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Westminster Hall

Thursday 6 March 2014

[John Robertson in the Chair]

Backbench business

Women’s Contribution to the Economy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Claire Perry.)

1.30 pm

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I thank all hon. Members who have asked to speak in this debate. It is the tradition of our Parliament to have a debate as close as possible to the date of international women’s day, which is on Saturday, so Thursday afternoon is as close as we can get. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for acceding to the cross-party request to hold this debate today.

I will focus particularly on the global female economy. Women’s contribution to the economy is topical as the world digs its way out of the global financial crisis. It will be vital, if we are to consolidate economic recovery, for women around the world to participate in their economies. Research published by the Boston Consulting Group last September suggests that over the next five years, women will add $6 trillion to global earned income, which shows the size of the contribution that they already make and the scope for much more.

Both genders need to be active in the economy for GDP to grow to its full extent. An International Monetary Fund report also published last September noted the potential for macro-economic gains if women develop their full labour market potential. GDP per capita losses as a result of gender gaps in the labour market are estimated to be as high as 27% in some countries. The new Prime Minister of Japan took the World Economic Forum by storm this year when he said that if Japanese women were fully active in his economy, his country’s GDP would grow by 16%, that he sees that as absolutely key to the future of Japan, and that he intends to legislate for a target of 30% of leading positions in his country to be filled by women.

In developing countries, gender inequalities are often even greater than in developed countries. In 2013, the IMF cited studies estimating that of the 856 million women worldwide who have the potential to contribute more fully to their national economies, 812 million live in emerging and developing nations. India is one example. India has had, as role models, a famous female Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi and a female President, Pratibha Patil. However, the female participation rate in the labour force in India has stayed at around 32% since the turn of the century, and female wages in India have declined to an average of just 26% of men’s.

There are some important global initiatives to tackle such issues and realise the gains to be had from increasing female participation in labour markets. For example, Coca-Cola began its 5by20 initiative in 2010. Coca-Cola has pledged to empower 5 million female entrepreneurs around the globe by 2020 by increasing their access to

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business skills training courses, financial services and networks of mentors. The company employs 770,000 people directly and 10 million indirectly in its supply chain. Programmes are now running in more than 20 countries, including Haiti, Thailand, Liberia and Ethiopia, and will create a whole new generation of female entrepreneurs.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): We need not look only to developing countries: the number of female entrepreneurs in this country is about half the number in America. If we are talking about growing the economy, would we not solve our economic problems at a stroke if more women were encouraged to create companies, wealth and jobs?

Mrs Spelman: The hon. Lady and I share a great interest in the role of female entrepreneurs in our regional economy. If she waits a short while, I will come to exactly that point.

Charities are also running initiatives, such as Oxfam’s gendered enterprise and markets programme. Oxfam works with vulnerable farmers, especially women and mothers, helping them grow and sell more by supporting them to establish producer groups. In that way, female farmers can pool their resources and sell their produce in bulk to get a better price, enabling them to increase income and gain equal status in their homes and communities.

A couple of weeks ago, during the recess, I saw another example of an initiative to empower women when I visited Bangladesh in my capacity as vice-president of Tearfund. The charity is working in partnership with other non-governmental organisations to undertake capacity-building programmes in flood and drought-prone parts of the country, as well as empowering women in village communities to take over and improve their own situation, not necessarily by giving money directly but by building capacity. I saw women there being taught to use kitchen gardens to grow vegetable crops that they would otherwise pay a great deal to buy imported from India. It was a joy to behold the light that shone out of their eyes and their pride in improving their circumstances. They might be illiterate, but their daughters will be able to get a university education, and the resources that they had secured through better farming were ploughed into the needs of their local community.

I also discovered in Bangladesh the role played by the central bank there. Its governor, Atiur Rahman, has at heart a desire to make his country more sustainable and to help the women there become more sustainable. He has granted a mobile bank account to every female garment worker in the country for next to no charge, meaning that those women can return their income directly to mum and dad back home in the village without a middleman taking a cut. Those are examples of creative ways to ensure in developing countries that women play a much more active role in their economy.

As for the UK, Office for National Statistics figures published last month show that female employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began. It now stands at 62.7%, compared with 53% in 1971. Women now account for 46% of the UK work force. Figures from January 2014 also show that 20.4% of FTSE 100 directors are female, compared with 12.5% in February 2011. Progress is being made in those areas, but there is definitely still further to go.

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Turning to my regional interest, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), I am disturbed to read that there are serious geographic imbalances in female participation in this country. The lowest employment rates for women are in Birmingham, where the rate is 50%; Nottingham, where it is 54%; Coventry, where it is 55%; and Leicester, where it is 55%. That means that they have a higher than average proportion of women not actively employed in the economy. I fully understand that that might be linked to the ethnic make-up of those cities, but none the less, it is disappointing to find that the midlands cities, which are at the heart of the manufacturing renaissance that we are enjoying, have such low levels of female participation compared with other cities.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): I know all too well the importance of women in the economy, having worked in my family business for the last 25 years with my wife, my sister, and the founder of the company—my mother, who built up the business. It strikes me from what my right hon. Friend says that not enough young women are going into the workplace and aspiring to do well. Does she think that it should be incumbent on successful women to act as role models by going into schools, inspiring people and telling them that there is no limit to their aspiration and should be no barriers to it?

Mrs Spelman: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I agree that the role modelling to women needs to start really young—as early as primary school—before girls are put off entering certain professions that they somehow do not see as being open to them. I will warm to that theme.

In September 2013, the ONS published a report on women in the labour market that established that there were important gender differences between different occupations. For example, 82% of those employed in caring or leisure occupations are women; by contrast, just 10% of those in skilled trade occupations are women. Some industries have a good gender split. For example, in February figures from the General Medical Council showed that 48.8% of registered general practitioners are female. A report published by the Law Society in May 2013 showed that approximately 47% of solicitors with practising certificates are women, compared with a figure of 39% in 2002. That report stated that for the past 20 years women have accounted for more than half of new entrants to the legal profession, so the proportion of women in the profession is set to increase in the foreseeable future. According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, women account for 49% of the work force in the creative advertising sector, and according to the Performing Rights Society for Music, the music licensing organisation, nearly a third of last year’s top 100 albums were by women artists or groups fronted by women.

However, one sector that has traditionally been heavily male-dominated is manufacturing and engineering. It is a sector that is very dear to my heart, as Jaguar Land Rover’s two factories are very important to constituents in both Solihull and Meriden. There is no doubt that the current manufacturing renaissance is a fantastic

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opportunity for more women to enter the manufacturing sector. However, the growth in manufacturing has provoked a skills shortage, which could be addressed—at least in part—by encouraging more women into manufacturing and engineering jobs.

Jaguar Land Rover, our local employer, is certainly seizing the opportunity by running a programme called “Young Women in the Know” for year 10 and 11 students, to encourage more women to consider careers in manufacturing and engineering. It is a week-long programme that enables young women to find out more about the sector. Students visit JLR’s manufacturing, design and engineering sites; they meet female apprentices, graduates and managers; and they participate in work placements. Information is also provided in all our local schools about the apprentice and graduate schemes run by JLR, and there are also workshops for job applicants and work on interview techniques, to help female applicants to understand what is required in an interview situation and to give them the confidence to go for it. By the end of 2013, 200 young women had participated in the courses, which had increased interest in engineering and design careers at JLR by 35%.

There is a parallel “Girls in the Know” programme for girls in years 5 and 6—the top of primary school. That is very important. When we had a cross-party round table of all the MPs in this House whose constituencies are affected in some way by the JLR supply chain, one of the important points that emerged is that girls are put off at an early age from thinking of going to work in the automotive industry, in manufacturing generally and in engineering specifically, despite the fact that the key qualifying subject for engineering is maths. These days, engineering is not all about heft; it is actually about being a really good mathematician.

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): On that point, my partner is a maths teacher and one of the things that he struggles with is getting girls to study A-level maths, because they do not see the roles in maths as being particularly relevant to them. One thing that he has been doing is taking A-level girls to see, for example, British Airways engineering, so that they can see some of the more practical applications of maths, to make maths A-levels—and the jobs—attractive to them. Should not the Department for Education be doing more to encourage that type of activity?

Mrs Spelman: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that maths is an A-level that is prized by all employers, and both men and women who are good at maths have good career prospects; there is no difference between men and women in that respect.

There was a lively event on Monday in the House of Commons, where MPs were invited to come and mentor, for 15 minutes at a time, groups of secondary school students who had come in from different London boroughs. It was interesting that, even then, I picked up among these school students that the girls did not fully appreciate the passport that is a maths A-level. I would say to them, “If you’re good at it, go for it!”

Alongside these gender disparities across economic sectors, there are, of course, income differences, which are a consequence of occupational differences in income. Men are far more likely to be in professional occupations associated with higher pay, for example software

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development, while more women are found in lower- paid professional occupations, including those in the caring professions. According to the 2012 annual survey of hours and earnings, programmers and software development professionals earned on average more than £20 per hour—£20.02, to be precise—excluding overtime. By comparison, nurses earned on average £16.61 per hour, according to the survey. We might reflect on that kind of disparity. The ONS report from September 2013 showed that men make up the majority of workers in the top 10% of earners among all employees.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she share my concern about industries such as banking? Big high street banks are making great claims that they are introducing a tremendous amount of gender equality, yet below the figures there is a tremendous amount of gender imbalance; it tends to be women who have the lower-paid jobs in the banks and men who have the more senior and higher-paid jobs. That is despite the fact that there is an advantage in having women in certain areas, such as dealing rooms, where they can “de-testosterone” and therefore de-risk some of these organisations.

Mrs Spelman: Testosterone is far too racy a subject to start talking about mid-afternoon on a Thursday. Actually, my hon. Friend makes a good point. I applaud moves such as the one by the chief executive of Barclays, who is introducing quotas for women within his company, so that women get a really good opportunity to be represented in the higher-paid echelons of the banking business. I wish that we saw more of that.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I apologise in advance for having to depart; I hope to come back later, but I am on a Public Bill Committee and I think that my turn to speak will come quite shortly. One thing that various investigations of professional groups—even, for example, people teaching in universities—show is that at younger ages men and women are often quite equally paid; they seem to be on the same sort of earnings levels. However, there is a disparity later, which is closely related to family responsibilities.

Mrs Spelman: Absolutely. The hon. Lady makes a good point and she shows perfect timing. I have a lot of material for today’s debate, and I may not use it all, but I want to come on to the issue of the costs of child care, because it is a significant factor and it affects women’s earning potential. If they have to take a career break, it eventually has a negative impact on their earnings during their career.

The ONS report from last year showed that the age of children and the relationship status of the mother are important factors in determining the likelihood of mothers being able to go to work. Only 39% of single mothers whose youngest child is aged three or below are in work, compared with a figure of 65% for those mothers who are in a couple. That situation changes later on, with 61% of single mothers who have a youngest child of primary school age in work, because it becomes possible for the lone parent to get back into the workplace.

The cost of child care is a real challenge. There was a report only this week that showed that child care costs more than the average mortgage, which should concern us all. However, the Government have taken significant steps to try to help women with the cost of child care:

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introducing shared parental leave from April 2015; funding 15 hours a week of free child care for all three and four-year-olds, which will save families approximately £380 a year per child; funding 15 hours a week of free child care for disadvantaged two-year-olds, which will save the most disadvantaged families more than £2,400 a year per child; introducing tax-free child care for lone parents in work, and for families with two working parents who each earn less than £150,000; and increasing child tax credit to £3,625 a year. These are all steps in the right direction, but for a lot of women, the cost of child care remains a significant deterrent to being active in the economy.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): I am being pre-emptive in thanking my right hon. Friend for securing this debate. I should like to mention something that is not often highlighted in political circles, or generally in business circles. I used to work from home and was a stay-at-home dad, raising my two teenage children. There has been a slight role reversal. My wife is a lawyer, as my right hon. Friend is aware. We are now bringing up our third child. The role of men, and being a proper father, is crucial. Sometimes, not just politicians, but men in business and of all backgrounds need to talk about their contribution to the family.

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He has been a role model to his children, who will remember the time that he spent at home with them.

Paul Uppal: I am not sure about that!

Mrs Spelman: I am optimistic that that will be so. It may take a long time before the kids say, “Thank you very much, dad,” but when they are raising their own children, it might just occur to them.

Capitalising on the contribution that women can make to the economy is vital for our economic recovery. Women’s contributions are already significant, but there is potential for much more. We need to take steps actively to encourage this, taking the global picture into account, and learning from the example of both international and domestic companies and charities that are leading the way, such as Coca-Cola, JLR, Tearfund, Oxfam and others. We need women to be actively involved in the economy for this country to achieve its full potential. The female economy is the key to a sustainable future.

1.51 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) on leading the call for this debate. When I spoke to the Leader of the House on 9 January, I pointed out that it was traditional to have an international women’s day debate and that, at a time when women of the world do two thirds of the world’s work, but only get 10% of the world’s earnings, there was a big challenge that we had to address. I am sad, as I am sure other Members in this Chamber are, that the debate about women’s issues is half in the main Chamber—about women in Afghanistan —and half in this Chamber. I should like to contribute to both debates. I hope that all of us can unite to make sure that next year we do not get a repeat of this mess.

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I think that all hon. Members can unite in celebrating the way in which women’s contribution to the economy has grown. When I joined the work force in the 70s, only half of women were in employment and now it is two thirds, although we have not yet achieved equality with men. The Women’s Business Council recently calculated that if we were to equalise the participation of men and women in the economy, we would increase GDP by 0.5% per annum and by 10% by 2030. I think that we could all unite in wanting that.

I am concerned that we continue chronically to undervalue the role that women continue to play, because so much of the work that women do is not paid; and that is because we do not put an economic value on the things that women do that make the world work and make the economy and society operate effectively. Caring for family is critical to economic success. Without family care, children will not succeed in learning and the costs of caring for older and ill people will be a public burden. My thesis is that if we recognised the value of women’s work more effectively, we would have a stronger economy, there would be less under-employment of women and we would all thrive better.

I want to mention specifically a group of women that we have not noticed. We have noticed that there is a child care penalty, which the right hon. Lady described well, but I want to talk about the contribution of older women. In that context, I commend to right hon. and hon. Members a report produced by the TUC this week, called “Age immaterial: women over 50 in the workplace”. It is striking that older women face additional penalties. I am really sad that, in an era when we have traditionally equalised the pay gap and it has been pulling together—under the previous Government it reduced by 7.5% or 8%—for the first time in five years it has widened a bit again. It is worth looking at for whom it has widened most and where the pay gap is biggest.

We tend to think that the pay gap is biggest for a woman caring for her children. Actually, that is not so. The pay gap for women under 40 is less than 1% and the biggest pay gap between women and men—18%—is for women between 50 and 59. We need to address this issue of women in precarious employment who are underemployed and underpaid.

Older women share one kind of vulnerability with younger women: they are much more likely to be on zero hours contracts than other groups in the economy. This is a phenomenon at the beginning and the end of employment. They are more likely to be low paid. They will not benefit from the Budget that we are all looking forward to next week—well, we may not be looking forward to it, but we will have it shortly—because more than half of women over 50 are in part-time employment and more than half of them earn less than the tax-free allowance threshold. If that threshold is increased again, it will not address this low-paid group in the economy.

We need to deal with the concern about the most precarious women workers. Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that I have been banging on somewhat—and I want to bang on briefly once more—about the fact that we do not protect young women from employment in roles ancillary to sex jobs, in pole-dancing clubs, saunas, massage parlours, and so on. Those roles are

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still advertised through jobcentres. It is shocking that people who do these ancillary jobs as hat-check girls, receptionists, spa workers, and so on, can still get the employment subsidy that is available to workers between 18 and 24. It is shocking that my taxes might be used to subsidise a young woman in such a role. I should welcome the Minister’s saying that she will discuss in her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, whether that is happening at the moment and what the future jobs are of the girls in these ancillary roles. I fear that those jobs are a stepping stone to employment in the sex industry. If that is so, the least we should do is prohibit their being subsidised. But I divert into younger workers from my main issue, which is older workers.

If we were to tackle the issue of the quality of work available to older women, we would stop wasting a huge resource that is potentially available to our economy. It is striking that two thirds of people who work after retirement age are women, but two thirds of those women are still on the lowest pay levels. Of the men who comprise the one third of people who work after retirement age, two thirds of them are—guess what?—on the top rates of pay for their role. That is a reflection of the fact that women have to keep working because they have lower savings and poorer pensions and still have family responsibilities and costs. As I am sure other Members do, I speak to many women in my constituency who are desperately trying to get together resources to help their children and grandchildren get on to the housing ladder, and so on. We are wasting the potential of a large group of women, which we need to address.

Lorely Burt: I am listening closely to the hon. Lady. It is regrettable that older women are paid less—I declare my interest—but perhaps that is partly because they take time out for child care, whereas the boys, as ever, run ahead and develop their career. Also, as women get older, many of us have to care for our parents and the older generation. Does she think that the increase in flexible working rules will help this generation of women? What else does she suggest that we, as a Government, can do to facilitate the narrowing of the pay gap between men and women?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Lady is right that the motherhood penalty goes through a woman’s career, which is one of the reasons why, although women outnumber men in the earlier levels of management, they fall off the career ladder as they go up. She is also right to highlight that, if we were to make work more flexible—I will make some specific proposals on ways to do that—it would be easier for women to thrive in the workplace. As is traditional in all sorts of areas of life, a male model is the standard model and women, of course, are a diversion from that standard model. I remember that when I was first elected in 1997—I was one of the 101 women we flapped on about in the Labour party—one of the difficulties that women such as me faced was that every single thing we did, and every single step we took, represented women in politics. Every time a woman did something that was perhaps unreliable or unusual, it was because that is what women do. We were strange and unusual, and we were a diversion from the norm. Interestingly, I no longer carry on my back that requirement to represent women in politics. Although we are still a small minority of Parliament, we have become more normal.

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That is good, but we still have a workplace environment in which the norm is nine-to-five. The norm is a man with a wife at home who looks after the children, ensures that they get to school and deals with their doctor’s appointments, and so on. The recent figures from the Office for National Statistics are interesting because they suggest that women take more sick days than men. There were arguments that women know how to use doctors better, but everyone who has really been there knows that it is not because women are sicker than men or are better at using doctors; it is because women take time off pretending to be sick when their children are sick. When I was a teacher, no teacher ever took time off because they were sick, but they did take time off when their kids were sick. We have failed to recognise the different experiences of women and men in how work is structured, so we think it is very modern to make work more flexible by moving from a very male model to something that is more normal for all men and women, but we need to go further.

Stephen Metcalfe: The hon. Lady is making some powerful and important points. Does she accept that, although there is plenty that both sides of the House can do to make work more flexible and to make it easier to achieve balance, we also have to address the deep-seated cultural differences between men and women that still seem to be perpetuated? How do we break some of those down across the economic spectrum, not just across those parts of the economy that have seen the light and are working towards equality?

Fiona Mactaggart: I heard the hon. Gentleman’s earlier intervention on women having to be role models for other women, and I do not see why men should not be role models, too. Men should take some responsibility.

On the deep-seated cultural messages, embedded in our culture is a belief that we can pay much less for work that people are willing to do unpaid than we pay for work that people would never do unpaid. I do not think anyone would be a banker unpaid, so bankers are paid squillions of times more than care workers—I really do mean squillions. The big cultural shift that we need to make is to think about value. We severely undervalue the skills involved in caring for and looking after people. If we made that shift, perhaps organisational shifts in the workplace would follow. That is an enormous cultural leap, and we will not achieve it in five minutes, but it should be our aim. If we do not aim at it, we will continue with the situation in which, as I said, women across the world do two thirds of the world’s work—they do the child care, other caring for the family, subsistence farming and so on—and the men, who do less work, get 90% of the pay. That is not a sensible way to run a world, let alone a country.

Older women have faced the biggest jump in unemployment since 2010. Although women’s employment, generally, has increased because there has been a trend towards women entering the paid work force, there has been a huge leap in unemployment among older women. Unemployment in that group has gone up by 45% since the general election, although it has eased off slightly in the last quarter, but that compares with a 1% increase in unemployment for the rest of the population. There is a serious problem in how we deal with older women. That

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is partly because older women tend to be concentrated in the public sector, where there have been huge job losses, but it is also because older women are easier to squeeze out of the work force. We need to address the way in which older women are pushed out of work. When I held a discussion group for older women in my constituency, one woman said, “We are always first in line for redundancy and last in line for interviews.”

I have talked to various professional groups about what is happening in different professions. The National Union of Teachers, for example, recently conducted a survey on the misuse of capability among teachers. The survey found that more than three quarters of the union’s representatives report that women teachers over the age of 50 are disproportionately represented in their casework. Older women doctors and those in professions allied to medicine, such as physiotherapy, have reported pressure to exit their careers as hospital doctors and specialists. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales reports that, of the women members who have declared themselves to be unemployed, 60% are over 45 and 43% are aged between 45 and 54.

The Commission on Older Women, which I helped to set up, has received extensive evidence that older women are leaving work because they cannot balance work and care responsibilities. We have a perfect storm of women being squeezed out while they are trying to juggle their responsibilities. Members will have seen the commission’s work with broadcasters following evidence that older women no longer appear on our television screens. The figures on broadcasting that we received on the commission showed that 82% of TV presenters over 50 were men. While TV presenters in general are broadly reflective of the age of the general population, that is not the case with older TV presenters. Some 48% of TV presenters under the age of 50 are women—compared with 49.7% of the general population under 50—yet that percentage falls like a stone with older presenters.

There is a problem with women being squeezed out and women moving out because of their caring responsibilities. As a Parliament and a Government, we first have to do what we are doing today, which is to celebrate the contribution that women can make. We have to ensure that women are more resistant to the squeezing out efforts and more confident in their role in employment. We also need to do much more to help women to balance work and their family responsibilities.

The problem is not just about child care. We have made some progress on child care, and we need to make more, but we also need to recognise that women care at all points of their life. For example, older women might find that their spouse or a parent has a sudden crisis illness. They would not know, at that point, whether to leave work, because they would not know whether the illness was serious and long term. They would not know whether they would have to become a full-time carer, and they would not know what the caring would be like. They would not know whether they needed to get some flexibility or whatever. The least we should do is back the request made in the TUC’s “Age Immaterial” campaign to allow what it calls “adjustment leave”, which is a period of leave at a moment of crisis that people can have to adjust their lives. Some of us will have read Jackie Ashley’s account of having to care for Andrew Marr when he had his stroke. She had a tolerant employer, but she did not know how disabled he would be. It is

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great to see him back on our screens, but she needed to take time off to look after him and enable him to get back to work. She did not know what the future would be. We should legislate for the right to adjustment leave, which would give someone in those circumstances a short-term period of leave to find out the right thing to do, such as whether to apply for more flexible hours.

We need to ensure that there are more well-paid part-time jobs. One of the problems about part-time employment is that it tends to be at the bottom of the pay scale. As parliamentarians, we could lead a campaign to get well-paid part-time jobs. Unfortunately, too many women in part-time work at present are not paid anything like the living wage; they are on the minimum wage. As I have said, older women are often well represented in public sector jobs. They have been affected by the public sector pay freeze for a long time, and their incomes are therefore being seriously hit. We need a better system of carer’s leave. If we had that, we could keep the talent of older women workers. We are missing out on their experience, talent and capacity to lead in the work force.

One multinational company reports that it has bigger profits in its outlets where an older woman is on the serving counter. The company does not employ many older workers. We have to make much more progress on tackling the needs of older women. The consequence of older women being squeezed out of work is that too often they try and do not succeed in becoming entrepreneurs and making little bits of work here and there. We do not give enough support to women trying to become entrepreneurs, although it would be better that someone who wants to be an entrepreneur starts that at the beginning of their career, rather than seeing it as a consolation prize when they have been stuffed in a longer term career.

I make a particular plea that we get it right for older women. If we do that, and stop wasting their talent, stop excluding them from training opportunities and stop squeezing them out of jobs, and use their experience more intelligently, I have no doubt that they would contribute massively to the success of our economy and to the happiness of our families. If we do that, we will have a better society that all of us can celebrate.

2.16 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I am delighted, Mr Robertson, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing this important debate to celebrate international women’s day. I hope to be rather more upbeat than the hon. Lady has been over the past 25 minutes.

In 2011, just 12.5% of FTSE 100 companies had directors who were women. It has been predicted that in 2015, that figure will rise to 25%, and that is undoubtedly partly a consequence of the hard work of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to get more women into senior positions. It is no mean feat to run a high-profile business, and it is clear that women are just as capable of doing that as men. The Derby-based firm DeltaRail, run by Anna Matthews, is an excellent example of a

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thriving business headed up by a woman, and that is particularly impressive given the male-dominated field in which she operates.

While the number of female company directors is a good indicator of women’s enhanced role in business, more should be done to emphasise the role of women in small and medium-sized enterprises, and the contribution that they make to the economy. There are far more SMEs than there are big businesses, and they employ more people. In my constituency of Mid Derbyshire, a number of enterprising women have struck out on their own and started their own businesses. Three years ago, my constituent Wendy bought a local business called Fresh Basil. She came from a farming background and had worked as a tax fraud inspector for some years before buying the shop. She wanted more freedom to do what she wanted to do.

Just three years on, Wendy is running a thriving café and delicatessen employing 20 people. Aside from providing employment for local people, she is also diligent in promoting local suppliers, using 90 of them to stock her shop and so reducing the number of food miles. The business also supports the aims of Transition Belper, which are to support local business and for people to spend £5 a week more in their area on local products, rather than going to supermarkets and big businesses. That brings far more money and disposable income into the local economy. Wendy helps budding producers to find buyers for their products. In the context of the wider local economy, she ensures that all her staff are trained ambassadors for the town of Belper, which is within the world heritage site of the Arkwright mills, where the industrial revolution began. They all can recommend local businesses to those who visit the town.

Another business headed up by one of my dynamic female constituents is Jack Rabbits. Amelia Horne started the business as a result of her passion for good, locally sourced food, and she now runs an incredibly successful grocery and café business. All the dairy products, meat and fish that the business sells are sourced from local suppliers, including from my local butcher, Barry Fitch, in my village of Little Easton. Even the wooden boards that they serve their food on come from a carpenter in Derbyshire.

Like Wendy, Amelia is keen to help the local community, and she supplies all the business leftovers to local homeless shelters. It is with reference to these two cases that I would say that increasing the number of women SME owners not only makes economic sense, in terms of the jobs created by businesses, but helps communities, and it is important that the Government support that. This, coupled with the fact that only 18% of SME owners in this country are women, makes it clear that more needs to be done to promote women in business. Sally Montague, who runs a local hairdressing organisation, opened her first salon in 1983. She now has six salons, ranging from one for students in the university of Derby, one in the city of Derby, one in Belper, one in Duffield in my constituency, and one in Ashbourne. She employs many young people—men and women—who are all local.

Of course, successful small businesses do not stay small for long, and Pennine Healthcare in Derby is a prime example. Liz Fothergill, the company’s CEO, started working at that family-run firm during her holidays when she was at university. She was the person

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responsible for establishing the company’s export links with Europe and the rest of the world, and now Pennine exports to 50 countries across the globe. Liz’s achievements have been widely acknowledged, and in June 2012, she was appointed His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s ambassador for the east midlands through his patronage of Business in the Community.

Such local examples show that women play a vital role in local economies and communities, and that should be reflected in international aid policy. Last year, there was an article in TheGuardian about women’s savings and credit co-operatives, which help women in Ethiopia to set up shops that trade in local goods. In fact, the Department for International Development also helped with microfinance for women in many countries. The businesses are not always successful, but the profits earned by the women running them mean that they no longer financially depend on their husbands, and they serve to empower the whole community.

Community development projects also play an important part in getting women to engage with the local economy. I should declare an interest in a charity I work with; it is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Free the Children creates infrastructure in communities in less developed countries through its “adopt a village” programme. The scheme consists of five pillars, one of which creates streams of income for previously impoverished areas, which means that local parents can afford to send their daughters to school. This has been particularly successful in Kenya, but it operates in India, South America, China and other countries, and it has encouraged female entrepreneurship.

Kenyan women are shown how to grow crops to give their children a much more balanced diet, and their children are taught at school about the benefits of drip irrigation and fertilisers on their crops. The women then buy goats, chickens and cows. They feel empowered and are challenging the men as the earners in their family. They feel so empowered that the men who were sitting about not wanting to take part are now saying, “Can we do some of this as well, please?” because they recognise that the money brought in benefits their children.

Free the Children is having its first “we” day in Wembley arena tomorrow, with 11,000 students from 700 schools nationwide. Most of the students will be girls, and they will hear from inspirational speakers such as Al Gore, Malala, Prince Harry and many others to encourage them to continue volunteering to help poorer people, and to help them themselves when they get to doing their GCSEs and A-levels. It has been shown that people who work with this organisation get better exam results, and many of them want to go into international development in the future.

On the number of women in Parliament, we have not set as good an example as we should. We are much better than we were. Many more women came in at the last election from the Conservative party than have ever been here before, but one or two of them are leaving. Perhaps it is time for the Conservative party to consider all-women shortlists. I have been completely against them before, but the Labour party had them, and they have cracked the system. If we do not get enough women at the next election, we may have to consider an all-women shortlist. I say that as someone who has always been against that, but we are not representative of the whole country as we should be. We would set a

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better example for girls coming into the world of work, and for women already there, so that they see that they can get to the top. We have had the first and only female Prime Minister in this country, and we should be proud of that, but this Parliament is not good enough yet.

I am delighted at the results of the Government’s hard work with regard to women board members. Again, there is still a good way to go to get more women involved in small business.

Fiona Mactaggart: I welcome what the hon. Lady says about having an all-women shortlist, but on women board members, one of the problems is that too many of the additional women board members are in non-executive roles. Does she have any proposals to make more women executive board members?

Pauline Latham: The hon. Lady makes a very good point, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who is sitting behind me, will address that in her speech, and I do not want to steal her thunder.

If more women were involved in small business, and if that was encouraged and supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and by the Department for International Development, which does a huge amount to help women and girls into employment and out of extreme poverty, we would see enriched communities not only nationally, but internationally. Everybody could unite around the fact that that is what we want for this world.

2.26 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I particularly thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for securing the debate through the Backbench Business Committee. I agree with the hon. Member for Slough about the unfortunate timetabling error, which I hope we will not see again next year. I hope we will be celebrating the achievement of women in our society—in the economy or elsewhere—in the Chamber in 2015.

Mr Robertson, may I draw to your attention, and perhaps to the Clerk’s, my disappointment at the fact that the Library chose not to produce a full debate briefing pack for this debate? There was a small contribution, but I was informed this morning that, in contrast to other Adjournment debates that have taken place here—for example, the future of the A303, which had the full works—a full debate pack was not available. Although the information that we have is relevant, we should have had a better briefing from the Library. I hope you will use your offices to communicate that, Mr Robertson.

I welcome the positivity of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and her insight into international development issues. She will be aware that 22 March is world water day. I have in the past supported charities such as WaterAid. We must recognise the international development work—through charities, direct aid and the initiatives of former Prime Ministers—to get children, particularly girls, into school. That is something of which we should be proud as British Members of Parliament.

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I want to talk more about the contribution to the economy. As my hon. Friend suggested, I intend to talk about the executive pipeline of talent. I will start with my own inspiration and why I decided to go into business. Both my parents are teachers, and I did not have much experience of the private sector worlds as a child growing up. My granny had worked in the private sector, which was kind of news to me. She started her career with matchboxes at Bryant & May, but ended up working for a company called Dista, which is part of the Eli Lilly group; I was showing an interest in chemistry. She was involved in packing, so I will not pretend she was on the executive board or anything like that, but she started to show me some of the information that used to be sent to all the pensioners by Eli Lilly. That got me more and more interested in the business side of life.

While I was doing my PhD, I was lucky enough to host Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut, when she spoke at University college London. She was a chemistry graduate—that was why she came to UCL to speak to us—and she worked as a chemist for a company called Mars, which the hon. Member for Slough knows well. She also does a lot of work highlighting the importance of science and engineering. I found that woman, working in an international business, inspiring. She was one of the reasons why I applied to join Mars.

Also during my PhD, I went off on a business school. At the time, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council used to run business weeks and everyone on a Government-funded PhD could go to different parts of the country to meet new people and, more importantly, to do things such as business games with all sorts of companies. As I was doing that, I found another lady who worked for Mars, Ingrid Uden, inspirational. I had met two ladies from Mars, so that was the only company that I wanted to work for. I was successful there and, through various bits of careers—admittedly some up, some down—my last role working for Mars was as a finance director of one of its UK subsidiaries.

Mars is an unusual company, but what struck me when I was there, which might not have been particularly well known among most employees—associates, as they are known—was that the Mars board had, as one of its key measures, the number of women in certain roles, in a certain zone, and above. Measuring that recognised the board’s desire to ensure that women were well represented in the pipeline of talent at management level—those with the potential to become future board directors at Mars.

Fiona Mactaggart: The present chief executive of Mars in Slough is a woman, which is rare in a manufacturing company of that size.

Dr Coffey: It is. I know Fiona Dawson well, and she is an inspirational lady. She is a busy lady as well, but she is an inspiration to many who are interested in getting involved in business, because she shows that running a leading manufacturing and retail business is an exciting career. It has taken her to different parts of the world, but she is particularly good at leading in the UK.

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That takes me to the pipeline of talent report, which I was pleased to co-author with my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), who cannot contribute to the debate because of her Parliamentary Private Secretary position in support of the Government today. I want to place on the record my thanks to her, to everyone who participated in the evidence-gathering sessions, to the witnesses and to my researcher, Edward Winfield, who is leaving next week to get a job in industry. He certainly pulled together a good report.

Rather than going through all the inputs to the report, I will focus on the executive summary—if any hon. Members do not have a copy of the report, I am happy to circulate it to them. Our starting point was a quotation from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Little more than two years ago, he said:

“If we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we’re not only failing those individuals, we’re failing our whole economy.”

It is right to get that kind of emphasis. Women can and should be playing a more important role, if they wish, in contributing towards the economy of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire has already referred to the increase in the number of women going on boards and the hon. Member for Slough said, accurately, that we should not focus only on non-executive directors. To get more executive directors, we need to focus on the executive pipeline of talent.

In our report, we came up with a series of recommendations, because, as anyone who works in business knows, if we do not measure something, it will not get done. Our concrete recommendations are not meant only for companies and head-hunters or to inform the views of investors; they are also aimed at women and the Government.

Women should actively seek out mentors and sponsors—they are different roles—and everyone needs a champion on the top board for that to happen. We should not be too shy about asking for help. Interestingly, when some women are offered coaching, they see that as a bit of an insult, reflecting on their performance, as opposed to regarding it as an important tool to improve their performance and attainment. One of the things I have not been investing in as a Member of Parliament, but should have been, is the element of coaching. I can honestly say that it is one of the best tools for any successful person.

Women who have risen to the top of business often focus on one particular discipline—whether human resources, marketing or finance. Certainly some of our expert witnesses recommended taking on responsibility for profit and loss, managing budgets and programmes and being prepared to take on an international role early in a career as important parts of the toolkit. Such things give the wider business experience that can lead to someone who wants to be considered for promotion, or to be poached to go elsewhere, eventually making it to the board. Seeking out stretching assignments is also important; I do not know of any successful woman who stays in her comfort zone. I could use exactly the same words of any successful man. The issue is always about seeking to be extraordinary, to go up the pipeline of talent and up the ladder of promotion.

In our report, we also recognise that people should establish and use networks to increase their spheres of influence. I remember a discussion I had at a Conservative

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party conference with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), as she is now. I was moving within the company, but I was concerned that my salary would go up only slightly, because of traditional rules, so I was on a considerably lower salary than fellow directors. We chatted about it, and she said bluntly, “You’ve got to ask for it and be prepared to negotiate.” She was absolutely right. I did, and my boss was probably surprised, but he recognised the fairness of the challenge and I got a reasonable pay rise and was level with other directors of similar standing in the company. We should not expect life to be handed to us on a plate; it never is. We need to ensure that we grab the opportunities.

As for the Government’s role, I want to see gender diversity reporting extended to senior management under the corporate governance code for financial reporting. The “Think, Act, Report” initiative is about capturing the data at almost every level to assess what is going on. Personally, I think that it is a bold initiative. Some of the larger companies probably already have the IT systems to add that information to the reported indicators, but even for relatively small companies, going three levels down from the board is probably not a difficult task. Any good company regularly does promotion and talent reviews, so such information should be readily available, if it is not already. The reason for putting it in the corporate reporting is to provide a spotlight on the issue and to ensure that companies are thinking about it. I hope that the Government will take that recommendation up, although I recognise that my hon. Friend the Minister will not be able to make any such commitment today.

Another thing we want businesses to do is to be more formal about establishing mentoring and sponsorship programmes. They happen in many companies, but often tend to be more informal. We also want to see more formalising of career breaks and return-to-work schemes. It was interesting to hear from a head-hunter that although some women who go on maternity leave come back more quickly—we now have flexible shared parenting leave, which is welcome—for most the issue is about keeping current.

“Keeping current” does not mean simply receiving a newsletter; it might mean having back-to-work days or making sure that people on maternity leave are still invited to go on team building exercises. The key is to put more choice into the hands of the women themselves. We also learned that women in the professional services might want to do courses to keep up to speed.

Just today, over lunch, I was discussing this debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley). She told me that she had been an accountant, but through her professional network she learned that the Law Society had a successful method for getting and keeping people in touch. I would recommend that other professional bodies learn from the Law Society. What it does in that regard was news to me and I shall be following the information up.

Fiona Mactaggart: I have been consulting with women in my constituency about child care. One thing a number of them have said is that while on maternity leave they would like to be able to participate in training at the workplace that they want to go back to, and have the associated child care costs met—some have the right to

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access training, but the child care costs are not met. That seems a simple thing to bring into workplaces or even put in legislation. What does the hon. Lady think of that?

Dr Coffey: It is an interesting idea. The hon. Lady will probably realise that I am not into legislating for every outcome, although I recognise that that might be her approach. However, the idea could be established as good practice. As we know, companies recognise that they miss out on talent when they do not provide those kinds of initiatives. If the businesses that are, dare I say it, more forward-thinking have not heard that idea before, I am sure it will ring out from the Chamber today. I am also sure that it will be mentioned to Mars when she next visits that company. It is a good idea.

In compiling our report, we looked at child care policy. I do not have children, so I do not pretend to have the same experience as others, but when I was working in the private sector I managed a team of 24 people at one stage. I think I am right in saying that 16 of those were women working part time and balancing other responsibilities. I often found that people who worked part time were the most diligent employees, partly because they valued the fact that they had a reasonably well-paid job that was part time and partly because they were very organised. I will not pretend that we came to a unanimous view on child care, but we encouraged the Government to bring forward the tax-free child care policy. The Budget is on 19 March. I will be astonished if the policy makes an early entry, but nevertheless we can say with confidence that next year we will have a new policy that will be very welcome indeed.

As for other aspects of our report, we wanted to extend the work of Lord Davies to include public sector and professional services. I thank my noble friend Viscount Younger—my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth and I were fortunate to go to present some recommendations from our report to the Professional Business Services Council, and I am conscious that Viscount Younger is keen to do something about this issue with the professional services.

More young women than young men are currently entering the legal profession—I think that these data are widely known publicly—but at the moment a man is nine times more likely to become a partner than a woman. I am sure that that will change naturally anyway—I would not expect people who have joined a law firm in the past few years to be partners by now, as that takes time—but I would like to raise the consciousness of the professional services on that, as something needs to be done. In accountancy firms it is about three times more likely at the moment that a man will become a partner than a woman. There is work to be done there.

Lord Davies has also focused significantly on non-executive directors. I know that the Government are looking at what more they can do on that issue. Although I am confident that we will reach the 25% target for board directors by next year, we need to continue working on the percentage of executives.

Another key aspect that we asked the Government to focus on was improving careers advice for girls, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. I was pleased to see that 40% of STEM ambassadors are women. I note the comments of my

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right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden about maths being a key enabling subject for engineering. Interestingly, I have had quite a debate with the Minister for Universities and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), on that matter. I am astonished that people can get on to engineering degrees without A-level physics. But my discussion with him on the issue was enlightening, and I recognise that quite a lot of young women who do triple science A-level tend to take biology, chemistry and maths, and do not focus on physics.

Last week we saw the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, during her visit here. She has a PhD in physics. She is an experienced politician and a clever lady, who did the hard sciences, as Mr Speaker pointed out. I recognise there is an issue with women taking physics, but I believe that people who can achieve grade A at maths, chemistry and biology are probably just as capable of achieving at physics. If there is some way in which we can do a physics catch-up course to get more women into engineering who might not have been successful at getting on to their first choice degree course, that will be welcome. After my initial reservations, I encouraged my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Sciences to progress those kinds of schemes.

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend might find it interesting to learn that a lot of university engineering courses require maths and further maths. That combination is putting off quite a lot of aspirant engineers. They might well have physics but perhaps do not have the double maths A-level. It is important to put that on the record.

Dr Coffey: I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point—I was not aware of that. I could spend another 20 minutes talking about what has happened to A-levels. Sadly, almost all worthy undergraduate degrees in science and engineering have stretched to four years now, partly because the curriculum covered at A-level is not as broad as it used to be. I am not saying, by the way, that that is necessarily a bad thing, but so far those four-year courses are how universities seem to have reacted to the fact that now such breadth of knowledge is not covered by the time people are 18.

I acknowledge what my right hon. Friend has said and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Sciences those thoughts on that barrier to becoming an engineer. Unless it is specifically connected to a curriculum issue, it seems a bit arbitrary.

I have skipped forward in my speech somewhat. I appreciate I have been talking for some time, Mr Robertson, but I would like to cover a few more issues. When I have discussed some of them in the past, I have been accused of being a bit nutty and thinking people are sexist. One thing we talk about in the report is implementing training about unconscious bias. That is simply a way of challenging people about their instinctive bias. We all have it, by the way: nobody can say that they are not biased at all. Training on unconscious bias is a sense check for people, so that when they are recruiting or promoting, or are discussing talent, they are not simply looking for people who are like themselves. It stops the mini-me syndrome that is evident.

Mrs Spelman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Dr Coffey: I will in one moment. One of the most interesting witnesses we talked to was from British Aerospace. That company has taken unconscious bias training to quite a new level. All managers are trained in it. When it has talent reviews, it makes sure that women are represented. Indeed, with recruitment and promotion it ensures that there is at least one woman on the panel of interviewers and one on the panel of interviewees. British Aerospace has seen a significant change in its recruitment and promotion and believes that its business is better as a consequence. I pay tribute to British Aerospace for that approach.

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend is being generous in taking a further intervention. Does she agree that we ought to lead by example? Parliamentarians should have unconscious bias training, and perhaps a good time to do that is during the induction programme for new MPs. In particular, new male MPs who come from a male-dominated profession would benefit hugely from unconscious bias training.

Dr Coffey: I welcome my right hon. Friend’s thinking on that point. She should make that suggestion in writing to Mr Speaker and the Clerk of the House of Commons; it is a good idea.

Pauline Latham: Further to that point, would it not be better to give unconscious bias training to Members of Parliament who have been here for a long time, rather than new Members of Parliament? Members who joined Parliament in 2010 do not have the same bias as some older Members.

John Robertson (in the Chair): I will not take that personally.

Dr Coffey: I am sure nobody was talking about you, Mr Robertson. I recognise that issue, too. I will not get into the discussions that I have had with other colleagues, but I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire that it would be useful for there to be such training in the current Parliament.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): My hon. Friend is being incredibly generous in giving way. I want to give grist to her mill by saying that the oldest law firm in our country routinely undertakes unconscious bias training. If it is good enough for that firm, it must be good enough for Members of Parliament.

Dr Coffey: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I understand that the management board and Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were invited to do unconscious bias training, although I believe that the only Minister who was able to do it was my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson). I agree that we should be proactive. There are companies that have offered to run courses for MPs. That has been on my to-do list for some time, and I will ensure that it gets done.

Our report recommended that companies should normalise flexible and part-time working. We should encourage companies to review their culture so talent does not drain away from the pipeline unnecessarily. Evidence shows that the best way to make flexible

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working a standard practice is to ensure that it is a non-gender issue. Companies know that they have a role in inspiring members of the next generation in the subjects they take and their career choices.

Finally, I come to our recommendation about head-hunters, for whom there is already a voluntary code of conduct. I want to draw Members’ attention to the review undertaken by Charlotte Sweeney at the instigation of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable). It was launched earlier this week, and it looks at the voluntary code of conduct.

Head-hunters can play a significant role in helping us to reach Lord Davies’s target of ensuring that 25% of board members are female. I welcome the report’s ambition that the code should be a minimum standard and that we should aspire to more. To achieve that, we must encourage as many head-hunters as possible to sign up to the code.

One way of promoting the code is for the Government to lead by example. I am encouraging the Cabinet Office to ensure that all head-hunters used by the Government and their agencies are signatories to the code. We know that currently they are not. I had a conversation with my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden about that issue, and I will take it up further.

Mrs Hodgson: I recently met some senior women in higher education, who said that head-hunters are a barrier to their progressing to senior positions, such as vice-chancellorships of universities. The hon. Lady is talking about a good measure.

Dr Coffey: I find that fascinating. I have not thought about higher education because I have been focusing on business, but I will add that to the discussion that we will soon be having with Cabinet Office advisers.

Charlotte Sweeney’s report stated that the use of the code should be extended to the executive pipeline. That is music to my ears. We seek to persuade the Government and business to back the initiative. It is where the most difficult challenges lie, but it is vital to ensuring long-term progress. The report that I co-authored made a similar recommendation. I look forward to the forthcoming head-hunter summit, which my hon. Friend the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth and I will be chairing, and which will allow us to have a discussion about what is happening to the code, how we can improve it and what we can do to extend it further. I am excited about that initiative, which will take place within the next month.

Locally, we in Suffolk recognise the value of women’s contribution to the economy. I pay tribute to the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, which has launched a campaign to help women fulfil their economic potential. A report by the LEP established that a woman working full-time in Suffolk will, over her career, earn £332,000 less than a man, and will pay £83,000 less in tax. The LEP is right to note that those employment and pay gaps represent lost income for families, lost opportunities for growth and lost prosperity for the county.

I have spoken for considerably longer than is my wont, but I feel that the report that we put together last year and whose recommendations we continue to follow up deserves a good airing in Parliament. We can all

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unite around this issue, although I expect that Government Members are not keen to legislate; our ambitions are elsewhere. There are a number of initiatives that we should support. We should be pleased that 37% of start-up loans went to women, and we should be pleased by the recommendations and initiatives undertaken by the Women’s Business Council. We should be pleased that this agenda is firmly on the map for the Government and the Opposition.

It is a waste to our economy if women who want to are not able to work at the top of industries, universities and the public sector. We should put our shoulders to the wheel and keep pushing. There will be a tipping point at which women start to play a full part in business, the economy and politics.

[Mr Jim Sheridan in the Chair]

2.57 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): It was a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am sorry that you are leaving, but you are being replaced by the lovely Mr Sheridan, under whose chairmanship it is also a pleasure to serve.

It is great to be here for this excellent debate on international women’s day. Many important issues have been covered at length, as one is able to do in a three-hour debate when half our number are engaged in an important debate in the main Chamber. However, what we have lacked in quantity we have more than made up for in quality. The debate has not suffered for the lack of Members present.

I am pleased to be in the debate with the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), who has organised a full programme of excellent events today, culminating with tea with the Speaker in Speaker’s House for women MPs who are being shadowed by young women from their constituencies. Most of us are being shadowed by at least one young woman today, although the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) is being shadowed by six—she is a pied piper leading the way on this issue. I thank the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth for organising today’s events, which are appreciated by us and the young women who are shadowing us. I thank the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for securing the debate and enabling us to gather here to talk about such important issues.

Women helping and inspiring other women is obviously a key recurring theme of international women’s day. It is right that we promote it as a means of increasing women’s participation in the economy and public life, particularly at the higher echelons. When it comes to the scale of the challenges that we still face in promoting women in the workplace and harnessing their potential to contribute to the economic success of the country, everyone needs to pull together in the same direction to achieve the kind of change that we need.

The Minister will be well aware that the director general of the Confederation of British Industry made an important intervention on that theme earlier this week, on the back of a PricewaterhouseCoopers report that ranked Britain 18th out of 27 OECD countries for

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the participation of women in the economy. He rightly called for the current generation of top executives to set a much better example and really drive through the changes that will see women progress much further in the private sector. As part of that, he advocated the use of targets for women in senior positions, as a signal to the whole organisation that its leaders want those changes to happen.

That call has seemingly been heard by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission for advice on whether all-women shortlists for top jobs will be legal. That apparent reversal in the Government’s position is very welcome, as indeed it was to hear the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire talk about the fact that her party is now looking at all-women shortlists. As she knows, I was selected under an all-women shortlist, and they have been very successful for the Labour party in raising the number of women in Parliament, so it is very welcome to hear that her party is looking at that.

With regard to top jobs, targets are not just a means of promoting equality, which is an important end in itself; firms with greater representation of women in the boardroom and in senior positions throughout the organisation are much more likely to be successful businesses. However, the Minister and her colleagues might want to look a little closer to home. This is where, in this celebratory debate, I may come across as a bit critical, but I am the Opposition spokesperson, so you would surely expect nothing less, Mr Sheridan. It is also important to be brutally honest when discussing these important issues, and not just talk about the good bits.

I asked a series of parliamentary questions and I was quite shocked at some of the answers. Almost half of Government Departments are failing to meet the targets for women on boards that Ministers expect of top businesses. It is particularly poor to see that the Ministry of Defence, for instance, has no women on its board at all, and that only two Departments have more women than men on their boards. That is symbolic of a wider trend in senior appointments by the Government since 2010. Only 17 out of 114 Privy Counsellors appointed are women, and 13 out of 85 policy tsars are women. Fewer than one in five ambassadors and a quarter of permanent secretaries appointed since 2010 have been women.

Fiona Mactaggart: On the point about public appointments and women, I have been chasing Government Departments since 9 February—for a month—to try to find out what proportion of paid public appointments are given to women. I keep going round a particular circle, which gets me to a published statement by the Cabinet Office that gives the total number of appointments of men and women but does not state how many are paid. Frankly, the vast majority of those appointments are, I think, women to the magistracy, because the vast majority are in the Ministry of Justice. We really need those figures to be more transparent.

Mrs Hodgson: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Mrs Spelman rose—

Mrs Hodgson: I think I am just about to be intervened on by somebody who might have the answer.

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Mrs Spelman: Just for the record, the Government achieved a 50:50 ratio of men and women in the role of permanent secretary when a female permanent secretary was appointed to my Department in 2012. Much more interesting questions are why there is such an attrition rate among those women in senior positions, and why there might have been a falling away.

Mrs Hodgson: I am not sure that that answers the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), but perhaps the Minister will glean the answer before her winding-up contribution.

This point is important, because if the Government expect to inspire and/or cajole top businesses to meet the 25% target for women on boards, which is a very welcome target and we certainly should expect them to meet it, they have to show much stronger leadership on the issue. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how she will ensure that that happens.

Coming back to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, one of the most telling graphs was on the proportion of women in full-time employment; the UK came last but two. That echoes the findings of the recent Institute for Public Policy Research report, “Childmind the gap”. In more than two thirds of the countries it surveyed, fewer than 30% of mothers worked part time—that is, for less than 30 hours. In the UK, it is more than 60%, so that is more than double the proportion of mothers working part time in this country than in the vast majority of others surveyed. We know that women are working part time either because they cannot find full-time jobs, or because they cannot afford or are unable to organise the child care, especially if they work unsociable or atypical hours. The Department for Work and Pensions’ own survey found that 43% of parents who have kids aged three to four and would like to work, or to work longer hours, cite affordability of child care as a barrier to doing so.

That is unsurprising, given that parents are being hit by what I call a triple whammy. First, child care costs are increasing way ahead of wages; according to the Family and Childcare Trust report a couple of days ago, costs for nursery care have risen by 27% since 2009 and continue to rise higher than inflation. They are now the largest family outgoing, outstripping even the average family mortgage. The right hon. Member for Meriden mentioned that, too. The second part of the triple whammy is that places are being lost; we have 1,500 fewer childminders and 900 fewer nurseries since the election, and the same report from the Family and Childcare Trust found that nearly half of local authorities—49%—do not have enough places for working parents. To round it off, the third element is that support for those on low and middle incomes through tax credits has been cut.

That is creating not only a cost of living crisis, but a cost of working crisis, which is bad for business and bad for the Treasury. The IPPR’s study suggests that a 10 percentage point increase in maternal employment rates to bring the UK more in line with our more successful European neighbours would bring a net benefit to the public purse of £1.45 billion a year. It also estimates that increasing the rate of full-time work among those mothers who already work part time by just three percentage points would generate a net benefit of £450 million a year. The study goes on to estimate

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that by equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women, the UK could increase its GDP per capita by 0.5% a year, with potential gains of 10% by 2030.

Because we on the Labour side of the House want to achieve those fiscal and economic gains under a future Labour Government, every working family will receive 25 hours of free, high-quality child care for their three and four-year-olds for 38 weeks a year—an increase of 10 hours a week on the current offer. That is help worth £1,500 a year per child per working family, paid for from a levy on the banks. As convenience is the key concern for parents of school-age children, our proposed primary child care guarantee will ensure that they will be able to access breakfast and after-school clubs through their school between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm.

Of course, the other side of making work pay is decent incomes for women and, certainly, parity with male colleagues in comparable jobs. In December, official figures revealed that the gender pay gap increased in 2012-13 for the first time in five years to an average of 10%. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Slough that for older women the figure is actually 18%. Under Labour, the gender pay gap fell by 7.7%, and it is deeply disappointing to see those gains going into reverse. Concerted effort is clearly needed to put us back on a positive course, but perhaps the most significant issue is that women are often clustered in low-wage jobs, as well as being far more likely to have poor conditions and even zero-hours contracts.

One in four women earns less than the living wage, meaning that even if she is in work and works as many hours as she can, she will still struggle to make ends meet. That cannot be right. Labour wants to make work pay for women by allowing firms to claim back one third of the cost of raising their staff’s wages to the level of the living wage, which is currently £8.80 in London. We will also strengthen the minimum wage and tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts and agency workers, which again are a feature of the sectors in which women are over-represented.

Clearly, there is also an issue about aspirations among young women. We heard about that from a number of hon. Members. I do not think that aspirations are a problem for the young women shadowing us today, but I do know that far too many girls are still channelled down the “hair or care” path in school and further education, whereas their male counterparts will be pushed towards apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications with higher earning potential. The Government, to their credit, have recently been making a lot of positive noises on that, and particularly on the issue of driving up participation in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—in further and higher education.

I echo comments made by a few hon. Members about maths and science subjects. I am pleased to announce that my daughter is studying for her final exams in her maths A-level, which she will take later this year, but she is one of only a handful of girls in her A-level class. On average, girls make up only about 25% of maths A-level classes across the country. That must change because, as the right hon. Member for Meriden said, maths is one of the most valuable A-levels to obtain.

The one thing that the Government could do much better is the provision of high-quality careers advice. We have these conversations with young girls, but

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particularly important is individual face-to-face advice, which can inspire girls to aim higher, telling them how to get to where they want to be and giving them ideas, rather than reinforcing the old stereotypes and a learned lack of aspiration, which still holds back far too many of our young people.

Of course, employers have their part to play in all this. Yes, we need women in leadership roles, but also right along the pipeline. I know that there are many great employers in the UK. At the end of January, I met representatives of a dozen or so, who were telling me about some of the great packages of support that they make available for working mums, particularly while they are on maternity leave and when they come back to work. The one that I will name today is Ford Motor Company. Ford employs more than 11,000 people in this country and it not only gives its female employees a year’s maternity leave on full pay—I imagine that applications will flood in now—but offers them parenting support and classes, as well as an on-site nursery and emergency child care for when things go wrong—for when the child is ill and cannot come into the nursery. It also has facilities for new mums to breastfeed and express milk at work. Why does Ford do that? Yes, it does it because there is value in being seen as a family-friendly company, but primarily—I asked the company—it does it because it knows that having women in positions of influence over its products and marketing gives it a competitive advantage over its rivals, because women control most of the major purchases in most households. Buying a car is a decision that most women have a big say in. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] And rightly so.

We can see from that example why all those studies have shown that businesses with more women in positions of power outperform their less diverse counterparts. If 50% or more of a firm’s consumers are women, it makes sense to have people at the top of the organisation who know what women want—that is, women. If I may be just a little critical, perhaps that is why the coalition parties are faring so badly among female voters at the moment; there are not enough women in the top positions.

However, despite the clear common-sense case for promoting women in business, there are clearly still some bosses from the Nigel Farage school of equality. According to Maternity Action, 60,000 women are forced out of their jobs a year because they have the gall to become pregnant. To make matters worse, the Government are now forcing those women who have the energy and time, while pregnant or coping with a new baby, to take their employer to a tribunal to pay £1,200 to do so. The Minister probably believes that we are scaremongering when we talk about those fees, but we do feel that they will often put off quite vulnerable women from holding their employer to account. I do not think that those women see it that way; they do not think that we are scaremongering.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is looking into pregnancy discrimination; that is very good. The Government have funded a report, and I sincerely hope that the Minister is pressing for the time scale for the report to be as short as possible, so that she will have the opportunity to act on its recommendations before the general election in 2015. None of us wants to take a punitive approach to equality, but given that we know how much better companies perform when women

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are not forced out, there is clearly as much of an economic imperative to stamp out discrimination as there is a moral one.

Of course, a successful economy needs to embrace the creative and entrepreneurial flair of its citizens in setting up their own businesses and creating new jobs and wealth. Unfortunately, as we know, fewer than one in five SMEs are wholly or majority-owned by women, which hints at specific barriers to women striking out on their own. The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who is no longer in her place, has done a huge amount of work in this area and chairs the all-party group on women and enterprise, which I have recently joined. However, the silver living to that statistic is that it hints at a huge untapped pool of talent and creativity that could be put to good use. That is one reason why Labour has said that, instead of the Government’s corporation tax cut for the largest firms, we will help more people to start their own business by cutting business rates in 2015 and freezing them again in 2016 for small businesses.

The economy may well be back in growth after a period of sustained malaise, but that does not lessen the importance of doing everything that we can to enable women to contribute. The twin ends of greater equality and a more productive economy are not mutually exclusive; they are intrinsically linked. Greater female participation, better pay and conditions, greater progression and greater representation of women in senior and board-level positions are not ends in themselves. They are the means by which the UK can remain at the top table of world economies over the next 20 years, or achieve a respectable position in the Prime Minister’s “global race”. I admit that the Government are doing some things, and Opposition Members warmly welcome them, but this debate has been a timely reminder that until we are making real progress on all the measures necessary, we can and must do more.

Women are ready to play their part; in fact, they have always been ready. It is the responsibility of all of us, on whatever side of the House we sit, to remove any barriers in their way. We must not pull the ladder up behind us, which I am sure none of us in this Chamber would do, but ensure that we lower it and give a helping hand up to even more women, to enable them to follow us and successful women in all sectors and, ultimately, to achieve their full potential.

3.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing this very important debate. Both are passionate advocates of this agenda; in fact, the pair of them are fantastic role models in their own right.

I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have spoken. They have made excellent contributions. We have had speeches from my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, the hon. Member for Slough, my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and

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for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). They have made important contributions, but there have also been important interventions. We have heard not only from the many extraordinary women in this place, but from many enlightened men who recognise how critical the issues are. I am pleased to respond to the debate on behalf of a Government who are wholeheartedly committed to the cause. I want to summarise what the Government are doing, but I will do my best to respond to some of the many interventions and requests for clarification.

Today’s debate has given us a chance to reflect on and celebrate the enormous progress that has been made in this country, towards equality for women in the workplace, and in women’s contribution to the economy—progress that the generations before us could only imagine. I want to focus on two main areas: the growing importance of women in the economic recovery, and the need to shape our workplaces to enable women to be full participants, including the measures that the Government are taking to achieve that important transformation. I hope to continue the non-partisan tone of the debate. There is broad agreement on the issues across all parties, and we can all celebrate the increasing success of women in the economy. We should work closely together, not against each other, on that.

Securing economic recovery remains the most urgent task facing the Government. The evidence shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan is working, but, as the Chancellor said, the recovery is not yet secure. There is still much more to do, but we can take encouragement from the positive signs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden and the hon. Member for Slough both mentioned that there are now 14 million women working. As well as being the highest number since records began that also represents the highest employment rate, and it is quite an achievement. Of course there is more to do, but there are 500,000 more women in work than there were when the Government took office. The pace of change is also quickening. Women’s employment increased by 93,000 on the quarter, and is now 199,000 higher than it was a year ago. I am also heartened that many more women see self-employment and enterprise as a viable option. There are 175,000 more women in self-employment than there were in May 2010, and we know for example that a third of beneficiaries of the Government’s StartUp loan programme are women. That is excellent news for women and for the health and competitiveness of the economy.

There is still, however, more we can do to help women to progress in the workplace and in business, which brings me to my second theme—shaping our workplaces to enable women to be full participants. In many ways, our workplaces have been transformed in recent decades. A key feature of that transformation has been the rising number of women in work and increasingly in senior roles across the whole economy. Thankfully, the rules are changing. Flexible working is no longer seen as a necessary evil to accommodate women with caring responsibilities. It is now rightly seen by leading businesses as good practice, which enables not just women, but all of us who require some flexibility in our increasingly busy lives, to make a full and proper contribution at work. Therefore, from June, we will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, to continue

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driving that culture change across business, to the point where there is no longer the concept of full-time or part-time working—just the concept of working.

Extending to all the right to request flexible working will also help to challenge the unfair stigma that those that need to work flexibly are somehow less committed to their employer. Through the introduction of shared parental leave next year we are also working to end the assumption—another stigma, in my opinion—that women will be the main carer of a child; we will also be allowing fathers to play a bigger part in the first year of their children’s lives. That will help families to juggle their home and work life, and it will also lessen the negative impact on careers of time spent out of the workplace. The hon. Member for Slough pointed out that flexible working and shared parental leave should help families to balance their busy lives. She focused in her speech on the contribution made by women aged over 50, and I am sure that she will be pleased that the Women’s Business Council flagged up in its conclusions the “tremendous untapped potential” of women

“in the third phase of their working lives”.

The council has put out a marker, which is exciting; I look forward to working closely with it and others to develop that potential.

I am pleased to confirm that from October next year we will introduce tax-free child care, which will save working families up to £1,200 per child. Those are important and necessary changes, which will directly address issues that women face in the workplace, but we also need to tackle the cultures and attitudes that often prevent women from the reaching the top. Through our continuing work with Lord Davies and the business community, we will ensure that more talented women take their rightful place in the boardroom and, once there, provide a better balance of views and experience to ensure that businesses maximise their potential.

Sarah Newton: Did the Minister read the report produced by the Select Committee on Science and Technology following our inquiry into the number of women in senior positions in science—particularly universities? I think that she will find our recommendations helpful in getting women scientists and engineers to play their full part in the economy.

Mrs Grant: That is an important point. There never seem to be enough hours in the day, somehow, but I promise to look at the report and talk to my hon. Friend about its conclusions.

Since Lord Davies reported in February 2011, there have been unprecedented changes in the composition of boardrooms. Women now make up 20.4% of the directors of FTSE100 companies, which is up from 12.5%, and there are now just two all-male FTSE100 boards; that figure is down from 21. Again, that is great news for the economy, but it is vital that we maintain the momentum. We need just 51 more women on FTSE100 boards by 2015 to achieve the 25% target set by Lord Davies.

The pay gap is an important issue. I do not think that it has been raised directly in today’s debate, but it is never too far from my mind. It is a matter of concern that women are still disadvantaged in pay. We are addressing that in two main ways. First, for the vast majority of businesses who want to do the right thing by their female employees, we are encouraging good

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practice through the voluntary “Think, Act, Report” initiative. More than 170 organisations representing more than 2 million employees are showing that they are committed to equality in their business. As the Minister responsible for tourism I was pleased to announce this morning at a Women 1st women in tourism event that Merlin Entertainments, Brakes Group, easyJet, Advantage Travel and CH&Co catering have now signed up to that important initiative.

However, we shall also take tough action against employers who do not do the right thing, and from October when a tribunal finds that an employer has broken equal pay laws it will order a full pay audit, to prevent continuing sex discrimination in pay matters.

Fiona Mactaggart: One of the things that my constituents say to me is that because they cannot get legal aid and proper support for tribunals, they are less likely to take such cases to a tribunal. A policy that triggers action against a company only after a successful tribunal claim has been made is likely to be less effective in future than it would have been in the past.

Mrs Grant: The hon. Lady has raised that issue before, and I know that she is concerned about it. As she knows, there is a remission system, so when people do not have the money to pay the fee, the state will step in. That remission system has been around for some years, and it has worked very well. I trust that it will continue to work well to ensure that people have access to justice, a concept that is very important to me and to others.

Mrs Hodgson: I want to point out that I raised the question of the gender pay gap. I mentioned that in 2012-13, the gender pay gap for full-time workers rose for the first time in five years to 10%. I have listened to the Minister telling us about the measures that the Government will take, but will she give us an assurance that the gender gap will not increase further during her term of office?

Mrs Grant: I apologise to the shadow Minister for not mentioning the fact that she had raised the gender pay gap; I, of course, heard her. It is an important issue, and I think we are making progress. The overall gender pay gap still stands at just under 20%, which in my opinion is completely unacceptable, but I believe that the two measures that we are taking—one of scrutiny in relation to compulsory pay audits and the other about transparency through “Think, Act, Report”—will have the desired effect.

A number of interventions have been made by hon. Members today. I am not sure whether I will be able to deal with all of them, but I will do my best. My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden raised the geographic disparity in women’s employment rates and suggested that cultural factors might be partly responsible. There are a number of factors at play, and cultural heritage may well be one of them. We want to help all girls and women to fulfil their potential, and we have a programme of work for that purpose to raise girls’ aspirations, which includes a school and business partnership and a resource for parents to help them support their daughters with their career choices. A number of excellent organisations are helping us, including QED-UK, a

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project that supports women of Pakistani heritage into employment in south Yorkshire, which is making excellent progress.

The hon. Member for Slough asked whether I would discuss with the Department for Education the issue of young girls receiving advertisements for jobs ancillary to sex work. I am appalled that young women are receiving adverts for jobs ancillary to adult entertainment, and I will certainly raise that issue with my ministerial colleagues.

The hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal spoke in detail and with great authority about women on boards. I share their concern that where women are getting board roles, they are more likely to be successful in non-executive roles. If we are to make real and proper progress in that area, it is essential that we focus on developing the executive pipeline. I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of an organisation called Women 1st, to which I gave a keynote speech this morning, which is trailblazing in this area. I look forward to hosting and chairing an event involving head-hunters in the next few weeks with my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal and others.

The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who is no longer in her seat, remarked on the poor showing of the UK, in comparison with the United States, on enterprise. If she were here, I would be saying to her that the Women’s Business Council is prioritising women’s entrepreneurship. At a meeting yesterday, members of the council discussed what they could do as leaders in industry, and they discussed issues such as positive role models and positive behaviours. The council is determined to make further progress in that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal spoke in detail about science, technology, engineering and maths, about which she knows an awful lot. I agree with her that we need to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects and raise their aspirations. That topic will be discussed at the United Nations next week, at the Commission on the Status of Women. I am happy to say that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), and Nicola Yates, a Women’s Business Council member from GlaxoSmithKline, will be advocating on behalf of the UK the need to support girls into those disciplines and sharing best practice with a truly international audience.

One of our enlightened men—unfortunately he is no longer in his place—my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), raised the need to get our girls to do A-level maths, which is an important issue. Action is being taken, and £200 million of Government investment has gone into STEM higher education teaching facilities, and higher education institutions will be required to match funding. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is also funding a programme of work to promote diversity in the STEM work force.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who has left the room, spoke about men as agents for change. We need to have the men with us on this agenda if we are to make progress. I always say that when courageous women

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meet with enlightened men, there is very little that they cannot achieve. I am pleased that he made that contribution. On 20 February, John Timpson of the Women’s Business Council hosted a round-table meeting with male CEOs to develop strategies to support flexible and modern workplaces. It is important for male leaders to demonstrate leadership in that area, and their doing so shows commitment and best practice.

The shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Slough raised the issue of women and public appointments, especially in Whitehall. The Government are absolutely committed to increasing the diversity of public appointments, and we have recently established a centre for public appointments, which works right across Whitehall and with executive search industries to modernise the recruitment practices to public boards. The Government’s aim, which the shadow Minister may be aware of, is for 50% of new public appointments to be women by the end of the Parliament, and we have recently published an action plan for achieving that. We are making progress; 37% of public appointments made by Whitehall Departments in 2012-13 were women, and that has risen to 45% in the past six months.

Fiona Mactaggart: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: If I can just finish my point. The hon. Member for Slough asked how many of the appointments were paid; I do not know, but I would be happy to look into that and write to her in due course. If that is the issue she wanted to raise, I hope that I can push on; if not, I will sit down.

Fiona Mactaggart: It is the issue I was going to raise, and I am grateful to the Minister for her offer to write to me. However, I wish I could get a reply to the question that I have asked every Department. I just want the number of appointments that are paid to be in the public domain. We do not currently know, and that information ought to be published. If the Minister could make that happen, I would be very grateful.

Mrs Grant: I shall do my very best to provide the hon. Lady with the information she has requested. I would also be happy to meet her if she needs further information once she has received what I will endeavour to send to her.

Mrs Hodgson: I raised the issue of departmental boards. They are obviously not representative, and I know that the Minister has said that that will be addressed, but are departmental board positions paid or unpaid?

Mrs Grant: May I write to the hon. Lady on that, just as I will write to the hon. Member for Slough?

This has been a wide-ranging and informative debate. It is also a critical debate for our society and economy. I would like to conclude with a reminder of some of the findings of the Women’s Business Council, which reported last June and continues to work with the Government and business to drive forward this important agenda. It found that by equalising the labour force participation of men and women, the UK could increase economic growth by 0.5% per year, with potential gains of 10% of GDP by 2030. It also found that if women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, we could have an extra 1 million female entrepreneurs.

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As the Prime Minister repeatedly says, we are now in a global race, and, as those figures from the Women’s Business Council show, it is a race that we cannot win unless we make full use of the skills and experience of everyone in our economy. I hope I have made it clear that this Government will do whatever it takes to ensure that we support women in the economy, and to transform the world of work so that many more women have the opportunity to achieve their aspirations.

3.42 pm

Mrs Spelman: Thank you for allowing me to wind up the debate, Mr Sheridan. It gives me the opportunity to put on the record the fact that we have been joined by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), which is a very good effort on her part and evidence of how important the Government consider the debate.

We have also been joined by the Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). I would like to thank him for coming and encourage him to look, in the report of the debate, at the section in which we discussed progress within the House of Commons, particularly regarding unconscious bias training. There is no room for complacency, as terms and conditions for women in Parliament are not easy, with our long-hours culture and lack of maternity leave—certainly no adjustment leave, as was described. There is a good opportunity for

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the Chief Whip and his Opposition counterpart, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), to take that forward.

I would like to thank all Members for making the effort to take part in the debate. I thank the hon. Gentlemen who attended and made interventions for their support. If I may set the record straight, a detailed Library brief was indeed provided for the debate, and it was authored by two men, Feargal McGuinness and Chris Rhodes, who deserve thanks for the detailed statistics that they made available to Members. I commend that brief to other Members present.

Finally, I would like to say how much we have enjoyed the presence of many young women who have come today as part of the programme organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), with the encouragement of the Secretary of State. They have been allowed on this special day to see the workings of this Parliament. Shortly they will receive hospitality from Mr Speaker, and later from the Prime Minister at No. 10. We hope that they will go away as inspired as the Mars employee who went on to become the first female astronaut, as we heard today. On this special day, we celebrate her achievement, and the achievement of all women around the globe.

Question put and agreed to.

3.44 pm

Sitting adjourned.