Thanks, Holly , it’s a great pleasure to be here.
I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year. And what an inspirational way to start 2015.
It’s on the back of your achievements – and thousands of other women beyond this room - that we’re literally building a better country and making inroads into gender inequality.
Which is why initiatives like this are so important; for women to celebrate success in what is still a very male-dominated industry.
And also to inspire many more from the next generation to join you.
Too often we still see women feeling ‘shut out’ of certain careers or routes into work - something that was recently highlighted in Girlguiding UK’s latest Attitudes Survey.
This found that just over a third of 11 to 21 year olds said that girls aren’t encouraged to consider apprenticeships.
And we know that this sense of some areas being out of bounds includes industries like yours, with construction long being seen as “something for the boys”, despite the incredible opportunities it can offer.
Stereotypes still persist.
For many, a job in construction too often still conjures up an image of a man in a high-vis jacket on a building site, wearing his trousers slightly lower then he should be…
Technology and innovation have changed the face of this exciting industry and long since rendered the brawn versus brains debate largely immaterial when it comes to construction.
Having visited the hugely impressive Crossrail site at Farringdon just before Christmas, I know that there’s much more to the industry, for women as well as men.
When I was there, I was shown around by project manager Linda Miller, who told me how she regularly goes into schools to talk to pupils and how this is changing perceptions and encouraging more young people – particularly girls - to consider careers in engineering and construction.
She was very positive about the impact that this work is having.
And there are many other amazing projects, up and down the country, that women are helping to drive that are keeping our country moving, our citizens housed and our businesses thriving.
Yet, these women are still very much in the minority – making up just 12.2 per cent of the construction workforce.
I’m pleased that under this government this is up from 10.7 per cent in 2010.
But we clearly still have a long way to go.
Women make up half our population and so it is right that we see them able to fulfil their potential and thrive in careers across our economy, including construction.
The UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe - just nine per cent compared to Sweden’s 25 per cent or Germany’s 15 per cent.
And only 14 per cent of entrants to engineering and technology first degree courses in 2012-13 were women.
We need 100,000 more engineers, scientists and technologists coming through every year just to replace those leaving these professions.
And that is why getting more women into these sectors is so absolutely critical – for women themselves, for the sector and for our country’s economy.
To achieve this, we need to go back to where it all starts – at school.
As many girls as boys get the top grades in maths and science at GCSE, but far fewer girls progress to A level maths and science.
Around half of boys who achieve an A* in GCSE physics go on to do A level physics, compared to just 19 per cent of girls.
And it’s a similar story for Maths.
Only 11 per cent of girls who achieved an A* in maths GCSE went on to study A level maths, compared to 26 per cent of boys.
Yet, maths and science are vital - not just for careers in construction and the STEM industries - but for unlocking opportunities in almost every area in our global, technology-driven economy.
These subjects are also associated with higher earnings, with those in science or technological careers paid, on average, 19 per cent more than other professions.
And we know that the lack of women in top jobs in the highest-paid professions is a big factor in the gender pay gap.
I am delighted to see that this gap recently narrowed to its lowest ever level, following a continued push by this government.
But at 22.8 per cent, the gender pay gap in construction is higher than the national average.
The gap is too high and I’m determined to see it come down further and faster – because it’s not just women who are missing out.
The construction sector is also missing out, with the need to recruit an estimated 200,000 workers by 2020 to keep up with demand.
And it’s clear that if we’re going to meet this skills gap and see the next generation fulfil their potential, we need to get girls on board much earlier.
Which is why we’re striving to inspire more of them to study STEM subjects through the Your Life campaign – I helped launch the poster campaign for this in November.
This is not about saying these subjects are more important than others.
It is about helping young people keep their options open and inspiring them to know that no career is off limits because of their gender, race or background.
Our aim is to boost the numbers of young people taking A Level physics and maths by 50 per cent within three years and to double the proportion of undergraduate engineering and technology degrees taken by women to 30 per cent by 2030.
This will ensure that thousands more girls – as well as boys – have the qualifications, skills and confidence to fulfil their potential and benefit from the endless opportunities and rewards these disciplines bring – not just as individuals, but for the sake of our entire country.
But we can’t do this alone.
Which is why we’re working with businesses across the country to drive this agenda forward.
Over 200 organisations have already signed up to Your Life. I’m glad to say this includes the construction industry, Laing O’Rourke, which has pledged to aim for 30% of its apprenticeship and cadet programme to be taken up by women by 2016.
And as I said earlier, Crossrail is looking to inspire many more girls as well as boys to work in engineering and construction by sending employees like Linda into schools.
Crossrail has, in fact, committed to growing this, the Young Crossrail programme, to reach 20,000 pupils – and for half of these to be girls - over the next two years.
And there are many other things that we in government are also doing to break down barriers, raise aspirations and drive up these numbers.
We announced a £30 million fund in June to increase the supply of engineers, particularly female engineers.
And just last month I announced that we’re setting up a new careers and enterprise company to transform careers guidance.
This will encourage employers, schools and colleges to work together more closely to help young people consider all possible career options – including, of course, construction.
We’re also promoting this kind of collaboration through our support for the Education and Employers’ Taskforce.
And I urge you to sign up to its Inspiring the Future scheme, which involves going into a school and speaking to young people about what you do and how you got there.
I hope that you’ll also consider becoming a STEM ambassador.
And that the companies here today will pledge to support the Your Life campaign, if they’re not already doing so.
Because as I said, we all have a part to play.
And because nothing hammers home the message that no subjects, no jobs, no careers, are off limits for our daughters, sisters and friends, than having role models like you.
Women make up half of our population. So we must continue to help them fulfil their potential.
This is something I am personally absolutely committed to.
As the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Women and Equalities, there’s nothing more I want to see than us making the most of their talents and their experiences – in construction, in the STEM industries, in whatever path they choose.
Let’s work together to make this happen.