Making the most of women in the workplace

Published on Thursday, 09 May 2013 14:50
Written by Jo Swinson

Women have a vital role to play in the UK's economic growth strategy, which is why the Government is focused on getting more women into work and helping them progress in their careers.

I believe the key to achieving this is by nurturing talent and removing barriers - making sure we have modern, flexible workplaces so women don't have to choose between work and family life. It also means raising the aspirations and ambitions of women and girls, so they have the confidence and drive to achieve their full potential. Demonstrating to women and girls they have equal opportunities to thrive in the workplace will motivate and inspire them and this will be crucial for generations to come.

We now have more women in work than ever before - during the last quarter of 2012 the rise in employment overall was largely driven by the number of women coming back to the workplace. But one of the main challenges for women returning to work is juggling work with family responsibilities. Women shouldn't have to choose between work and family life, which is why we are introducing a new system of shared parental leave and extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. This will not only help women stay in employment but will help share family responsibilities between parents.

We know that too many families find paying for childcare tough and are often stopped from working the hours they'd like. That is why we are introducing a new tax-free childcare initiative, saving a typical working family with two children up to £2,400 a year. In addition, childcare support under Universal Credit will be extended for the first time to those working fewer than 16 hours, enabling parents to take the first steps into work. The rise in the personal tax allowance to £10,000 will also benefit those on low pay by cutting their income tax bill, for example, those working full time on the minimum wage will see their income tax bill cut by half.

We also recognise the sacrifices that all parents make, whether they stay at home or work. We are helping them by providing 15 hours a week of free early education and childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds and free nursery places for 40 per cent of two year olds from the most hard-pressed homes from September 2014.

As Minister for Women and Equalities and Minister for Business a key priority for me is to ensure we make full use of women's skills and talents and create more inclusive workplaces. Transparency is a hugely powerful tool in helping us drive forward change. Through our Think, Act, Report initiative we are encouraging companies to report on action to improve gender equality in the workplace. I am delighted that 90 companies have already signed up covering over 1.6 million employees.

We also need to make sure that we improve the representation of women both on company boards and in the pipeline for those senior positions. The latest Female FTSE report from Cranfield University showed that over the past year businesses have continued to take action – we are on track to meet Lord Davies' target of 25% female representation on the boards of UK FTSE 100 companies by 2015. Lord Davies is now asking FTSE 250 companies to also set targets for the number of women they aim to have on their boards.

But we know there is still much more work to do if we are to bring sustained benefit to the British economy in the longer term, and we have a big programme of work under way. The Women's Business Council was established to consider the barriers which prevent women from fulfilling their goals and what more we can do to unlock their untapped potential. The Council will be reporting back soon and I am very much looking forward to reading their recommendations and seeing what more we can do.

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