As the New Year begins, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the achievements of the past twelve months, and to let you know about some of our plans for 2014.
Last year saw the launch of the Women’s Business Council report and the government’s response. At the end of 2013 we published an action plan and a 6 months on review, along with a booklet for employers that offers steps to raise the aspirations of young women, develop the talent of staff at all levels within their organisations and improve opportunities for women at all stages of their careers. As I have repeatedly said, this is simply good business sense. The work and commitment of those on the council has been fantastic and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the year ahead
We also reached another milestone at the end of last year, celebrating two years of Think, Act, Report, our initiative to promote gender equality in the workplace, and launching our two year on report. 141 organisations are now signed up, meaning that over 2 million employees are covered by the pledge; of course I hope that number will continue to grow this year
Looking ahead, March 2014 will see the publication of the female FTSE 2014 report, and also the Lord Davies 3 years on report. Both reports will look at the progress that has been made in getting more women onto the boards of the UK’s leading companies. And, by 2014, the extension of the right to request flexible working to all will be introduced.
We know that high quality, affordable childcare can make a huge difference to children, mothers and fathers. We have already put in place a number of measures to help, including increasing free early education places for 3- and 4-year-olds to 15 hours a week. From September 2014 we are extending this, so that 260,000 two-year-olds from lower income families can also access a free early education place. Last year we also announced our childcare grants scheme to support those that want to set up their own childcare business and over 2,500 applications have already been received.
We are also tackling the findings of several pieces of research published last year which highlighted anecdotal evidence of discrimination by employers against pregnant women. It is not only wrong for employers to discriminate against women in this way, it is illegal. That is why in November we announced that we would give £1million to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to conduct a review into pregnancy discrimination.
Through our Women’s Engagement Programme, we have hosted over 20 roundtables along with numerous events and conferences with our women’s sector stakeholders, which have focussed on women’s equalities. We have also visited schools to promote our messages about women in economic growth and to encourage girls to aim high in their aspirations.
This is a core focus which will continue this year as we look ahead to International Women’s day and the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which will take place in New York in March. The priority theme for 2014 is the ‘challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls’.
Since, I started in the DCMS, and as part of the London 2012 legacy we have also tried to improve the visibility of women in the world of sport. Over the past year, we have really capitalised on the positive impact of London 2012 on women’s sport. We have seen a significant increase in women’s sports coverage and more women doing sport since we won the bid to host the Games back in 2005. But there is still much to be done. My recently-formed Women’s Sport Advisory Board of experts in the fields of sport, business and broadcasting are helping me drive this agenda even further. Together, our ambition is boosting not only participation levels, but also the perceptions of women’s sport, its value – both commercial and social – and its place at the heart of a fitting and lasting legacy from the Games.
And of course in 2014 we passed the Marriage (same sex couples) Act marriage and have recently announced that the first weddings will be able to take place from 29 March 2014. I know that many couples up and down the country will be hugely excited that they can now plan for their big day and demonstrate their love and commitment to each other by getting married.