Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents


Submission from UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) (SC-42)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  On 12 November 2008 the House of Commons agreed that the Speaker's Conference: "shall consider and make recommendations for rectifying the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large; and may agree to consider other associated matters".

About The UK Resource Centre for Women in SET

  1.2  The UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) works to significantly improve the participation and position of women in science, engineering and technology occupations in industry, research, academia, and public service to benefit the future productivity of the UK and the lifetime earnings and career aspirations of women. It is the UK's leading centre providing information and advisory services to employers and organisations in the SET sectors and supporting women entering, returning and progressing in these fields. DIUS fund the UK Resource Centre.

2.  SUMMARY

  1.  UK Resource Centre for Women in SET believes that the under representation of women from all groups, and the under representation of other groups in parliament has a negative impact on the priority given to addressing difficulties and inequities in the SET sector. Half a million women in the UK are qualified in either science, engineering or technology—but less than a third work in those sectors, all of which are suffering a severe skills shortage, set to get worse in the coming decades This situation is bad for the UK's productivity and competitiveness. It undermines the UK's aspirations for fairness and opportunity. It wastes women's talent and limits their career aspirations, lifetime earnings and economic contribution. The UK Resource Centre contends that:

    — Higher numbers of women in parliaments generally contribute to stronger attention to women's issues. (Progress of the World's Women 2008-09 Unifem 2009).

    — Women are not in the UK parliament in sufficient numbers or diversity to represent fully the range of needs, views and interests of women, including their gender and gender equality interests.[101] And women's will and their voices must be heard.

    — Parliament and government does not sufficiently prioritise policy, processes and implementation to improve gender equality.

    — With the current low levels of representation, very few female parliamentarians have a SET background, limiting the perspectives and experience for developing SET related legislation, policy, scrutiny and governance.

    — Those women who are in parliament have to carry the equality agenda to a disproportionate extent.

    — Parliament does not offer a benchmark to industry and other sectors where there is under representation.

    — Parliament is not properly accountable to women because it is not making a sufficient difference to their lives though laws and policies.

    — Public confidence is undermined.

  We offer some examples from our experience of working on gender equality in the main body of our submission and recommend:

    — Explicit gender equality objectives and targets across all mainstream policy.

    — Champion at cabinet level for gender and SET to increase accountability.

    — Attention to the voices of women in SET through consultation, expert know how and improved representation on decision making bodies.

  2.  UK Resource Centre for Women does not have specific evidence about how attitudes are affected by the current numbers of women etc. in parliament. However we are aware that individual women in SET identify appropriately gender balanced universities, workplaces and governance arrangements etc. as preferable, and existing arrangements, where women are under represented, are seen as problematic.

  3.  The UK Resource Centre is a specialist body focusing on the representation of women in SET (workplace, education, governance and decision making) not in parliament as such. However, on the basis of our experience of addressing under representation in that sphere, we suggest that numbers could be increased by:

    — Positive action to increase women's interest in being MPs (This can linked to programmes which seek to increase the number of female local councillors, members of public bodies). Positive action will include removing barriers and improving access.

    — Improving conditions of service, practical arrangements and the culture of parliament and other political environments.

    — Support arrangements for under represented groups within parliament etc.

    — Quotas set by political parties.

    — Leadership on the relevance and importance of equality and representation from all political parties, and in relation to every step in the process towards becoming an MP.

    — Strong and mobilised women's networks and organisations including those in the voluntary and community sector.

  4.  In Section 4 of our submission we provide an overview of our work to increase the numbers of women on SET public bodies. We suggest it offers transferable experience as well as complementary positive action, relevant to the numbers of women in parliament, and the pursuit of gender equality objectives.

  5.  There is a well rehearsed set of ways to increase the numbers of women in politics and decision making applied across the world, most of which form a virtuous circle in terms of the impacts on women's lives. The UK Resource Centre has a focus on one particular sector and group of women, women in SET. However, as this is the only comprehensive intervention targeted at a employment sector in relation to gender equality, it offers a microcosm of the issues and problems relevant to other spheres of women's experience, and a test bed for solutions.

  6.  However, the UKRC believes that increasing the numbers of women in politics is not sufficient. It has to be coupled with the implementation of gender policies. Our institutions must also have the incentives, skills, information and procedures to respond to women's needs.

3.  THE IMPACT OF UNDER REPRESENTATION IN PARLIAMENT ON WOMEN IN SET

  3.1  UK Resource Centre for Women in SET believes that under representation has a negative impact on the priority given to addressing difficulties and inequities in the SET sector. Half a million women in the UK are qualified in either science, engineering or technology—but less than a third work in those sectors, all of which are suffering a severe skills shortage, set to get worse in the coming decades This situation is bad for the UK's productivity and competitiveness. It undermines the UK's aspirations for fairness and opportunity. It wastes women's talent and limits their career aspirations, lifetime earnings and economic contribution. The negative effect is because:

    — Higher numbers of women in parliament generally contribute to stronger attention to women's issues (Unifem 2009).

    — Women are not in parliament in sufficient numbers to represent fully the range of interests, needs and views of women (including women in SET), including their gender and gender equality interests and women's will and their voices should be heard.

    — Parliament and government do not sufficiently prioritise policy, processes and implementation to improve gender equality.

    — With the current low levels of representation, very few female parliamentarians have a SET background, limiting the perspectives and experience for developing and delivering SET related legislation, policy, implementation, performance measures, scrutiny and governance generally.

    — Those women who are in parliament have to carry the equality agenda to a disproportionate extent.

    — Parliament does not offer a benchmark to industry and other sectors where there is under representation.

    — Parliament is not properly accountable to women because it is not making a sufficient difference to their lives though laws and policies.

    — Public confidence is undermined.

  3.2  We offer some examples of the impact of a lack of women in parliament combined with a lack of incentives, skills, information and procedures to respond to women in SET's needs. And we make suggestions for changes.

  3.2.1  Gender equality objectives should be more explicit in higher level SET related policy and legislation. Examples of SET relevant reports etc where this has not happened include the Leitch Report on Skills, and Race to the Top (Sainsbury Report on Science and Innovation). Neither "gender equality" nor "diversity" have featured as key thematic focus areas. This indicates a lack of linkage across three types of policy areas—gender equality, gender in SET and Science, Skills etc more widely. Better representation will play a part in improving public policy and implementation otherwise it will continue to have "little regard for specific gendered elements or impacts." (Unifem 2009, Ch2 p30)

  3.2.2  There is a lack of women involved in senior policy making, in parliament and on advisory bodies on SET. This should be tackled by charging a cabinet minister with specific responsibilities to identify and progress SET and gender equality objectives. Such a Champion for SET and Women's Equality, along with other changes, could also ensure the use of gender and SET expertise, and SET and gender objectives that are woven into the whole fabric of legislation and the implementation of policy. Champions with strong accountability could strengthen the existing machinery on women and help with the proper implementation of the positive provisions of the gender equality duty.

  3.2.3  Greater understanding and commitment to gender equality would also be marked by expert advice and consultation data on the under representation of women in SET having a stronger, proportionate impact on the political and policy process. We recently engaged 300 people in the consultation process for the Vision for Science and Society (DIUS lead) and await the outcome. A positive outcome would be a clear signaling of the SET and gender equality issue as a central issue in the political mainstream, backed by systematic implementation and resources. Specifically in the case of the Vision for Science and Society, successful advice and influence would be indicated by proper consideration and reflection of gender equality and diversity issues in the final policy and include:

    — Explicit statements about addressing women's equality and representation (going further than passing references to under representation or diversity).

    — Effective machinery, champions and action to improve women's involvement in science.

    — Requirements for disaggregated statistics and monitoring.

    — Discourse/language demonstrating an understanding of gender (power) relations and the gendering of society.

    — Targets to assist with increasing the numbers of women (or men) in specific areas.

    — Commitments to positive action.

    — Commitments to flexible working and approaches for equal opportunities.

    — Provisions for "culture change" in science and science policy.

    — Support for the work of the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET.

    — Recommendations for "integrated strategies" with focus on all aspects of supply, demand, retention and progression of women in SET (ie we can't just focus on girls/schools/university).

  3.2.4  There are no or very low numbers of women on select committees and involved in decision making and leadership in SET, in government and in parliament. We are doing work to address the representation of women on SET public bodies, which is described below, and this should improve the advice to government.

IN CONCLUSION

  3.3  The UK Resource Centre recognises the progress in the past 10 years as evidenced by the Fawcett Society whose findings are reported in the Unifem publication referred to above:

    A 2008 study of UK politics, for example, confirms that since the number of women in parliament doubled to 18.2% since the 1997 election, issues of particular importance to women—such as childcare and social protection—have received more attention.

  3.4  We also agree that women's direct engagement in public decision-making is a matter of democratic justice, and also a way of ensuring better government accountability to women. Quotas have been an effective vehicle especially when backed by sanctions. However, increasing the numbers of women in politics is not sufficient. It has to be

    … linked to gender-sensitive good governance reforms—understood as inclusive, responsive, and accountable management of public affairs that increases state capacity to implement gender policies. Political accountability to women begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, but it cannot stop there. It requires governance reforms that equip public institutions with the incentives, skills, information and procedures to respond to women's needs.[102]

  3.5  The UK Resource Centre supports efforts to make parliament reflect the population at large. And we believe this should be coupled with continuing efforts to implement governance reforms that address gender equality.

4.  GETTING A BALANCE—INCREASING THE NUMBERS OF WOMEN

  4.1  The UK Resource Centre is a specialist body focusing on the representation of women from all groups in SET (workplace, education, governance and decision making) not in parliament as such. On the basis of our experience of addressing under representation in that sphere, we suggest that numbers could be increased by

    — Leadership on the relevance and importance of equality and representation from all political parties, and in relation to every step in the process towards becoming an MP. Party leaders, Ministers, the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet can demonstrate active understanding and commitment, making key issues and people visible through their language, choices and commitments. They could follow the recent lead of President Obama who has not shied away from feminist agendas.

    — Quotas amongst political parties.[103]

    — Positive action to increase women's interest in being MPs. This can link to programmes that seek to increase the number of female local councilors, members of public bodies).

    — Improving conditions of service, practical arrangements and the culture of parliament and other political environments. There is transferable experience widely available from work in the corporate and public sectors.

    — Support arrangements for under represented groups within parliament etc. eg groups, skills training, mentoring/coaching, progression programmes.

  4.2  Positive action in particular is essential for change and is an approach that the UK Resource Centre has experience of. Women come to public life and politics via a number of routes. The UK Resource Centre argues that positive action to increase the percentage of women in public appointments links to action to encourage women to step forward and succeed in the political arena. Interventions across these spheres are comparable and we offer an overview of our work on public appointments.

CASE STUDY—INCREASING REPRESENTATION

  4.3  There are over 1000 public bodies in Britain and the government is keen to improve the gender balance of their boards. Clearly, it is very important that women are fairly represented on these boards so that policy decisions taken and advice given to the government fairly reflects the views of women as well as men. The UK Resource Centre is working with government in their aim to have 40% female representation on SET public bodies by 2008. The 59 SET-related public bodies that have been identified as falling within the 40% target are the primary focus for UK Resource Centre activity.

  4.4  The figures in 2006 compiled by the UK Resource Centre and based on Cabinet Office figures, show that women currently make up 26%. The overall representation of women on public bodies was 36.6% in 2006.

  4.5  The strategy developed by the UK Resource Centre in relation to public appointments has two strands:

    — To build the supply of women applying for appointments generally as well as the targeted science, engineering and technology public bodies.

    — To work with government departments on demand within the recruitment process.

  4.6  The definition of a SET related public body is where members of NDPB (Non-Departmental Pubic Body) are advising on science, engineering, technology and built environment related issues and a SET qualification is likely to be a prerequisite of membership. There is a wide variety of NDPBs working across all sectors of science, engineering and technology. Some make decisions, control budgets, and recommend policy, while others primarily give advice. Some work at very senior, national levels and others have more local or specific remits.

  4.7  UK Resource Centre shows women how serving on the board of a NDPB can bring the following benefits:

    — It can help develop and demonstrate a range of managerial skills, such as processing information, decision-making, developing and implementing strategy.

    — It can help you make new contacts.

    — It can provide a new interest and outlet for skills and knowledge you possess.

    — It enables you to influence decisions and policy in an area of interest.

  4.8  The UK Resource Centre works with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA) and equivalent agencies in Wales (Wales Assembly) and Scotland (OCPAS) as well as government departments to support their aim to recruit more women into public appointments.

  4.9  UK Resource Centre activities include:

    — Production of a good practice guide for people recruiting to public bodies on Person Specifications and Role Descriptions.

    — Working with departments to support individual strategies.

    — Informing a growing pool of women who are members of the GetSETWomen network about forthcoming vacancies to widen the pool of potential applicants.

    — Working with recruitment agencies to improve gender equality practices.

    — Carrying out research with women to establish ways of improving the number of applications.

    — Collecting examples of innovative and exemplar practice from boards to ensure good practice is shared.

    — Collecting and collating annual statistics from departments for government.

  4.10  We further link our action on SET public boards with raising the profile of individual women in SET. We therefore have a broad range of exciting and innovative interventions comprising:

    — GETSET women network (and database)

    — Public appointments programme

    — Leadership

    — Mentoring

    — Media training

    — Influencing TV fiction (to include women in SET and in prominent roles)

    — Public life skills

    — Publicising opportunities eg around SET decision making

    — Web based activities—social networks, blogging, e portfolios, personal stories/case studies

    — Women of Outstanding Achievement (WOOA) photographic exhibition

    — Promoting role modes.

  4.11  The UK Resource Centre suggests that these kinds of strategies could be adopted by the relevant institutions to increase the representation of women from all groups, and other groups in parliament. In addition, our public body work complements representation in parliament as it increases the number of women engaged in public decision making, closely allied to parliamentary work.

  4.12  In addition we commend the Unifem 2008-09 report, which confirms these approaches. It very comprehensively describes the issues and the solutions in its chapter, Politics. Included is a reference to Fawcett's articulation of the barriers to participation, summed up as the "four C's of confidence, culture, childcare and cash—the impact of gender role expectations. It has further useful conceptualisation, relevant data on statistics and trends, information about the gender gap in voting and women's manifestos. It covers gender balanced elected bodies—the "parity zone" where no gender is more than 60%. It also suggests structural, cultural, attitudinal, procedural and financial measures that together can make a difference to the numbers of women elected. Lastly, it gives a central role to advocacy and the mobilisation of women that is founded on an analysis of inequality based on gender differences, and strives for a transformation of gender relations.

IN CONCLUSION

  4.13  There is a well rehearsed set of ways to increase the numbers of women in politics and decision making applied across the world, most of which form a virtuous circle in terms of impacts on women's lives. The UK Resource Centre has a focus on one particular sector and group of women, women in SET. However, as this is about the only comprehensive intervention targeted at under representation at all levels in a sector in the UK, it offers a microcosm of the issues and problems relevant to other spheres of women's experience, and a test bed for solutions.









101   Women's interests: Women have as wide a range of interests as any other other social group. Women's interests often, but not always, include both gender and gender equality interests.
Gender interests: This term denotes interests that women have because they are women. These include issues related to pregnancy and childbirth, nourishing and educating children, and building a safe community environment.
Gender equality interests: These are interests derived from an analysis of inequality based on gender differences, and aim for a lasting transformation of gender relations in order to ensure full achievement of women's rights.
[Definitions from chapter 2 p19 at
http://www.unifem.org/progress/2008/politics.html Progress of the World's Women 2008/09 Unifem (2009) 18 Jan 09] Back

102   http://www.unifem.org/progress/2008/politics.html [18 Jan 09] Back

103   Strong representation: Quotas and other temporary special measures, such as reserved seats, are a proven means for supporting women's engagement in political competition; they are currently used at national and sub-national levels in 95 countries. In elections held in 2007, the average representation of women was 19.3% in those countries that used some type of electoral quota, as opposed to 14.7% for those countries without quotas, regardless of electoral system. http://www.unifem.org/progress/2008/politics.html [17 Jan 08] Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 27 May 2009