Women in Workplace - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

2  Stereotyping of jobs and gender representation

What I am trying to do is to break the stereotype. We have to do things differently. There is a saying: do what you have always done and you will get what you have always got. [Diane Johnson, Electrical Contractors Association (ECA)][8]


9.  Diane Johnson from the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) told us about her innovative way of encouraging women to join the engineering sector.[9] She was describing the inherent stereotypes that permeate women's choices of careers, which in turn lead to reduced career and salary prospects. Our predecessor Committee's Report Jobs for the girls: the effect of occupational segregation on the gender pay gap was published in April 2005, and stated:

The tendency of men and women to work in different occupations, and the associated tendency of predominantly female occupations to be lower paid and lower valued than men's, have a major effect on the gender pay gap in the UK; but such occupational segregation also deprives employers of potential recruits—a factor of particular importance in areas of skills shortages.[10]

10.  Over eight years later, the points made remain relevant. The Women's Business Centre highlighted statistics of the most common jobs for young men and for young women, from the Labour Force Survey of 2011:

Most common jobs for young men (age 22-29) are:
1. Construction and building trades (170,000)
2. Sales assistants and retail cashiers (160,000)
3. Elementary services occupations (110,000)
4. IT and telecoms professionals (100,000)
5. Electrical and electronic trades (100,000)
Most common jobs for young women (age 22-29) are:
1. Sales assistants and retail cashiers (200,000)
2. Caring personal services (170,000)
3. Teaching and education professionals (160,000)
4. Elementary services occupations (130,000)
5. Childcare and related personal services (130,000)[11]

11.  Mary-Ann Paddison, in a personal capacity, highlighted the improvement in the number of women chartered surveyors in the past 20 years, yet the figures still show that men outnumber women by more than five to one:

When I started training for my profession in c. 1983 I recall that around 7% of Chartered Surveyors were women. Today I understand that approximately 15%-17% of Chartered Surveyors are women.[12]

This chapter will tease out the reasons why certain career choices are made, concentrating on specific subjects which are disproportionately represented by men. It will also highlight initiatives that have contributed to the greater choice of careers by women.

Nature or nurture?

12.  We received a range of evidence on the reasons underlying the disproportionate ratio of men and women in certain professions; some stressed the fact that biological differences affect people's choice of career, while others stressed cultural differences that dominate the choices that women make. Mike Buchanan, from the Campaign for Merit in Business, told us that he believed that the roots of the difference in unequal representation in certain occupations between men and women lay in biological differences between the sexes:

I am very much persuaded by the work of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University, who published a book called The Essential Difference back in 2003. His essential thesis is that most people are gender-typical, and that the male brain is designed for systemising and the female brain for empathising. If that is true—and I think there is a lot of evidence that it is true—then we would expect men to be more interested in physics, mathematics and engineering and we would expect women to be more interested in nursing, medicine and, indeed psychology. [...] I am simply saying the number of men who are good mathematicians, physicists and engineers will naturally considerably outnumber the number of women who are.[13]

13.  In oral evidence, Dr Catherine Hakim, a sociologist, described her preference theory, based on research on the choices that women make, which highlighted the fact that

Roughly 20% of women in all societies are work-centred and careerist in the way men are. Roughly 20% of women are home-centred, family-orientated in the way that very, very few men are. Roughly 60% are in the middle wanting the best of both worlds, a combination of family life, paid employment and success or achievement in the public sphere, whether it is in politics, sport, art, the workplace or whatever. The ones in the middle group are the ones that are always dominant in any survey results because they are the ones who are the most numerous. However, an awful lot of policy is based on the assumption that women would be careerist and work-centred, just like men, if only culture and society allowed them to. The evidence is that they simply are not.[14]

In her written evidence she explained her thesis further:

If social engineering aims for outcomes that go against the grain, then all the money and effort will be wasted anyway. There are good reasons why fewer women remain working as engineers and few men become beauticians.[15]

14.  Much of our evidence, however, argued that the choices that many women make over the type of work they choose is more influenced by cultural presumptions of the role that women should take. Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astronomer at the University of Oxford and Chair of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's inquiry into Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), told us that she believed that culture, not biology, determined women's career choice, and illustrated this view by describing the variation in the number of female astronomers in different countries around the world:

Mostly, astronomers have done physics to get to astronomy, so physics figures are really very like this. There is huge divergence around the world. Argentina has 37% of its cohort female, whereas Japan has 6%. Local cultural influences dominate. This is not biology; this is not women's brains. This is the culture in the country—what is considered appropriate for a women in that country to do.[16]

She went on to explain why she believed these cultural differences occurred:

It is my impression that it is our sisters, our cousins and our aunts who determine what is appropriate for women to do, to a large extent. They influence the early decision of girls. Their progress will be determined by the people in power, who are often men. There are very, very strong cultural effects, so what we are trying to change is the culture in the country.[17]

Other evidence also supported the fact that cultural attitudes can affect career choice. Bola Fatimilehin, from the Royal Academy of Engineering, returned to the example of physics:

Physics is of huge interest to engineering because it is a key subject in terms of determining whether or not you can become an engineer in later life. The Institute of Physics conducted research earlier this year that showed that of all the A-level entrants in 2011, 20% of them were female. That situation has persisted for the last 20 years. It is not biological. It is not because girls cannot do physics; they actually do better than boys. There is a lot around teacher attitude and stereotyping that says that boys do physics. Kings College is doing a longitudinal study of this, and some studies say that some teachers, though not all, will see boys as more naturally able and better at physics. Of course, that sends a message to girls.[18]

15.  Positive views about 'atypical' careers for women can make a difference in women's choices. Claire O'Connor wrote in a personal capacity about her experience in the automotive industry, and explained how her choice of career was influenced:

I myself would not have considered engineering had I not spoken to a family friend who highlighted the variety of skills I could use as an engineer, such as project management, finance, purchasing and technology, therefore exposing more people to the industry can only be a positive thing. [...] Having worked within the automotive industry for 16 years I have always found it very female friendly, with many policies which positively support women in the workplace. I have benefited from generous maternity leave, flexible part-time working and an on-site nursery which have made it possible for me to remain in the workplace. From my observations these policies have meant the majority of women return to work following the birth of their children.[19]

16.  Similar sentiments about the benefits of choosing to work in an 'atypical' career for women were expressed by another engineer, Charlotte Dunford:

I have always felt like I was treated as an equal by my male colleagues and they have been open about the need to encourage more women to enter the profession. [...] In my experience the barrier to women being in the technical professions is that many women do not choose my career, not that they are barred from it or are not felt welcome by others once they have chosen it. [...] How can a woman fall in love with these professions or realise they are capable of them if they never try them?[20]

17.  We are of the view, based on much of our written and oral evidence, that the root of the problem of the stereotyping of jobs come from the cultural context in which career decisions are made, not from innate differences between men and women. Those decisions are often based on external influences and advice, affecting both girls and boys at a very early age. However, just because it is culture rather than nature that influences career choice does not necessarily make it any easier to change, nor does it mean that all people—men or women—want to change it. What is needed is the opportunity for girls and boys to make informed decisions about their future careers, based on comprehensive and objective advice.

Schools and Careers advice

18.  Schools play a significant part in influencing stereotypes, both in what they teach in the curriculum and in what careers advice they offer. The Institute of Physics stressed the fact that other countries are better at attracting more women into science and highlighted the poor track record of English schools supporting girls studying physics.[21] Its report It's Different for Girls noted that "almost half of all maintained co-ed schools in England (49%) sent no girls on to take A-level physics in 2011".[22] It highlighted the success of its own initiative in generating significant increases in the number of girls studying physics:

Our Stimulating Physics Network (SPN), a Department for Education funded initiative, aims to improve the uptake of A-Level physics by working directly with schools. They have seen a colossal rise in the number of girls taking physics (an increase of 200%, compared to 70% in boys) in the SPN partner schools. This clearly shows that targeted initiatives can and do work.[23]

We received evidence highlighting other programmes that support targeted work on pupils at school, some specifically aimed at girls. Women and Manual Trades (WAMT) stressed the importance of promoting women in non-traditional roles, introducing tradeswomen to young children "to expose and promote skilled labour as a viable career and employment option for women and men", and in providing practical information on ways in which to enter the trades.[24]

19.  Dr. Heather Williams, a physicist within the NHS and honorary secretary to the Institute of Physics' Women in Physics Groups, also wrote of the need for visible role models:

Speaking specifically about women in non-typical careers, I think we need more visible, accessible and inspirational female role models from a wide variety of careers, and enable access to these role models for young women at all stages of their education.[25]

Kate Sloyan is one such role model—a research fellow at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton who, in 2012, won the Institute of Physics' Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year. She described the outreach programme run by her department:

[W]e mostly target primary school-aged children. We have a load of hands-on experiments that we have built, such as button pushing—the good bits at science museums—and we take those out into schools, as well as to Brownies and Guides groups, trying to push the women in science bit. We also take part in days on campus where not just kids but families get involved as well. The idea is to get kids enthusiastic about science first, to educate them a little bit, second, and also, and more subtly, to provide role models.[26]

20.  The Women's Engineering Society recommended that the topic of gender inclusion should be included as part of key stage one and two[27] and wrote:

The key message about stereotypes and associated messages of opportunity for all need to be targeted at the very young and in public places such as libraries and schools. Schools should be encouraged to deliver in a more positive way and transform their diversity policies into effective action plans.[28]

The Fawcett Society agreed that more should be done in schools to "incorporate gender equality education in the relevant aspects of the National Curriculum, including explicit discussions about the gender pay gap and its causes" and to undertake "more public education work in order to challenge stereotypical and limited ideas of women and men's respective roles and abilities".[29] The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) recommended that more businesses should work with schools, by helping young people develop their management and leadership skills, and in particular to help "develop young women's confidence and increase young women's understanding of the opportunities that exist in the world of work. We believe this will help translate the high performance of girls, particularly in technical subjects, into increased representation in industries where gender stereotyping still persists".[30]

21.  Good quality careers advice—from schools, from family members, from businesses, universities and organisations—is of paramount importance in helping young women to choose professions that suit them, and in tackling direct and indirect job stereotyping. We received evidence citing poor careers advice at schools as being a primary reason why girls are put off certain subjects and careers. Diane Johnson, from the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), told us that "at the moment we do not have a proper structure for how to excite women. We should start a lot earlier; we should be in schools, explaining what women can actually do".[31] Professor Ebdon, the Director of the Office of Fair Access, the university fair access regulator, has told us that, in order to increase universities' applicant pool, "outreach programmes should start as young as seven".[32]

22.  The importance of careers advice was emphasised by the Women and Equalities Minister, the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, who told us that one-third of the gender pay gap is still driven by the types of jobs that women do.[33] She said that

Rather than use the fig leaf of legislation, let us get to the nub of the problem, which is making sure that women are getting good careers advice, which, again, is something that we have worked on very strongly as a Government, that they are going into the right sectors, and that we have the right, modern workplaces that women can work in, thrive in and can stay in their jobs when they have caring responsibilities.[34]

23.  However, in its Report on Careers guidance for young people: the impact of the new duty on schools, the Education Committee was not convinced that the Government had succeeded in its reform of career advice:

We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people. We heard evidence that there is already a worrying deterioration in the overall level of provision for young people. Urgent steps need to be taken by the Government to ensure that young people's needs are being met.[35]

24.  That Committee recommended that careers advice should be a responsibility not just for schools but also for the National Careers Service, which should receive additional funding.[36] The Women's Engineering Society believed that careers advice should involve "information on opportunities, wages, pathways for primary and secondary teachers, lecturers in FE and HE, advisors to children, parents, carers, play-groups workers, for all learners".[37]

25.  Karon Jochelson, from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), told us about the work that the EHRC has carried out in this area:

We decided to focus on primary school children, because our research found that gendered ideas about what was appropriate work, if you were a little girl or a little boy, start very early. We have developed a pack with educational specialists that tries to help children to think about cultural stereotypes, the world of work and the benefits you get from work. We published that in September [2012], and it has been marketed through our partners at various educational conferences. It is called Equal Choices, Equal Chances, and it is a partner piece to a similar piece of work called Equal Rights, Equal Respect, which also focuses on stereotyping, but more from a human rights angle.[38]

26.  A more joined-up approach to careers advice was advocated by Ruby McGregor-Smith, Chair of the Women's Business Council—a Government-funded and administered group set up in the summer of 2012 to explore ways in which women can play a great economic role in the country.[39] She said:

We need a joined-up careers service. It should be wider than a careers service. Calling it 'Careers and Aspirations for Young People' would go a long way towards beginning to solve this—particularly in this economic environment. Every school, as opposed to focusing on what universities they send their kids to and what league tables they join, could focus on making them work-ready. Beginning to change that is the message.[40]

We agree with the views of the Women's Business Council; only by having a strategic approach in all schools, will the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Department for Education, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills be able to provide consistent advice to schools about the work that schools themselves can do to alleviate stereotyping.

27.  Independent, impartial advice from schools, from parents, and from organisations connected with education and business, is crucial in informing young girls and young boys of the full range of career opportunities open to them. While we received evidence highlighting pockets of excellent careers advice given by individuals and organisations, we are concerned about the lack of comprehensive careers advice, as highlighted by the Education Committee's Report on careers guidance for young people. This lack of advice to young people—both girls and boys—needs to be addressed head on, and careers advice should be incorporated in the work of both primary and secondary schools, in the training of teachers and teaching assistants, and in the role of governors. At an early age, girls and boys are influenced by those around them, and all people involved in children's upbringing should view this influence as highly important.

28.  At the heart of the issue of career aspirations for girls and boys is the need to have a cultural change through the educational system, at the point when pupils make subject choices. In this respect, we support the recommendations set out in the Women's Business Council's recent Report. We recommend that the Government develops an enhanced careers strategy, based on partnership working between the National Careers Service, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the National Apprenticeship Service, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the Department of Education, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Such a strategy must include firm targets and regular review processes to ensure that progress is maintained and is consistent across all parts of the country. The Government should also engage, where appropriate, with the devolved administrations, so that best practice can be shared. Within this Government-led strategy, there should be strong business-led engagement with this process.


29.  Sarah Veale, representing the TUC, told us of the general lack of careers advice for vocational careers:

There is a general problem in this country that vocational careers are not rated nearly as highly as going to university and being an academic. The goal of schools is to get as many children into university as possible, regardless of whether it is actually the right choice for the child.[41]

Indeed, our Report into Apprenticeships in 2012 highlighted this very point:

We acknowledge that the inclusion of Apprenticeships in careers advice is legislated for in the Education Act 2011, but we have found that awareness and resources in schools and colleges remains lacking. [...] The time and resources that institutions dedicate to 'UCAS applications' compared to preparing students for vocational training illustrates the scale of the problem. Success will be measured when schools and colleges place vocational and academic progression on an equal standing in terms of both the level and quality of resources.[42]

30.  Diane Johnson, from the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), told us about the lack of knowledge about Apprenticeships, particularly among girls:

For a woman, the word Apprenticeship does not mean anything anymore. At one time the word Apprenticeship meant quality; it meant having a craft skill for life that you could then build on going forward. If you talk to young people now, they say, 'What does an Apprenticeship mean?' If you are a young lady who wants to go into something that she can build on, our sector does not look that exciting because nobody is advising them on what they can do and how they can get there.[43]

This evidence was supported by the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign:

A recent evaluation of pilot projects to increase the diversity of Apprenticeships found that young women, parents and, often, teachers and advisers held outdated views of STEM occupations. Employers tended to feel that there were few barriers on the supply side but rather there was limited demand among young women. However, pilots were not convinced that all employers had considered unconscious bias in recruitment practices and work environments.[44]

Our Report into Apprenticeships went on to highlight specific inequalities within the scheme, and we concluded that "such inequality, especially in a publically-funded scheme, is not acceptable and combating barriers to entry should be a key priority".[45] Data released from the Office for National Statistics in March 2013, covering 2011-2012, show that, although the number of men and women who completed Apprenticeships was roughly equal, there were still significant gender imbalances in certain sectors. For example, 12,880 men completed engineering Apprenticeships compared with 400 women.[46] The following table highlights the Apprenticeship Programme Starts in 2011-12, by sector, level and gender:


31.  The Government response to our Apprenticeship Report agreed that "the Apprenticeship programme should be an inspiration to all and demonstrate the advantages of greater diversity at all levels of industry".[48] In supplementary evidence to this inquiry, the Government cited a series of Diversity in Apprenticeship pilots run by the National Apprenticeship Service, which investigated ways to attract under-represented groups to become involved in Apprenticeships.[49] But the Government should put its resolve into action, and set specific targets for increasing the number of women into apprenticeship sectors where they are currently underrepresented.

32.  The Government has put its resolve into action in relation to women in senior positions. In 2010, the Government invited Lord Davies to undertake a review of the issues surrounding women in the boardroom, and to make recommendations on what the Government and the business community could do to increase the proportion of women on corporate boards.[50] The ten recommendations included one on voluntary targets, which stated that FTSE 100 boards should aim for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015.[51] The use of targets should also be applied in this context as well, in order to increase the number of women taking up Apprenticeships in under-represented sectors.

33.  The Government is committed to improving the representation of women on boards, and has set specific targets for such an increase, and progress against the Davies Report has been encouraging. The Government should demonstrate the same commitment and leadership in the area of Apprenticeships. It should set targets for encouraging more women into Apprenticeship sectors where they are currently under-represented, and consider, where appropriate, how Apprenticeship funding can be used to support such a shift in gender representation. There should be publically-available data on the types of available Apprenticeships and funding, and what successful Apprentices should expect in terms of careers and salaries. We repeat the recommendation in our Report into Apprenticeships: the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) should be given specific responsibility and accountability both to raise awareness of Apprenticeships among under-represented groups and to promote positive action measures available to employers when employing Apprenticeships.

STEM subjects

34.  The Royal Society of Edinburgh, in its Report, Tapping all our talents: women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics defines STEM as Physical and Biological Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Mathematics and Computer Sciences.[52] STEM subjects are suffering from a skills shortage, and it is noticeable that it is here where the low proportion of women to men studying is most marked. Evidence from the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign—which is aiming to ensure that 30% of the UK's STEM workforce is female by 2020[53]—stated that:

The engineering workforce comprises 4% female technicians and 6% female engineers. The percentage of women employed as IT and telecoms professionals has declined from 22% in 2001 to just 18% in 2010. Fewer than 1 in 5 of applicants to the Technical Apprenticeship Service for scientific roles are female.[54]

35.  Les Ebdon, from the Office for Fair Access (Offa), told us that the disparity between men and women studying STEM subjects was improving:

There are some very big disparities: 70% of law students are female; over 90% of nursing students are female. Yet, as you say, in engineering programmes there may be less in recent years; in physics and chemistry the numbers have significantly improved. Certainly in chemistry there is now parity between men and women, which was not the case when I was a chemistry student, I can tell you. In physics things are improving.[55]

36.  When asked to provide further clarification on the proportion of men and women studying physics and chemistry over the past five years, Professor Ebdon provided two tables, which he wrote "show a significant increase in the numbers of women applying for, and being accepted to, chemistry and physics courses in recent years".[56]

Table 1[57]: Numbers of applicants by gender and subject areas defined by Joint Academic Coding System (JACS)
UCAS application cycles 2008 to 2012 
Subject areas defined by JACS Gender 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Chemistry Female 1,585 1,535 1,810 1,935 1,865
Male 2,285 2,360 2,715 2,950 3,025
Physics Female 735 830 930 1,030 1,170
Male 2,980 3,165 3,555 4,350 4,585
Table 2: Numbers of accepted applicants by gender and subject areas defined by JACS
UCAS application cycles 2008 to 2012[58
Subject areas defined by JACS Gender 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Chemistry Female 1,700 1,645 1,785 1,905 1,815
Male 2,340 2,325 2,595 2,630 2,695
Physics Female 690 765 810 835 925
Male 2,765 2,955 3,015 3,475 3,635

As Professor Ebdon said in his supplementary evidence, the data is limited as UCAS is not the only route to university, and the data does not record part-time students, or those progressing from science foundation years. However, the figures show that, while there has been some increase in the number of women studying physics and chemistry over the four years, the number of women studying those subjects is still low compared with the number of men.

37.  At present, women make up only 1% of all qualified operatives in electrical contracting. However, there are initiatives to address this. Diane Johnson highlighted Wired for Success, a programme that tackles the low percentage of women in the electrical sector. A private-sector funded scheme run by ECA and the London and Quadrant Housing Association has developed a programme in which housing association contractors run flexible training schemes in electrical skills for unemployment women, incorporating technical training, on-site placements and business skills to train unemployed women in electrical skills. Diane Johnson told us that the groundbreaking part of the initiative was to run the programme around school days and term times, and to provide childcare facilities. She told us that "Wired for Success, to be honest, is a blueprint for anything. It does not have to be electrical; it could be anything".[59]

38.  A voluntary initiative run by the Institute of Physics has also proved to be successful. Project Juno is an award scheme which recognises and rewards physics departments that work to attract more women. The Institute of Physics described the initiative:

A department moves through levels of recognition as they identify issues, develop an action plan and work through it. They start out as Supporters, then progress through Practitioner and to Champion level. At each stage they receive individual guidance and feedback from an independent panel on their work. We currently have six Juno Champions, six Practitioners and a further 21 Supporters working towards Practitioner. This represents 33 out of the 46 physics departments in the UK and two out of the 11 in Ireland. This has enabled all of our Champion departments to engage in holistic culture change, addressing gender issues from the bottom up and to seek to embed practice at every level within their departments. Indeed, this year one of our Juno Champions has, so far, reported a rise to almost 34% of applications from girls to take physics degrees. This is unprecedented and highlights a real step-change taking place in culture in physics HE.[60]

Again, this voluntary initiative could be extended to any STEM subject. Evidence from Dr. Heather Williams, a physicist within the NHS, described ScienceGrrl, of which she is the Director, as being "a network of (predominantly) female scientists passionate about passing on their love of STEM to the next generation".[61] There is also the Athena SWAN Charter, founded in 2005, which is a scheme that "recognises excellence in STEM employment for women in higher education".[62] All these initiatives are to be welcomed, and provide evidence that practical steps are being taken to encourage more women into STEM subjects.

39.  There are many excellent and diverse initiatives in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), such as the Athena SWAN Charter, Project Juno, and Wired for Success. These programmes encourage and recognise the participation of women in STEM subjects. The Government Equalities Office should compile a comprehensive list of such initiatives, with the aim of sharing best practice. The Government has powerful leverage in its funding of higher educational institutions, but is not using that leverage to force change. The Government also needs to compile specific data that shows the male/female ratio in these subjects. Data from institutions that have adopted specific initiatives for female participation should then be compared with data from institutions that have not adopted such initiatives.

40.  The Government should study the strategy behind the Davies Report, including the setting of targets, and should aim to tackle the skills shortages in a similar way. Programmes targeted at increasing participation of women have proved to be successful. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the Government should use that knowledge and replicate the measures that have proven success in delivering an increased take-up by women in certain professions. Higher educational institutions should demonstrate a track record in changing the unequal representation of men and women in these subjects.

41.  These specific recommendations are voluntary measures, but if the percentage figures do not increase within two years from the start of this initiative, the Government should look at regulation—either self regulation or Government regulation—to ensure a greater representative of women in under-represented professions and sectors. At December 2015, analysis of the information should be undertaken, and assessed.

Positive action

42.  Positive action is permissible, provided that the employer meets the conditions set out in Sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act. The definition of 'positive action' is highlighted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC):

'Positive action' means the steps that an employer can take to encourage people from groups with different needs or with a past track record of disadvantage or low participation to apply for jobs. An employer can use positive action where they reasonably think (in other words, on the basis of some evidence) that:

  • people who share a protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic;
  • people who share a protected characteristic have needs that are different from the needs of people who do not share it, or;
  • participation in an activity by people who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low.[63]

43.  Karen Jockelson, Director of the Economy and Employment Programme at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), told us that some employers were put off taking positive action because of their fear of litigation:

We are delighted that the positive action provisions are strengthened in the Equality Act, but dismayed because they are not that frequently used. I think there is a lack of understanding by employers about how to use it without risking some kind of litigation. The idea of positive action is that where an employer has evidence that a particular protected group was disadvantaged or had different needs, or that there was low participation in the workforce, there are a range of actions they can take, but those actions are voluntary, so it is not a requirement that they do it.[64]

44.  We received much evidence highlighting the value of women gaining experience of jobs that are not commonly thought of as jobs suited to women. Evidence from Dr Conley et al described the positive action initiatives, such as the Women into Construction project, which increased the number of women construction workers who worked on the Olympic site:

The Women into Construction project has found that targets give an immediate opening with contractors to promote women's employment and can result in the building of a positive relationship which can continue once the targets have been achieved. Targets set a level playing field for all contractors, making them much more amenable to engaging with ways to improve the gender balance of their workforce. Without targets, it can be very difficult to get employers to consider this issue.[65]

45.  Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea, former Deputy Chair and former Interim Chair of the EHRC, also highlighted work surrounding positive action under the Women and Work programme, which was established by the Government in 2006:

The then Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated £40 million to be spent on focused training for women, on up-skilling and re-skilling, and on enabling them to take their place in the labour market appropriate to their capacity and abilities. Something like 13 sector skills councils participated in that programme, under the umbrella of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. [...] Over that period, more than 25,000 women were up-skilled and retrained in a whole variety of areas of the economy, such as agriculture and the textile industry. […] People 1st […] took women off the unemployment register, so it paid for itself like billy-o—it was really very successful. That is an interesting and quite exciting example of positive action that is designed for and focused on an area where a particular group in the country needs some special extra help to get up to where it needs to be.[66]

46.  The Women and Work programme benefited from the support of a wide range of stakeholders including the EHRC, the TUC, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Government Equalities Office, and Job Centre Plus.[67] As Baroness Prosser described, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills managed the delivery of the programme, through the national network of Sector Skills Councils (SSCs). Supplementary evidence from the EHRC explained the beneficial results of the programme:

There were three phases of the original Women and Work programme and because of its success, in terms of outcomes for the women themselves and the levels of employer engagement, it was extended until the end of March 2011. By the end of phase 3, 23,000 women had gained jobs or training qualifications; the programme had the support (matched funding) of 3,000 employers; and 14 projects were up and running.

The EHRC summarised the effectiveness of the programme, especially the involvement of the Sector Skills Councils:

One of the key features of the programme was the engagement and the enthusiasm of the Sector Skills Councils who delivered the programme. For many it became a very significant part of their offer to employers. One of the strengths of the programme was its strong identity as a programme concerned with women's potential and development. The programme could be seen as an exemplar of positive action in practice.[68]

47.  We received evidence from one organisation that benefitted from the programme. People 1st ran an initiative called Women 1st, a course for women only—many of whom have been unemployed for over a year—covering passenger transport training, including the Certificate of Professional Competence training and testing. The programme offered:

A unique pre-employment programme designed to give women—particularly those who have been unemployed for a number of years—the skills they need to pursue a rewarding career in the bus industry, and help the industry address a major gender imbalance in its workforce. The success of the Step on the Bus programme is largely measured on the number of women who complete the training, and the percentage who subsequently find work as a result of their training. 100% of the learners in the past three years have completed the programme, and 60% have found work in the bus industry as a result.[69]

Examples of other training undertaken as a result of the Women and Work programme included: employment law; website design; project management; infection control and safe use of chemicals; and chemical engineering for scientists.[70] Despite its success, the Government closed the Women and Work programme in 2011 and funding for women's initiatives was moved to challenge-based investment funding through the UK Commission for Employment. The final year of Women and Work funding was incorporated as a strand of the first round of the new Employer Investment Fund.[71]

The UK Commission for Employment took over responsibility for funding the Employer Investment Fund and the Growth Investment Fund, with matched funding normally required from employers. However, as the Employer Investment Fund Women and Work Report states:

The next six months will be critical in recruiting sufficient employers to ensure the projects become self-sustaining. As employers sign up for projects, we will then begin to explore the impact of the projects on addressing skills shortages and gaps and increasing employer willingness to invest in training.[72]

48.  The positive action provisions in sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act 2010 could be used more effectively to rebalance unequal representation of women in certain sectors. The Government should actively consider how they can promote better gender representation in their procurement policies, building on existing best practice as shown in the 'Women in Construction' project at the Olympic site. The Government should use the opportunities presented by the procurement of goods and services from the private sector to advance equality for women. They should produce an annual statement to illustrate the way in which Government contracts have been used to achieve this aim. The Government should make this provision more widely known to employers, with the potential to enable workforces to become more diverse and more representative of the communities that they serve. As with the Government targets for the number of women on Boards, targets should be set by the Government to encourage women to explore more atypical work sectors, especially in those sectors that have a skills shortage.

49.  We are concerned that the objectives of the Women and Work programme—that of supporting women in the workplace— could well be at risk, following the move from grant to challenge-based investment funding for Sector Skills Councils from April 2011. If the Government is serious about tackling skills shortages and readdressing gender inequality in certain sectors, it should be prepared to take responsibility for funding specific 'Women and Work' programmes, should the change in funding arrangements not deliver its initial aim of promoting employment for women.

8   Q 49 Back

9   We describe the programme ' Wired for Success' later in this Chapter. Back

10   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, summary Back

11   Women's Business Council Evidence Paper 3, September 2012, www.gov.uk Back

12   Ev w115 Back

13   Q 61 and Q 63 Back

14   Q 73 Back

15   Ev 204 Back

16   Q 321 Back

17   Ibid. Back

18   Q 48 Back

19   Ev w114 Back

20   Ev w30 Back

21   Ev w46 Back

22   Ev w45 Back

23   Ev w46 Back

24   Ev w114 Back

25   Ev w97 Back

26   Q 319 Back

27   Ev w99 Back

28   Ev w101 Back

29   Ev 195 Back

30   Ev w15 Back

31   Q 47 Back

32   Oral evidence taken before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on 19 March 2013, HC (2012-13), 1066-i, Q 50 Back

33   Q 440 Back

34   Q 460 Back

35   Education Committee Careers Guidance for young people: the impact of the new duty on schools, HC 632, January 2013, summary Back

36   Ibid, para 32  Back

37   Ev w101 Back

38   Q 396. The EHRC pack is available from www.equalityhumanrights.com Back

39   The Women's Business Council published its Report on 3 June 2013. Womensbusinesscouncil.dcms.gov.uk Back

40   Q 411 Back

41   Q 150 Back

42   Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2012-13, Apprenticeships, para 69 Back

43   Q 47 Back

44   Ev 251 Back

45   Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2012-13, Apprenticeships, para 76 Back

46   Data Service, Quarterly Statistical First Release, Education and Skills: Learner Participation, Outcomes and Level of Highest Qualification Held, March 2013. Back

47   Figures verified by the National Apprenticeship Service, May 2013 Back

48   Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Fifth Special Report 2012-13, Apprenticeships: Government Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2012-13, HC 899, p 11 Back

49   Ev 132 Back

50   Lord Davies of Abersoch, Women on Boards, February 2011 Back

51   Ibid, page 18. The final chapter of this Report will explore the issues surrounding the Davies Report in greater detail. Back

52   The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Tapping all of our talents: women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics: a strategy for Scotland, April 2012, page 9 Back

53   Ev 250 Back

54   Ev 251 Back

55   Q 46 Back

56   Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Student Admissions and the Office for Fair Access, HC 1066-i of Session 2012-13 Back

57   Table 1 and Table 2: Analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data and publically-available UCAS data by the Higher Education Funding Council for England's (HEFCE) analytical services group, with subject groups defined according to HEFCE analysis in support of strategically important and vulnerable subjects (see http://www.hefce.ac.uk/data/year/2012/dataondemandandsupplyinhighereducationsubjects/ for further details). UCAS data relates to applicants and accepted applicants to UK institutions, and figures provided are a headcount measure. Back

59  58   Q 49 Back


60   Ev w47 Back

61   Ev w97 Back

62   The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Tapping all our Talents: women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics: a strategy for Scotland, April 2012, page 36 Back

63   www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/guidancefor-workers/recruitment/positive-action-and-recruitment Back

64   Q 393 Back

65   Ev w18 Back

66   Q 393 Back

67   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Employment Investment Fund: Women and Work Report April 2011 to March 2012, p 4 Back

68   Ev 192 Back

69   Ev w105 Back

70   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Employer Investment Fund: Women and Work Report April 2011-March 2012, p 6 Back

71   Ev w192 Back

72   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Employer Investment Fund: Women and Work Report April 2011-March 2012, p 3 Back

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Prepared 20 June 2013