Women the workplace and me

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Women, the workplace and me

My week has been dominated by women in the workplace. In a good way I might add. I have attended a STEMNET event, chaired by Andrew Miller MP about promoting the work of STEM clubs and wider issues around encouraging young girls to engage in such initiatives. I then went to an excellent Working Families conference where the three political parties were represented and put forward their views and ideas on supporting women in the workplace. I’ve also just come back from a roundtable hosted by The Enterprise Forum and RICs with Caroline Dinenage MP talking about Women in Business. All the while, I’ve been working with colleagues on the third instalment of our Women in Manufacturing report.

So what have I heard and learnt this week? Well here’s a bit of a low down.

STEMNET roundtable chaired by Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee

So let’s start with the STEMNET roundtable chaired by Andrew Miller MP. What I loved about this event first and foremost was that it was held at the Science Museum, I was there in a heartbeat. Prior to the roundtable I got to talk to some young people who were working on STEM projects as part of their CREST Awards. One young female told me how her project was to clone garlic and another couple of boys showed me their project where they had made a new toothpaste (!)

Once we’d torn ourselves away from these insightful projects it was time to get down to business. What do STEM clubs and other initiatives achieve? How do we get more businesses involved? How do we get schools and pupils involved? There were a number of ideas shared around the table but I thought the following were particularly important:

  • A mapping exercise is currently being undertaken by the Royal Academy of Engineering to help employers navigate through the plethora of STEM initiatives out there. This is hugely important as EEF members tell us they want to get involved but sometimes need support to do so.

  • Schools don’t always have their doors open. And if we’re honest not all businesses have their doors open either. Some schools do EVERYTHING and that’s fantastic but it’s still too much of a postcode lottery and we need to raise our ambitions so that all pupils have at least the opportunity to get involved in STEM activities.

Enterprise Forum and RICS event with Caroline Dinenage MP - Women in Business

The Enterprise Forum event, hosted by RICS with guest speaker Caroline Dinenage MP also raised the importance of getting young people involved in STEM and into industries such as manufacturing and construction. One point in particular I thought was worth exploring further was bringing back compulsory work experience for 14-16 year olds – even if this was at least an ‘entitlement’ to work experience.

  • When we asked manufacturers what they thought would encourage more young people into manufacturing over a third (34%) said compulsory work experience at 14-16.

Therefore employers think it plays a role. Yes, there were problems previously that work experience was seen as tick-box exercise, but when the relationships between local schools and businesses is improving – perhaps it’s time we look at this again?

The conversation also moved onto women in the boardroom, with many (including EEF) advocating a voluntary approach to get more women on boards. Indeed EEF’s last two Women in Manufacturing reports, which interviewed five women already on FTSE100 Manufacturing companies and five senior women working in manufacturing, the message was clear – we don’t want quotas – we want to climb through the ranks based on merit.  

This year’s Women in Manufacturing report not only tracks the progress of the FTSE100 manufacturing companies towards the Lord Davies target of getting 25% of women on boards but also interviews five female apprentices working in manufacturing, talking to them about their experiences and aspirations of climbing up the career ladder.

Working Families Conference

 And that brings me on nicely to the Working Families Conference, where Maria Miller MP, Jo Swinson MP and Alison McGovern MP all spoke about their political parties ideas and aspirations to support women in the workplace and give women the tools they need to success. Some involved legislation and others involved more voluntary approaches. Amongst them included:

  • Implementing Section 17 of the Equalities Act which would see companies with over 250 employees publishing gender pay in their organisations
  • Going further with shared parental leave and proposals for a 'use-it-or-lose-it' month has been advocated in manifestos
  • A stronger focus on the sandwich generation - those that need support for eldercare as well as childcare
  • The need for a cultural shift not just in the workplace, but wider society to encourage more dads to stay at home with their kids (whilst shared parental leave is to be introduced, BIS have predicted take-up will be between 2-8%)

So, a pretty busy week and it’s still only Thursday. It’s been great to see so many events and discussions being had on this topic.

There has been much research on the benefits a diverse workforce can bring to a business. But if we look truly at the bottom line and ask manufacturers what their biggest concern is right now, many (if not the majority) will say access to skills.

So let’s not leave half a talent pool unused.

Author

Head of Education & Skills Policy

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