Forum focuses on empowering women

A forum on the economic empowerment of women was held yesterday to hear ideas on how to move things forward for gender equality.

Letters on a pinboard spelling out 'gender equality'


Young people should be engaged more in discussions about gender equality in the workplace, including issues around work life balance and caring responsibilities, a stakeholder forum on gender equality and economic empowerment heard yesterday.

The forum was organised by the Government Equalities Office [GEO] and brought together a range of different organisations and experts from across the country.

Break-out groups looked at areas from work life balance, career progression and education to older age and overturning social norms and adopted an inter-sectional approach to each.

The social norms session looked at the need for dads to have a significant amount of stand-alone leave where they were in sole charge of children, at changing attitudes to returners and how to get more men into early years care. Participants said it was vital to use positive images and language around men doing caring roles and to learn from ethnic groups where there was greater equality.

Participants were asked to come up with some ‘quick wins’ which would drive greater equality. They included the need to take greater account of skills per se – not just work-based ones – and to challenge how we value soft skills. There were suggestions about celebrating more those employers who are doing progressive work in the area of work life balance; about promoting conversion courses to get more women into areas such as STEM; about introducing a general skills levy which was not necessarily tied to apprenticeships; about getting more flexible employers to pass on what they are doing through their supply chain; and about the need for more digital training.

Suggestions for longer term work included setting up midlife MOTs, adopting a lifecycle approach to work, providing paid carers leave, questioning how educational funding works and addressing the cost of social care.

Participants spoke of the need to embed gender equality in every subject at school and to include a module on gender equality in teacher training backed up by more professional development in these areas. On flexible working, it was suggested that gender pay gap reporting might include data on the proportion of jobs which are done flexibly by employers.

The gender pay gap and period poverty

Hilary Spencer, director of the GEO, said the April move of the Government Equalities Office to the Cabinet Office was an opportunity to increase work across government.

She highlighted the impact of the gender pay audits, saying it was the top-trending UK business story in 2018 and had sparked a national debate.

Garreth Brown, an economist at the GEO, provided graphs showing the main causes of the gender pay gap, including the sectors women work in and the roles they tend to gravitate towards [which accounts for 35% of the gap] and the impact of flexible working due to caring responsibilities [which accounts for 40% of the gap. The care gap is widest among the 60+ age group]. The rest of the gap could be down to discrimination and other issues relating to social norms, said Brown.

The morning began with a speech from Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt who spoke about the need to ensure every woman can thrive and to address the complex barriers to achieving that.  She will be outlining the steps the Government and its partners will take to achieve that in the Spring. She added that she welcomed Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s recent announcement of changes to Universal Credit and said there would be more support announced for women on low incomes in the coming weeks.

Mordaunt said she was interested in drilling down into the contributors to the gender pay gap and stated that the Department for Work and Pensions was looking at how to support women to increase their financial literacy and better plan for the future. “With more insight we can do more to help,” said Mordaunt.

She spoke of the need to highlight ‘hidden inequalities’ at every stage of women’s lives. She wants to publish annual data on gender outcomes to measure progress for all women and to “methodically tackle each barrier”.

Mordaunt said women’s empowerment began at school and announced a joint task force to tackle period poverty in the UK as well as £250K in seed funding for the cross-sector initiative. In tandem, Mordaunt announced two million pounds for a global campaign of action to help girls around the world manage their periods with dignity and to look at alternatives to disposable sanitary products. She also mentioned pioneering work on menopause policy by employers and said more research was needed to see how the menopause affected women in the workplace. She hoped the UK’s work in these areas would influence other countries.

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