Women’s Business Council celebrates 10th anniversary

The Women’s Business Council today launched a report to mark its 10th anniversary.

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The Women’s Business Council has launched a 10th anniversary report to highlight progress made in sector-based initiatives.

The report highlights the increase in the proportion of women in STEM in the last years – up from 11% in 2012 to 24.2% in 2020 – and in the number of women on FTSE 350 boards, although many of these are non-executive directors. It outlines the evolution of the Council, set up in 2012 to advise the Government on how women’s contribution to UK economic growth can be optimised, to date, including the last few years.

In 2019, for instance, it relaunched to focus on industry sectors that have the most significant gender pay gaps and or underrepresentation of women, on a national level. There were three main issues that were cross-cutting, including flexible working, and the Council launched 100 Ways to Work Flexibly – to showcase the many working patterns available for men and women.

In 2021 the Council broadened its strategic approach to incorporate regional and international activity to improve women’s economic potential. It developed a Strategy House model to set out the Council’s vision. This identified five critical pillars of focus, actions to drive progress on these, enablers, high-level goals and proxy indicators to monitor overarching progress on gender equality. Nationally, the Council contributed to consultations on flexible working, the menopause and more and some of its members supported a virtual Ministerial visits programme to showcase how they are working to improve the number of women progressing to middle and senior management in their companies as well as working in STEM roles and to understand how women can help to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19.

Looking at specific initiatives, the report highlights how the Council’s finance and insurance lead co-founded Insuring Women’s Futures and authored its Manifesto, “Living a financially resilient life in the UK”. The report focuses on the gender pension gap and encouraged employers’ adoption of a Financial Flexible Working Pledge (to assist employees’ financial decisionmaking when making changes to working arrangements such as parental leave and part-time work); and an Inclusive Customer Financial Lives Pledge (for financial services and pension customers).

A campaign and financial wellbeing guide, “6 Moments that Matter – how to secure your financial future”, was launched to raise women’s awareness as part of #TalkMoneyTalkPensions week and an update to the Manifesto set out priorities to counter the impact of Covid-19 on women’s financial lives.

Jane Portas, who heads the initiative and will be the keynote speaker at WM People’s next Top Employer Awards, said: “The financial sector has a pivotal role in enabling women’s economic empowerment, not only for the women who work in the sector but also those served by it as consumers. Over five years, through an evidence-based approach and wide ranging collaboration Insuring Women’s Futures has raised awareness of how gender= financial gaps arise through the life course.”

The report then details actions in specific sectors. In the construction sector,for instance, the Coucil ran an 18-month flexible working project with Willmott Dixon and Build UK in conjunction with Timewise to successfully trial flexible working to tackle the barriers to women in the construction industry. All four pioneering companies who participated have continued to expand on flexible working arrangements within their companies. Other work in the sector focused on ensuring there is more suitable workwear and facilities on site for women to support a respectful and welcoming work environment. This included suitable PPE for women, each site having a designated female toilet, and a quiet/wellbeing room to accommodate breastfeeding, for example.

When it comes to tech returners, the report highlights work with Vodafone on returners, STEM initiatives for girls and coding for girls as well as research on carers and sandwich carers published last year.

In retail the report outlines how the Council had supported the social enterprise Grocery Girls founded by member Jo Whitfield to increase female representation in senior roles; had developed the Retail Pathways initiative by engaging HR heads through the British Retail Consortium and workshops on a range of topics and sharing best practice; had provided business leadership for a research study Diversity and Inclusion in UK retail; and had created a D&I charter of pledges which 76 large retailers have signed to date.

On SMEs, the report highlights the first ever oil and gas D&I Survey Report, which it describes as “a milestone for the sector”, and an SME roundtable which shared learnings and best practice nationally and internationally with other countries across the G20 – on G20 panels and global meetings.

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