Speech given on 21 June 2012
It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak about issues that matter to all of us.
All of us here share a passion for equality, and the dedication to build a fairer society for everyone.
‘The end of silos’ is a very appropriate theme for today. Thinking broadly is always a challenge.
And it is good to see businesses like yours, with a commitment to the agenda, taking such bold steps.
ENEI is doing some very valuable work, promoting equality through the running of workshops and campaigns.
And encouraging the sharing of best practice, enabling business to learn from business on these important matters which affect every company, in every industry.
The government equalities office welcomes the support which they have received from ENEI and I am sure the links between us will continue to be useful as we work together in the future.
But as we would all agree, the progress in achieving equality in certain sectors of our society has been painfully slow.
That is why this government is determined to find ways in which we can speed up progress.
Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to engage with diverse business groups and equality partners and to hear their concerns. And I know many of these concerns you share.
Firstly, the ‘hot topic’ of boardroom diversity. I have no doubt we have all engaged in discussions about why there are so few women at the top and what can be done to address this.
In 2010, only 12.5% of all FTSE 100 board members were women and more than a fifth of these companies had no women on their boards at all.
We did not think that was good enough.
That is why we commissioned Lord Davies to look into the barriers preventing women from reaching the boardroom, and to make recommendations.
Fundamental to Lord Davies’ recommendations was a voluntary approach which business itself would lead.
And I am pleased to say many businesses have risen to the challenge, as they recognise the economic benefits of having a diverse board.
I am pleased to say that the latest report by the cranfield school of management (The female FTSE report 2012) confirmed the number of female board directors in the FTSE 100 now stands at 16%.
And we are on course to meet the target set by Lord Davies of 25% by 2015.
This is a significant improvement. But we must not rest on our laurels – there is still more we can do.
From this October, the financial reporting council’s new corporate governance code will take effect and will underline the importance of diversity to good governance and decision-making.
The head-hunting industry has also agreed a code on diversity.
The 30% club – a completely business-led initiative is continuing its work to support a target of at least 30% female representation.
Together we can achieve a better gender balance at all management levels, which means we will see long-lasting change in the workplace.
Helping young people into the workforce
Secondly, I want to talk about young people.
In these difficult economic times we as a government have had to make some tough choices to reduce our deficit.
However, we are putting a lot of effort into getting our young people working.
Our social mobility strategy, opening doors, breaking barriers, sets out the government’s actions for tackling social mobility and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
It challenges employers to open up opportunities and contribute to improved social mobility.
Another initiative is the ‘youth contract’, launched in November 2011 by the deputy prime minister, which aims to get young people into employment in 250,000 extra work experience placements over the next three years.
This offers businesses a wage incentive to encourage them to take a chance on young people who may have otherwise been overlooked because of lack of experience or skills.
And the civil service is also doing its part.
This year, 120 interns have successfully applied to the award-winning civil service summer diversity internship programme.
This is aimed at students from under-represented groups such as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
The programme is a six to nine-week full time work placement across a range of government departments and a wide range of work.
Social and economic challenges and the impact on the workforce
Thirdly, it will not surprise anyone that recessions have different impacts on male and female employment outcomes.
The causes of this are complex.
Research shows that women often go into different careers from men; they take different paths within those careers.
There is no magic bullet to address those issues.
In these tough times, our most successful companies understand that they can’t afford to ignore the skills and talent of half the population.
Our most forward-thinking companies recognise the value of a workforce that, at every level, better reflects its customers and clients; and so is better able to understand their needs.
As a pro-business Government, we want to work with business, to learn from business and to move forward in partnership with business.
Success stories: think act report
One such business-led initiative is the think act report which provides a step-by-step framework to help companies to think about gender equality issues in the workforce – for example, around recruitment, retention, promotion, and pay.
I’m delighted that ENEI members are represented amongst those already signed-up to the initiative.
I’m also very grateful to the ENEI for agreeing to host an event on 10 July specifically about think, act, report, where you can learn much more about the scheme and get involved.
It’s great that we’re working together on this ‘business is good for equality’ programme
In addition to that, I am pleased to say that the government equalities office has recently started working in partnership with the British chambers of commerce on their ‘Business is good for equality’ outreach programme.
As part of our programme, which starts in the Autumn, we will be showcasing exemplar programmes, and we will be sharing those stories to raise awareness of good practice across the country.
Women’s business council
And lastly, the home secretary recently launched the women’s business council which will consider the best ways of maximising women’s talents and opportunities in the workplace, and their contribution to economic growth.
The council will examine issues such as women returning to work and how to help more females into executive positions.
To conclude, I am pleased to say that we are taking real action that will result in practical, sustainable and long-lasting efforts to help people fulfil their potential and contribute more to the economy.
But this is not something the government alone can do.
We can only achieve success with the support of businesses and organisations like yours.