increase in the numbers
of women in SETI think the statistic shows there are 18.7%
now, whereas 20 years ago there were something like less than
10%, so there has been an increase over that timeand we
would hope that some of these initiatives have impacted on that,
but I think the most significant difference could occur now through
the opportunity that skill shortages could bring.
Q134 Linda Perham: You note that JIVE
Partners is working, amongst other organisations, with two Sector
Skills Councils, the Engineering Construction Industry Training
Board and Asset Skills. Is that a representative sample or are
they the only two taking the occupational segregation aspect seriously?
Ms Wall: We particularly highlighted
those Sector Skills Councils because they are national partners
of JIVE Partners. They work in a number of regional hubs through
JIVE as well. The staff who work in regions in Yorkshire and Humberside,
in the South East region, in Wales and in London, latterlyit
has just finishedhave all worked with different Sector
Skills Councils within those regions. Although we highlighted
two Sector Skills Councils, we work with a far greater number,
but on a regional basis, who are not a formal member of the partnership.
Q135 Linda Perham: It is obvious there
are severe skill shortages in SET occupations, yet it seems that
there is not the effort to accommodate women. Are there any obvious
key areas where something could be done? Is it prejudice amongst
men already working in the sector? Is it a management problem?
Ms Wall: I think we have seen
a major change in the years I have been working. I come from an
engineering and construction background over my working life and
I have seen major, major differences. Legislation is creating
a lot of those changes and making organisations think much more
centrally about how they are going to look at equality issues.
I think that has been a major asset over the years. On the ground,
we find that, although people have equality and diversity policies,
they are having great problems about how to implement them and
how to really make changes. When you are faced with an organisation,
a culture, and an industry that has always acted in certain ways,
it is very hard to break down those patterns of behaviour and
the structures that create those conditions and the cultures within
those particular organisations. That is what we have been doing
regionally in JIVE, to help individual organisations, be they
learning providers, employers or the career service, to look at
their practices and to break them down. The hub structure that
we have been using, working within regions, is really beginning
to show the fruit of trying to break down occupational segregation
in these areas. One of the recommendations that UKRC would make
is that this hub structure that we have been using with JIVE is
actually taken forward and considered nationally with the rest
of the regional development agencies in Wales and Scotland. It
has been very beneficial.
Q136 Sir Robert Smith: In your evidence
in paragraph 4.12 you say, "Many do not return to the SET
industry at all and women rarely return to the sector at the same
level from which they left" if they take a maternity break
or a career break. What are the key problems? There is a skill
shortage, so surely someone who is returning who already has the
skills is an asset. Is it a management problem or is it a particular
problem of the way SET works?
Ms Butcher: I think it is a whole
matrix of problems. We are seeing increasingly the right to request
flexible working, and the legislative and policy context surrounding
the position of women either continuing in employment or returning
is obviously helpful, but I think within SET we are seeing that
these sectors continue to lag behind some of the best practice
and the more creative thinking that we have seen in other areas
of our industries. The fundamental difficulty that is most clearly
documentedand it has been talked about in the evidence
given earlieris in looking at part-time work in senior
positions. If that flexibility is negotiable, it can be seen to
be very much of an interim, short-term measure rather than there
being that ability to rethink work organisation in terms of senior
levels in science, engineering and technology, and to think creatively
about productivity and what those valuable and talented people
who have been trained and qualified actually have to offer.
Q137 Sir Robert Smith: It is a traditional
view that part-time work does not fit in, is it?
Ms Butcher: Fundamentally, I think,
Q138 Sir Robert Smith: There is no fundamental
reason why they could not
Ms Butcher: That part-time workers
will not be therethe 24/7 issue we have been talking about.
You can see ways in which, creatively, specific responsibilities
and communication within working teams and so on can be managed
so that it is seamless to the client. It is more effort, yes,
and it is certainly more difficult potentially for SMEs to think
those things through, where we have large corporations who are
taking that forward, but I think we have to push for all of our
benefit. We need more men working part-time as well, fundamentally.
That is what is going to happen. As the Equal Opportunities Commission
reports just now, part-time work is no crime, so why the penalty?
Part-time work brings with it lower benefits, less access to training
and fundamentally less pay, and we have to work to shift that
balance around or it is not going to happen at the senior levels
of our SET industries.
Q139 Mr Evans: You have spoken about
JIVE and I am wondering if it is tackling the problems of ignorance
and, indeed, discrimination, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Ms Wall: You will have seen from
the evidence that we are relating to fairly large numbers of people
in the areas who influence occupational segregation. I can say
that when we have been working with individuals, we have had people
coming into our training sessions who literally say: "Women
should not work in engineering and construction: there is no place
for them, they cannot do it," and they have been able to
come out of those