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Work is systemically biased against women and until the system is reprogrammed in a way that increases women’s participation at every level there will be a perpetual problem of gender inequality, a meeting at the House of Commons heard recently.
Karl Simpson, founder and CEO of STEM recruitment firm Liftstream, told a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work that there was bias at every point in the pipeline. He added that there was a “compounding effect” of working in unequal organisations over the course of a career, with those managers under the senior leadership level feeling the most profoundly affected by inequality.
He said there was no simple solution to the problem, given the whole system needed to be changed.
Other speakers at the session, chaired by Gillian Keegan, Co-Chair of the APPG for Women and Work, included Juliet Dowley from Girlguiding UK who spoke of research showing that girls become less confident about their career prospects as they grow up. They are also more likely to think that work discriminates against women and that, even though they want to share childcare, it is unlikely they will be able to. She blamed a lack of female role models and the portrayal of women in the media among other factors. She called for a specialised careers advice service in schools which didn’t channel girls into stereotypical ‘female’ jobs.
Dr Carole Easton, CEO of the Young Women’s Trust, outlined the Trust’s Work It Out initiative which provides free tailored coaching by phone to young women who are either unemployed or on low pay as well as advice on writing cvs. “It is a universal service, but it is targeted,” she said. Some 84% of the over 2,300 women helped by the Trust said the coaching had led to positive change.
Easton said the Trust’s research showed many young women found they got little help from Job Centres Plus and that they were funnelled into stereotypical female jobs. They often didn’t get feedback from job applications and those who were described as economically inactive were often denied any support to get back to work.
Work It Out ambassador Priscilla, who had been homeless and jobless when she started on the initiative and is now a trainee youth worker, said it had been “an invaluable investment in my future”.
The speakers also discussed the issue of quotas. There was disagreement on their effectiveness, but one woman in the audience said they should be looked at positively – those who got their position through quotas should feel a duty to affect change and help other women. In addition, there was discussion about the need for looking at the issue of inequality from an intersectional perspective – diversity had to be promoted across the board. Gillian Keegan also commented on the need for work to adapt to the fact that people will have to work longer and will need more career breaks and more opportunities to retrain in a fast-changing digital world.