Women’s Business Council: the priorities three years on

The Women’s Business Council is launching a new sponsorship initiative that aims to get senior men to sponsor and mentor women further down the career ladder.

The initiative is part of the Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality strand of its work.

The Council’s latest progress report was launched at an awards event yesterday and, three years on, it details progress made and key areas of action for the future. Under the Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality strand, the report announces an accessible toolkit for a sponsoring programme with supporting materials as well as plans to establish a pilot phase of 10 pioneer companies to bring funding and lend brand and reputation to the male champions initiative and to enlist high-profile male leaders to champion and embed the programme.

The report says: “Too often, for too long, gender equality has been the business of women. Although most men are supportive of gender equality in principle, there is a need to translate this into action. The WBC has always recognised that men have to be part of the solution. They are disproportionately likely to run the companies that can provide flexible working, they are often the co-parents who can share parental leave, they are often the bosses who can provide a supportive atmosphere to women returners, they are the friends and peers of other men and so can influence norms and attitudes to women in the workplace. In order to break down the gender stereotyping of career choices we need boys to choose ‘women’s jobs’ as well as girls choosing ‘men’s jobs’.”

The report was launched at an event at London’s Guildhall, attended by Caroline Dinenage, Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Early Years. She spoke about her experiences as a businesswoman in a male-dominated sector and said the Prime Minister launched the WBC in 2012 in the midst of austerity in recognition of “the economic imperative” of championing working women in order for the country to grow out of recession. She said the government was “unwavering in its commitment” to remove barriers holding women back at work.

Cilla Snowball, chair of the WBC, said that the government-backed, business-led council had grown in recent months and now had representatives from Scotland and Wales on board and that its work was divided into five main areas, from starting out to staying on and enterprise.

She spoke of how motherhood should not be a barrier to women’s career progression, saying: “Motherhood can stall women’s progress, but stalling should not be acceptable. Working mums bring organisational skills, decision-making skills and perspective. Returners are a precious resource for business.”

She added that the gender pay gap widened most for women in their 50s and above and was linked to caring responsibilities. The WBC wanted to spread best practice in this area, promote comeback schemes and reverse mentoring as well as carer programmes and apprenticeships. For women entrepreneurs, the Council wanted to help women access financial assistance and provide strong role models.

The WBC report details what the council has done in the last three years, including publishing 150 case studies, driving changes such as Shared Parental Leave and promoting regulations on reporting the gender pay gap. And it sets out priorities for the future. In the Starting Out section, for instance, it will work with parents on supporting girls at critical stages in their education, such as when they choose their GCSE options. In the Getting On section it will develop best practice with regard to women returners and work with the retail industry to promote greater gender equality. In the Staying on section it will work on events the promote greater flexibility at all stages of people’s working lives and publish a second edition of its ComeBack magazine on returners. In the Enterprise section there will be increased engagement with schools and colleges to promote enterprise as a career option.

The event ended with the presentation of the first WBC Awards which are aimed at encouraging best practice.  Winners included BT for its work on carers, Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne of Genius Gluten Free for the way she had scaled up her business, male champions Chris Brook-Carter from Retail Week and Matthew Gwyther of Management Today, Simone Roche, founder of Northern Power Women, for her work supporting women in the ‘getting on’ phase of their careers and Professor Averil MacDonald for promoting STEM careers to girls.

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