Women in Workplace - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents


It is an individual's right to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. If that does not or cannot happen, it is a waste: a waste to that individual; a waste to the economic benefit of the country; and a waste to society. Women comprise over half the population and, as such, a significant amount of public funds are invested in them. Ensuring that women, as well as men, have the opportunity to realise their maximum potential is therefore as much an economic argument as one about equality. In this inquiry, we explored the issues surrounding the position of women at all stages of their career, and at all levels of the workforce, primarily within the context of the economic benefits of utilising fully women's contribution to the workforce.

The Equal Pay Act 1970 was an attempt to equalise wages for men and women doing the same or comparable work. After over 40 years of the legislation being enacted, equality in pay between men and women has not been achieved. There are many factors that affect this, including: the types of jobs traditionally thought of as being more suitable for women; childcare being seen as primarily the responsibility of women; the opaqueness of the pay system that hides unequal remuneration; and the domination of men in positions at the highest levels of the workforce.

We welcome the Government's commitment to the principles of equality in the workforce and the recently-published Report by the Women's Business Council—a group set up and funded by the Government—which makes recommendations for women's greater economic participation. The Report stresses the need for better career guidance for school pupils, which we welcome, and on which we build. However, while the Government highlights the importance of comprehensive careers advice, it has transferred responsibility for careers guidance to schools, without the necessary additional support. The Government's laudable commitment to the Apprenticeship programme does not include specific targets for increasing the number of women in sectors where they are under-represented, as it has done so in relation to women holding senior positions in the workforce.

In relation to employment, the Government has changed the funding mechanism for the Women and Work programme, which was specifically aimed at rebalancing unequal representation of women in certain sectors. Neither has it introduced Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, which would require large private sector employers to undertake equal pay audits. The Government is also 'calling time' on the undertaking of Equality Impact Assessments and appears to be weakening the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Government needs to send a strong, consistent message about workplace equality, at all levels of the workforce, and all those involved—schools, businesses, and the Government itself—need to work harder, to achieve long-term, sustainable change. We cannot afford to wait another 40 years for equality at all levels of the workforce, and for the resulting economic benefits, to be delivered.

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Prepared 20 June 2013