UK: Move to boost women in workforce

Women should be at the heart of Britain's economic growth and the UK cannot afford for their potenti

Women should be at the heart of Britain's economic growth and the UK cannot afford for their potential to be ignored, Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller says - Credit: PA

Women should be at the heart of Britain’s economic growth and the UK cannot afford for their potential to be ignored, Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said as she unveiled a new programme to boost females in the workforce.

Mrs Miller set out a plan to get more women into work, into more senior positions and to drive entrepreneurship by providing better support for girls from school age, supporting older women in work and helping them set up their own businesses.

The call for action comes as a report by the Women’s Business Council (WBC), set up last year to advise the government, today sets out its recommendations to boost women’s role in driving forward the economy.

The report, unveiled at the London Stock Exchange, found that if women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, there could be one million more women entrepreneurs.

It said there was untapped potential in the 2.4 million women who are not working - and a further 1.3 million women who want to increase their hours - and suggested that if men and women worked in equal numbers it could boost economic growth by 0.5% a year, with gains of up to 10% to GDP by 2030.

The WBC report recommended that government and businesses need to broaden girls’ aspirations and job choices before the start of their working lives by creating partnerships between schools, businesses and parents.

It also suggested that companies need to understand better how to support working parents and the benefits of flexible working, how to get the most out of older working women and that there should be more support for women who want to set up their own businesses.

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WBC chairwoman Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of Mitie, said: “It has never been more important to fully capitalise on the skills and talents of all people, regardless of their gender.

“By creating opportunity for all, raising aspirations and enabling people to maximise their talents, we will deliver stronger economic growth.

“Our recommendations are for both government and the business community, and cover every stage of women’s working lives. Our actions must start with girls and young women if we are to make a lasting impact.

“We must also ensure that parents who wish to return to their careers whilst raising families, have the opportunity to do so and to fulfil their potential.

“The strategy we set will help to unblock the talent pipeline that for so long has restricted women from reaching the most senior levels in business - and deliver long-term economic benefits for the UK.”

Mrs Miller announced the creation of a task force to help sweep away the barriers that prevent women from excelling at work.

The government will work with the British Chamber of Commerce to establish partnerships between schools and businesses, and will launch a campaign to give parents information to guide their children to making better career choices.

Business will also receive guidance on how to recruit and retain older workers, and the government will work with the British Banking Association to encourage more women to get the finance to set up their own businesses.

There will also be greater transparency on the number of senior women employed by government departments.

Mrs Miller said: “It is not acceptable that in spite of their skills, talent and achievements women continue to languish behind men in the workplace. We simply cannot afford to ignore the huge additional contribution that women could make.

“So, we all - business and the Government - need to sweep away the barriers that stop women fulfilling their full potential. This is not remotely about being ‘politically correct’; there is a sound economic case for ensuring this happens and its madness to ignore it.

“A programme of concerted action will drive the ambition and aspiration of girls; support women at all stages of their careers; help women set up their own businesses; and make sure that our own house in is order.

“But of course this is not for the Government alone, and I urge the business community to take this report seriously and act on the council’s recommendations.”