Women in Workplace - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

1  Introduction

This is still a workplace designed by men for men. There is a great deal that this Government still has to do to make sure that we can allow women to play their full part. [Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Women and Equalities Minister][1]

1.  The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP spoke these words when she gave evidence to the Committee in January 2013. Her views highlight the continuing importance of an issue that we, and our predecessors, have been interested in for many years. In April 2005, our predecessors on the Trade and Industry Committee published Jobs for the girls: the effect of occupational segregation on the gender pay gap[2] and then our predecessors on the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee published a follow-up Report Jobs for the girls: two years on.[3] This inquiry continues that work.

2.  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. We were interested in exploring 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 argument of utilising fully women's contribution to the workforce. This will also involve a cultural shift that will involve men sharing domestic and caring responsibilities in the home.

3.  Some aspects of women's position in the workplace have changed for the better over recent years. For example, we heard from Professor Jane Dacre, representing the Royal College of Physicians, who told us that "60% of medical students are now female. […] Clever girls used to be nurses, now clever girls become doctors".[4] Often women's chances of achievement are reliant on the type of work that they choose to do, and the context in which they carry out that work. Indeed, within the medical profession, Professor Dacre told us that 42% of partners in primary care were women, compared with only 8% of surgical consultants being women.[5] Opportunities available to women depend on the level of wages, the choice of work, the flexibility of work on offer, maternity rights, the cost of local childcare, and the use of fair and open competition in job promotion. These factors are linked by perceptions of how women should be, what careers they should follow, and the roles that men take on. All these aspects of work are woven together, and they can either help or hinder women's prospects in their working and home life.

4.  The underlying foundation on which all these aspects of a person's life rests is their economic standing. The Equal Pay Act 1970 was an attempt to equalise pay between men and women. After over 40 years of the legislation being enacted, full equality in pay has not been achieved. As with women's achievements in the workplace, there are many reasons why women are paid less than men: the types of jobs traditionally thought of as being more suitable for women; the consequences of the responsibility of raising babies and children still regarded primarily as being that of women; the opaqueness of the pay system that hides unequal remuneration; and the preponderance of men reaching the highest levels of the workforce, and who—often unintentionally—make strategic decisions based on their own experiences, rather than on more diverse experiences, that in turn directly affect many other people.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee's inquiry

5.  Our inquiry was launched in September 2012. We sought written evidence on:

  • whether the Equality Act, including the Public Sector Equality Duty, goes far enough in tackling inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and job segregation, between men and women in the workplace;
  • what steps should be taken to provide greater transparency on pay and other issues, such as workforce composition;
  • the impact of the current economic crisis on female employment and wage levels;
  • how gender stereotyping in particular occupations should be tackled;
  • what more should be done to promote part-time work at all levels of the workplace, ensuring that both women and men have opportunities to gain senior positions within an organisation while working flexibly or part time;
  • to what extent the recommendations in Lord Davies' Report Women on Board, published in February 2011, have been acted upon, and how successful the
  • voluntary code of conduct has been; why there are still so few women in senior positions on boards, and what the benefits are of having a greater number of women on boards;
  • how much consideration investors should give to the percentage of women on boards, when considering company reporting and appointments to the board.

Some evidence noted that a disproportionate number of our terms of reference referred to women in senior positions.[6] While we accept the fact that the majority of women (and the majority of men) will never reach senior board positions, people in senior positions make strategic long-term decisions affecting the running of an organisation and the workforce within that organisation. We therefore felt that it was important to highlight the issues surrounding the low proportion of women in senior positions, while nevertheless not treating the other issues with any less importance.

6.  We received 103 written submissions, 27 of which were confidential, and held six oral evidence sessions, where we heard from 46 witnesses. Those sessions covered the following issues: the stereotyping of jobs; employment law; the advancement of women in senior management positions, including the European Commission's proposals; women's involvement in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths); the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and women; and finally the work of the Women's Business Council and of the Government. We would like to thank all those who gave written and oral evidence. We would also like to thank our specialist adviser, Karon Monaghan QC, for her invaluable help and advice during the inquiry.

Mumsnet and Woman's Hour involvement

7.  We wanted a different approach to this inquiry, to reach people directly affected by the issues concerning women in the workplace who might not otherwise have considered contributing their experiences. We welcomed Mumsnet's interest in the inquiry, and their offer to set up an internet forum, where people could post their views arising from our terms of reference. The forum attracted over 100 comments, which can be found at the following site: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/site_stuff/a1633298-Parliamentary-committee-wants-your-views-on-issues-faced-by-working-women.

8.  We were also extremely grateful to Woman's Hour for its coverage of the inquiry, and for enabling us to reach many more women who had direct experience of the issues in the inquiry. Woman's Hour covered the inquiry on four separate occasions, including an interview with the Chair of the Committee, Adrian Bailey MP, two interviews with Ann McKechin MP, and a programme devoted to the subject, involving a phone-in with the presenter Jane Garvey and Rebecca Harris MP. Many listeners contributed to the inquiry, by making comments during the phone-in—by telephone or by social media—and by sending us confidential and non-confidential written evidence. We received written evidence that included anecdotal experience of some excellent equality working practices, but also some shocking examples of inequality at work, in both private and public organisations, including the fields of education, the law, the construction industry and the NHS. Much of the confidential written evidence highlighted such inequality, and we were struck by the fact that so many women did not want their names published. Many of those contributors wrote in as a direct result of the Woman's Hour coverage. All non-confidential written evidence can be found on our website.[7] The contribution from Woman's Hour made a significant difference to our understanding of the issues involved, and contributed to our deliberation in the forming of some of the recommendations in this Report, and we would like to thank all those involved in making this possible.

1   Q 440 Back

2   Trade and Industry Committee, Sixteenth Report of Session 2004-05, Jobs for the girls: the effect of occupational segregation on the gender pay gap, HC 300-1 Back

3   Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Jobs for the girls: two years on, HC 291-1 Back

4   Q 19 Back

5   Q 18 Back

6   Ev 225; Ev w17; Q 87 Back

7   www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-innovation-and-skills/inquiries/parliament-2010/women-in-the-workplace/


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