Women are vital to Britain’s economic recovery and we need to ensure we are making full use of their talents. That’s why the government is focused on removing the barriers that prevent women from getting ahead and achieving their full potential. We simply can’t afford to lose out on the talents and skills of over half the population.
We are making good progress. At the time of Lord Davies’ report in April 2013, women had secured more than a third of all FTSE100 board appointments in the previous year. More importantly this is being achieved as a cultural shift rather than through mandatory quotas. But we also need to ensure that we improve the representation of women both on company boards and in the pipeline for those senior positions. We are taking the same approach with ‘Think, Act, Report’, a voluntary scheme that encourages employers to promote equality in the workplace. There are now more than 100 organisations signed up, covering 1.7 million employees.
There are also more women in work than ever before, and 1.27 million women who are self-employed, an increase of 51,000 compared to a year ago. But there is absolutely no room for complacency.
If we want to maintain this progress, not only within large companies but across the economy as a whole, we need to take full advantage of all the skills and talents women have to offer by making sure we have modern, flexible workplaces that allow us to do so. This is why we're introducing a new system of shared parental leave which will allow couples to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth.
The new system will shatter the perception that it is mainly a woman's role to stay at home and look after the child. It will also allow women to choose to return to work earlier if they wish, reducing the impact of pregnancy on women's careers.
The government is also extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. We want to remove the cultural assumption that flexible working only benefits parents and carers, and give everyone the chance to better balance work and their personal life. This will help to reduce discrimination against parents who need more flexible arrangements.
Finally, we have also set out a series of key actions in response to the Women’s Business Council report to help broaden girls’ aspirations and job choices and to support women at all stages of their careers.
- Jo Swinson is the MP for East Dunbartonshire and the minister for women and equalities in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.