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However, as many of the contributors, including the two excellent maiden speakers, to today’s important debate have pointed out, things are still far from perfect on the equal opportunities front. The topic about which I shall speak to illustrate this concerns women and enterprise and business leadership, which is an area not only where straightforward issues of equality are to be addressed, but where there is a major opportunity to boost the UK’s economy through encouraging and growing women-owned and women-led businesses. In developing these points, I acknowledge the excellent expert help that I have received from three organisations which provide great leadership in this field. They are Enterprise Insight, a coalition of UK business organisations set up to encourage enterprise and foster new talent, the Women’s Enterprise Task Force, and the South East England Development Agency.

Businesses owned by women currently contribute about £60 billion to the economy in terms of gross value added. However, men are still almost twice as likely to start businesses as women. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, the UK would see 150,000 more businesses start up every year. If the UK had the same rates of female entrepreneurship as the United States, we could have around three-quarters of a million more businesses. The relative dearth of women-led businesses in the UK represents our biggest productivity gap compared with the USA. It is interesting, though, to note that the levels of entrepreneurial activity in the UK vary considerably between different ethnic groups, with black African and Caribbean women, for example, being more than three times as engaged as women in general.

The Government should make it a priority to intensify efforts to increase the quantity, growth potential and success of women in business. To achieve this, it may be useful to acknowledge that women tend to identify and manage risk differently. We are thought to be more considered and possibly more cautious in approach, although I am not sure that “cautious” is quite the right word because I am reminded of a story that was used as an ice-breaker exercise at a management training course that I attended many years ago. We were asked to imagine a ship moving fast and unstoppably towards a huge iceberg, and it was clear that collision would be fatal to the crew. We were asked what the crew would do if they were all male. The answer came: they would find a way around the iceberg and avoid disaster. But what if the crew were all female? Well, the answer was that they, too, would survive, but by using rather different tactics. It was suggested that women would survive by finding a way to blow up the iceberg, because they would be concerned not just for themselves but also for others who might come that way after them. The point is, of course, that if men and women do things differently, it is perfectly possible that both ways are equally effective, rather than one way being superior and the other second rate—there are in any case as many differences within the sexes as between them.

Women have many skills and attributes that make them excellent entrepreneurs and business leaders. On average, they are better qualified, more likely to use new ICT, and more likely to use networks and advice

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effectively. And in management terms, they are more likely to take decisions based on consultation with and involvement of those affected.

Yet they are often trying to succeed with one hand tied behind their back. For example, women get less finance, the wrong sort of finance, and pay too much for it. On average, the interest rate charged on loans to female-owned businesses is 1 per cent higher than the rate charged to male-owned businesses. This finding came from a survey of SME finances conducted at the University of Warwick in 2004.

A related challenge is the need significantly to increase the number of women in leadership positions in companies by their presence on the board. We know diversity is good for business, with evidence from the United States and Norway to demonstrate that diverse boards bring better profits. But the challenge in the UK is huge. Women represent between just 6 and 10 per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies. Another 450 women would be needed to achieve parity of representation. At the current rate of progress, it would take at least another 60 years to get there. In fact, women are a declining percentage of current new appointments. We are not even replacing the women who are already on the boards.

With the opportunities clear and the economic case strong, the Government must support, develop and promote efforts to support women entrepreneurs and women leaders in business. The announcement in November 2005 of the Women’s Enterprise Task Force was a welcome initiative. The task force has identified five priorities, which I shall briefly outline.

First, measuring and monitoring is a must. If we are to understand how women’s businesses are performing, what they are contributing to the economy and what help they might need most, we must have what is known rather inelegantly as gender-disaggregated VAT and Companies House data. Such data are at the core of the USA’s success in promoting the significance of women’s businesses as an economic force.

Secondly, we need female-friendly business support and I hope that the new Business Link brand will prove to be fit for purpose in this regard. It needs to provide an entrepreneurial route map for women, a continuum of support including mentors and trained business advisers who are able to signpost women to the best support locally.

Thirdly, we must improve access to finance for women. We need greater support for investment readiness and the task force would like to see a new enterprise capital fund for women. Adequate financing of women’s businesses is the way to achieve growth, to trade internationally and to boost innovation. There should be a funding escalator for all stages of business growth.

Fourthly, providing access for women-owned businesses to contracts in big corporates is a proven success route in the USA to help growth. Prowess, the organisation which champions women’s enterprise, has recently launched an initiative to promote this and it is already supported by companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer and Bank of America. Public procurement involving central and local government

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would be a further step which could transform the growth potential of women’s businesses.

Lastly, there is a need to raise the profile and public awareness of women’s businesses to inspire others to become entrepreneurs and leaders. The work currently being done by the organisation Enterprise Insight is an excellent example of the kind of action we need. Its campaign, called Girls! Make your Mark, encourages more women and young girls to turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality and start up their own businesses. It aims to change attitudes to business and provides young women and girls with inspiring role models who can show them that business is for them.

Enterprise Insight, working in partnership with all nine of the regional development agencies, has also created SPARK, which is a network of 1,000 women ambassadors signed up across the country to demonstrate that women do business. More women entrepreneurs and business owners are still needed to become ambassadors and to share their stories and experiences with others.

In association with International Women’s Day, Enterprise Insight is running a series of local women’s business workouts, where one of the most important messages is that business success and work-life balance must go together. This is an emphasis which has been found to be a powerful driver of women’s business in the USA.

I commend all these initiatives and urge the Government to strengthen their support and seize the opportunity to boost the UK’s economy by doing so. As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, I hope also that when the Government’s new enterprise strategy is launched next week, it will include a prominent role and clear objectives for women’s enterprise in particular.

2.43 pm

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this women’s day debate once again. This is the fourth time that she has managed to do so. Indeed, like my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, I think that this debate has become a kind of annual review of the changes that have taken place during the past year which have affected the lives of women.

Like other noble Lords, at the top of my review I would put that on 1 October 2007 the Equal Opportunities Commission became part of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gould that this change is probably right because it recognises that women in Britain are becoming less the victims of discrimination and more the victims of circumstances. They will have a far better chance to participate equally in society by dealing with these circumstances. The Government’s equality office is right that these circumstances are more related to family issues such as caring and childcare.

Nowadays marriage occurs later, when people are in their late 20s or early 30s, whereas with most of our generation it was in our early or mid-20s. Perhaps because of this, men are more mature. It is my observation that fathers now want to spend more time

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with their children and are more willing to share in their care. This means that equality between men and women is becoming more a part of family life. Indeed, in a debate last week on 28 February, at col. 802 of Hansard, my noble friend Lord Adonis told us that 14 million men and women are working flexibly to achieve this. I find that a gratifying number.

There is now more support for children, more affordable childcare, more maternity and paternity pay, and, most important, through Sure Start and other schemes a whole new sector of education has been created for the under-fives. This is what I mean by dealing with the circumstances in order to give women a better chance to participate more equally in society, about which other noble Lords have spoken.

Quite rightly, the Government have also recently recognised that the quality of parenting as well as time spent with children affects families, and that this too is an important change in the lives of women. During the past year it has become apparent that it is the internet which is helping to change this landscape. IT helps to solve the problem of how to learn when timing is erratic. It also helps to keep young parents in touch around a common interest. It is not surprising that this should strongly affect women because IT companies tell me that the primary creators of websites, blogs and graphics are no longer geeks but teenage girls.

My noble friend Lord Giddens pointed out last week in the debate on families that adapting to these changes is now what really matters. Unfortunately, he has had to go home because he is not feeling very well.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke about women having a choice of either staying at home or going to work. In my experience, the majority of women who go out to work do so because they need the money to help their families and children live a reasonable life.

Last year I spoke about women in managerial and administrative work. During the past year we have seen more than ever that my noble friend Lady Kingsmill was right in her report in 2003 when she said that there would be an ever increasing premium on intellectual capital in business and we were damaging our economy by putting barriers in the way of women reaching their full potential. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, made this point rather strongly.

How have we done during the past year? The answer is mixed. There are slightly more women professional managers. The female membership of the Chartered Management Institute is now 30 per cent, 3 per cent up from last year. Perhaps this is because of the support it gives to female managers with its women in management network and its mentoring, the kind of thing for which the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, called. It is certainly not because of pay; for the first time in over a decade its national management salary survey shows that men’s pay rises have outpaced women’s. Indeed, according to Eurostat, Britain’s gender pay gap is the largest of all the 27 EU countries. My noble friend Lady Gould

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told us that, on average, women working full-time still earn 17 per cent less per hour than men. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, told us that the difference is even greater at management level.

There has been a great deal of interesting research and many reasons full of insight given as to why this happens. My noble friend Lady Turner mentioned some of them. But one new reason seems to be that women just do not ask. In a recent paper called Women Don’t Ask, which analysed starting salaries, researchers found that only 7 per cent of women thought to ask for more money when landing their first job compared to 57 per cent of men. This seems to result in men getting a higher offer than women. This is important. If women start off at a lower salary then the gap will remain for many years. It is not just about asking for more money. Women also seem to be more concerned about the impression that they give. In our largely male-defined work culture, this can be—and is—misinterpreted. It seems in this culture that the best way to get something is to ask for it—be feisty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, put it in her perceptive maiden speech.

When they ask, women often achieve the same pay as men, as long as they do not have children—as long as they are not mothers. Once children come along, for women flexi-time or part-time working invariably lead not only to loss of pay but to loss of status and advancement. A study recently published in the Economic Journal quantified just how much this wasted talent and training. The obvious conclusion is that maintaining and keeping men and women in touch and up to date with developments at work during child rearing is crucial, not only for society but for the economy. The Government could be a lot more proactive in encouraging and facilitating this. Progressive companies that have the resources do it, but they are a minority.

The benefits are of course obvious, but also not so obvious. A not-so-obvious benefit emerged during this past year. This is well argued in a new book, Why Women Mean Business. The argument it puts is that, with the rise in longevity and pensionable age, men and women are going to have to work longer. Women returning to full-time work after child rearing could still have 20 or even 25 years of work ahead of them. Bearing in mind that marriage and child rearing is now happening later, women might be settling back into work just as many men are thinking of slowing down. Demography may well present women with opportunities later in life that biology has denied them earlier. Now there is a thought.

2.52 pm

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Gould for once again securing this debate to mark International Women’s Day. I believe it is the fifth year in succession that she has been successful. I thank her for it.

According to the UK Resource Centre, half a million women in the UK are qualified in science, engineering or technology but less than a third work in these sectors, all of which are suffering a severe skills shortage which is set to get worse in the coming

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decades. This must be bad for the UK’s productivity and competitiveness. This in turn undermines the UK’s aspirations for fairness and opportunities and wastes women’s talents, their career aspirations, lifetime earnings and economic contribution. The UK Resource Centre works to tackle the low number of women working in these areas and helps businesses and organisations to encourage women to enter these fields.

Another example of support for women is the Fusion 21 skills programme, which works with women to enable them to develop practical skills in one or more of the building trades. It is based in Merseyside and has had a great success. It has been good to read the case studies of women whose lives have been dramatically changed, enabling them to find employment. To quote one of them:

Women in Plumbing is another good organisation, giving help, support and advice to women who want to work in this field. Women plumbers I have spoken to tell me how much they enjoy their work. They can set up their own businesses. Some young mothers say it is ideal as they can set their own hours and be at home for the children. The other advantage is that many women prefer to have a women plumber coming into their homes, so there is no shortage of work.

Another organisation which has helped women was Joining Policy and Joining Practice, known as JIVE. It was a national partnership led by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology at Bradford College. It tackled issues that prevented women securing senior jobs within the science, engineering, construction and technology sectors. Launched in 2005, it worked in education and industry. It influenced women looking to return to work as well as young women choosing their career paths.

Women make up only 18 per cent of the workforce in these sectors, meaning that the UK is failing to make the most of the talents of more than half the population. The under-representation of women in these fields contributes to a continuing skills gap, with 75 per cent of women with scientific qualifications not working in the field. This is one area that JIVE worked to address. In its report, Time for Action: Improving Opportunities for Women in Science Engineering, Construction and Technology, it said:

JIVE has been a great success. Unfortunately I have to speak in the past tense as it was a short-term project which ended in December 2007. It was funded by the European Social Fund’s Equal community initiative. The good news is that the UK Resource Centre will enhance JIVE’s work by continuing to tackle these issues. Will the Minister look into the

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possibility of ensuring funding and government support for this kind of initiative to ensure that the valuable work that has been carried out is not lost?

I wondered, with all the building work going on at the Olympic Park site, whether there was a policy of encouraging women to work in the non-traditional areas of construction and building. I contacted the Olympic Delivery Authority to find out and it sent me a good briefing note on what it is doing. It recognises the skills shortages in the industry and the occupational gender segregation as well as the significant barriers facing women wishing to enter the construction sector. Tessa Jowell MP launched the ODA’s employment and skills strategy in February. The ODA also published a document in July 2007 on its equality and diversity strategy. Both strategies set out the priorities and work streams, which include a series of initiatives to support women into work in construction. It will offer training opportunities targeted at women and, in addition, there is a specific project about to start to provide targeted support to women to gain employment in construction. Its gender equality scheme sets out how it will deliver its gender equalities priorities over the coming three years, and its wider equality and diversity strategy sets out the culture of equality it intends to create on the Olympic sites.

In addition to this, because of recent research and consultation, it is working closely with the LDA on the development of a specific approach or project to address specific gender barriers and tackle occupational segregation within the construction sector. This project will support women into construction opportunities as they arise on the site as well as promote the sector to women as a lasting viable career.

The ODA acknowledges that considerably more women train in construction than are employed in the industry. For example, in London nearly 9 percent of trainees in construction courses in further education colleges are female, but just 2 percent of manual construction workers in London are women. In its last quarterly report in December 2007, the ODA showed that women represent 12.6 per cent of the total people on the programme. The figure for men is 86.9 per cent. The ODA has not set any targets for the percentage of women working on the Olympic sites. Plans are being finalised and the London 2012 Women in Construction project plans to deliver 50 women per year, who will be supported into work placements; 65 qualifications will be available, 50 per cent will be black, Asian or minority ethnic women, and 10 per cent within the total will have a disability. This sounds like a very good scheme, which perhaps could be a model to get more women into the range of manual trades. I shall certainly be following it to see how successful it will be.

Women in manual trades make up a small part of the UK workforce. We have a skills gap. We have women who can be encouraged to work in this field by providing help, support, and mentoring. Schools and colleges have a big role to play by encouraging and providing suitable courses for women. With the building of the Olympic park, with millions of new homes needing to be built in the coming years and the

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shortage of domestic plumbers, what better opportunity could there be for women to break through this glass ceiling.

Opening the doors to equality and allowing women to earn better wages is an aspiration which the UK should be working towards.

3.01 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on introducing this debate with such clarity and good humour. With so many speakers, it would appear that everything has been said. I believe that the suffragettes, wherever they are, are smiling down on this debate because so many men have participated, which is unusual for such a debate. I am sure that the suffragettes will feel that 2008 is a good year when men are encouraged to keep alive faith in women.

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