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Equalities minister Maria Miller today announced the setting up of a ministerial taskforce to follow up on the work of The Women’s Business Council (WBC) which launched its report on maximising women’s contribution to economic growth.
Miller said it was vital for ministers from relevant departments to come together to keep up the pressure for a cultural change. She singled out in particular the departments of education, business and the DWP as well as equalities. “Having a group which is tasked to take the report and make its recommendations happen will continue the momentum that is needed,” she said at the report’s launch at the London Stock Exchange.
The report explores the untapped potential of the female workforce and sets out a series of recommendations on how the UK can make the most of women’s contribution to economic growth. It says equalising participation rates of men and women in the labour market could increase economic growth by 0.5 per cent a year, with potential gains of around 10 per cent by 2030 and adds that 2.4m women are not working who want to work and 1.3m want to increase their hours. Similarly, if women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, it says, there could be one million more women entrepreneurs.
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It looks at the obstacles present at all stages of women’s careers, from school and the need for broader career choices, to starting a family to women who may need help to retrain to re-enter the workforce when they are older or who have responsibility for caring for elderly relatives. It also addressed the issue of women entrepreneurs. The WBC is a one-year project which was set up by the Government and includes an array of industry representatives.
Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, chief executive of MITIE and Chair of Council, said: “The work of the Women’s Business Council could not be more timely. Our recommendations are for both Government and the business community, and cover every stage of women’s working lives.
“I am passionate about making sure obstacles for women to work at different stages of their careers are removed, and UK business has a hugely important role to play in achieving this.
“At MITIE we know that embedding a culture of diversity is key to the long-term success of our business. We look to attract, develop and retain the best female talent and provide them with a supportive and inclusive working environment. We have introduced a series of intiaitives to improve our culture for women and are committed to leading the way in diversity.
“Now is the time for all businesses to act. Through the implementation of the WBC’s recommendations, we can unblock the talent pipeline that for s
The WBC report’s key findings and recommendations for Government and business are:
– that there is an overwhelming business case, supported by strong evidence, for maximising women’s contribution to growth;
– that we need to broaden young women’s aspirations and job choices before the start of their working lives by creating a partnership between schools, businesses and parents;
– that business needs to embrace the benefits of flexible working and understand how best to support working parents in the second stage of their career;
– that women in the third phase of working life offer great untapped potential;
– and that there is a strong case for providing more support for women who want to set up their own businesses. Wendy Hallett, a member of the WBC said there was a myth that women could not access finance for start-ups. In fact, they were more likely to be accepted for financial support.
McGregor-Smith said that people might want hard targets, but it was the more complex soft areas, such as flexible working, where the need was greatest. “If we want to bring permanent change it is the softer issues that we need to look at – making careers advice better, helping businesses adopt flexible working properly and building a business culture that understands women,” she said. Sir Roger Carr, president of the CBI, said work on women’s equality in the workplace needed to start at classroom level, tackling unconscious bias and encouraging, for instance, girls to study STEM subjects, including maths and technology. He added that getting more women into business and rising up the career ladder should not be seen as a “welfare gesture”. Business had to understand the value of women. “We have to keep pushing the business case,” he said.
The Government has responded to the report, saying it supports its findings and putting forward a series of proposals for action, including establishing a business champion for older workers, broadening the messages it gives out on entrepreneurs to reflect gender differences and working with key stakeholders to support the development of a campaign aimed at providing parents with the tools and information to help their children make well-informed career and subject choices.