karen landles women work
Measures needed to support women in work

Recently, Chuka Umunna rightly talked of the unacceptable “ceiling” women face in reaching the top of their business.

Looking at the McKinsey report, “Women Matter”, we can see that men are three times as likely to be promoted into middle management as women, then two times as likely to take the next step, then twice as likely to join an executive board before being five times as likely to become a CEO.

Clearly this is about neither lack of ability or ambition. What we are seeing is a “leaky pipeline” that loses women all along the way. This is clearly an area that LFIG wants to address. With March 8th, International Women’s Day, coming up this is an opportune time to review what has been achieved and what needs to be done.

Let’s start with a positive note. In the UK progress has been made in increasing the number of women in company executive committees. Less positively, the increase in 2011 brought us to only 15% and still worse while other countries across the European Union, such as France, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Iceland, have introduced quotas, the UK continues to trail behind in tackling the problem. LFIG hosted a debate on the issue at Labour Conference last year.

Putting aside any moral or ethical argument we might make as Labour members there is an economic imperative. While highly skilled and educated women are leaving the labour market across Europe we are facing a shortage of skilled workers which is expected to reach 40 million by 2030.

An equal employment rate for women would close almost all the gap. Women control over 70% of global consumer spending so it makes sense in an increasingly competitive world for our businesses to mirror the market rather than continue with our male-centric business view.

We know too that if women set up businesses at the same rate as men there would be another 150,000 start ups every year. Excitingly, austerity in Spain has driven women to set up their own businesses in record amounts – 800,000 businesses have been set up by women in the past five years.

“The crisis allowed women to seriously consider becoming entrepreneurs, something many had never thought of before,” said Joan Torrent Sellens, head of the Open University of Catalonia’s business school. For some it has been an answer to unemployment, for others just the realisation that as women they were earning less than their male counterparts and less likely to be promoted, so going it alone made sense.

When we were in government, Labour brought in a whole raft of measures that supported women in work, childcare, rights for part time workers, which have been very effective in keeping women in the work-force but there is still a long way to go in tackling the issues that women face to get to the top of their professions without children let alone in maintaining their career trajectory with a young family.

As LFIG we believe this is a debate we should lead on. We have been talking to Fabian Women’s Network, Labour Women in Business and Labour Women’s Network about the kind of changes we need to make, the kind of policies we need to introduce.

We want to hear from you about your experiences, your ideas; about the policies you think will make a difference in repairing that leaky pipeline. Over the next few weeks Rachel Burgin or myself will be calling every woman in LFIG to gather your thoughts but of course we very much want the opinion  of men too, so male or female, please feel free to contact me.

Karen Landles is an LFIG executive member and a behavioural change adviser

Related Articles:

Getting More Women into the Boardroom: The Approach of a Patient Nation

Empowering Women in the Workplace

Women in Business, Leaky Pipeline Needs Repairing
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