I’d like to start by thanking the Wealth Management Association for their kind invitation to join everyone here today at your annual conference.
It is a real privilege to speak to one of the most important sectors for the British economy and address one of the central themes of this year’s conference: women in business.
I’m proud that work in this area is at the heart of this government’s long-term economic plan, because it’s a topic close to my own heart.
You know me as Minister for Women and Equalities, but before entering politics I spent 16 years working in the city where I’d certainly hope that my colleagues thought I had just as much to offer as my male counterparts!
We can all agree, I think, that making the most of women - half of the population! - is vital to securing our future.
And that means all of us working hard to remove the barriers that stop women progressing to the top of their fields.
Progress so far
I’m delighted that so much of this work has been done already, by government, and by private sector organisations - like the ones represented here today.
Today, there are more women working in this country than ever before.
More of these women are working full time than ever before.
And there are more women represented at higher levels of management. I’m particularly proud that, at the Department for Education, almost half of our senior civil servants are now women.
Everywhere you look, women are breaking new ground and making their mark in the world of business.
In the appointment of Rona Fairhead as the new Chairwomen of the BBC Trust.
In the unveiling, just a few weeks ago, of Veronique Laury as the new Chief Executive of Kingfisher.
And internationally, Ana Botín became the sixth woman at the head of a Fortune Global 100 company.
In fact, women now make up almost a quarter of the boards of our top companies. For the first time, the UK now has a woman on the board of every FTSE 100 company.
Around 30 more women are needed to reach Lord Davies’ target next year - of women making up 25% of company boards. And there are now no male-only boards in the FTSE 100.
This simply wouldn’t have been possible without the sheer hard work and tenacity of the women involved and, of course, their female and male supporters.
And it’s testament to the fact that companies themselves are leading the way. The voluntary approach towards fair and equal recruitment is working, which is why, so far, we haven’t had to rely on quotas.
But it doesn’t mean our work is complete, and we are certainly not complacent. The truth is that young girls in schools today just aren’t that likely to see great female engineers, scientists, coders, to admire and to emulate.
We need even more women to thrive in the city and across all sectors: in business, in academia, and in the civil service and wider public sector.
These women don’t need special treatment, but they do need a level playing field; equal status; the same opportunities for the top jobs.
So we must continue to break down the barriers which so often stop or hinder women progressing.
This means recognising and rewarding female talent, and ensuring women have a fair chance of promotion.
It means that our mission for equality in the workplace must be championed equally, across sectors and across all levels of business, by both men and women. And that’s not always the case at the moment.
After all, I’m standing here in front of representatives from some of the most powerful companies in the country, and you’re mostly men!
And evidence shows that the audience here today reflects the wider situation. Only 3% of hedge fund managers around the world are women. Fewer than 10% of equity income managers in the UK are women. And only 7% of retail investment funds are managed or co-managed by women.
This simply doesn’t make business sense. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett has said very recently, women are the largest and fastest growing group of purchasers and investors in the world today. Yet these women feel under-served by the wealth management sector - it doesn’t understand their needs or their goals.
I was impressed, though, as I am sure all of you were, by the words of one young lady in particular - Emma Watson, whose speech at the recent United Nations HeForShe campaign launch means that gender equality has been catapulted to the front of the world stage.
As Emma said, so simply and so correctly - inequality isn’t a female issue, it’s a human issue. Men must act as agents of change and think flexibly and creatively about the opportunities that should be equally afforded to their female peers, employees, friends, and family members.
And that’s why one of the most powerful demonstrations of what’s possible is seeing the fantastic commitment of both government and business, men and women, working together to develop a strong pool of female talent.
Our work with the Women’s Business Council, for example, which includes some extremely impressive business leaders - including their chair, Ruby Macgregor-Smith - who volunteer their time with the sole aim of breaking down barriers and maximising opportunities for women to contribute to the country’s economic growth.
And I’m pleased to say that the government is acting on every single recommendation the council has made to open up opportunities for women at all stages of their careers. We’re committed to providing better careers advice to young women at school, ensuring effective talent management when they join the workplace, and supporting them throughout their careers to move into more senior roles.
And the 30% club, founded by Helena Morrissey, CBE, launched in 2010 aims for 30% of FTSE board members to be women before the end of 2015. Helena is doing some fantastic work in accelerating the progression of women in executive careers.
Tackling the gender pay gap
But, of course, we will fail in our aim of supporting women to achieve in business if we don’t also ensure that they’re paid fairly and equally for their efforts.
We’ve made good progress so far.
There is now virtually no difference in pay at all between men and women under 40 who are working full time. But we know that older women - even in the most senior roles - and women working part time are still paid less per hour than men in full-time jobs.
We know that there are 3 main causes for this pay gap. I think we have a duty to tackle each one.
Too many young women embark on less well-paid careers than their male counterparts. We’re working to improve careers advice in schools and colleges, and we’re encouraging more girls to take the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering, maths - that lead to better-paid jobs, through the government-backed Your Life campaign, launched earlier this year.
And too many women often don’t get as far up the ladder in their careers as men, due to a lack of flexible working opportunities or quality part-time roles. We’re taking the necessary action on this.
We’re introducing shared parental leave. We’re introducing new childcare tax provisions. And we’re extending the right to request flexible working to all employees: modernising the workplace and reflecting the fact that flexible working can be of real benefit, and provide more choice, more opportunity, for both employees and their employer to think creatively about working patterns.
And finally, we’ve introduced important regulations to ensure that companies who lose employment tribunal equal pay claims will have to conduct full pay audits.
We know the vast majority of companies want to do the right thing.
Our Think, Act, Report initiative is helping these companies create a fairer workplace for women by driving greater transparency about pay and other issues. Already we’re seeing a culture change as a result.
Over 200 companies, many from the city, have already signed up to Think, Act, Report.
And for those of you who haven’t signed up - I urge you to do so.
There are clear benefits for being recognised as thinking about and acting on the barriers that women face in the workplace. Those companies who take proactive and public steps to tackle barriers women face are the ones who attract and retain the best talent.
But there’s still more to be done. And that has to be led by businesses themselves.
As the wealth management and investment community, you play a pivotal role in changing the employment landscape for women. You must challenge your own assumptions about women in your companies.
So ask yourselves:
- do you have transparent talent objectives to help women progress?
- are all of your employees, men and women, recognised on the basis of performance, rather than opportunities going to the loudest voices or those who are seen in the office most often?
- are you casting the net wide enough when you’re looking for new talent to join your business?
- as investors, do you ask the right questions about diversity of the companies that you invest in?
It’s no longer acceptable to be - nor can we afford to be - cavalier about the way we treat older women: those women who might have returned to the job market after raising a family, and who might have the peak of their career still ahead of them.
These women are vital for the success of the future labour market: a third more women than men expect to work beyond the state pension age. Women have rich and diverse skills and experience to offer; they are powering our country’s economic growth, and they’re excellent role models for our next generation of leaders, both men and women.
So let’s use days like today to celebrate the progress we’ve made so far. Let’s celebrate the fact that women are better represented in the workplace than ever before. And let’s celebrate the fact that we’re on the right track towards achieving a fair and equal chance for women to receive the recognition and reward for their abilities and achievements that they so rightly deserve.
Because our ambition must be for a bright future, for all those young women at school now, choosing their GCSEs, A levels, applying to university, thinking about their career choices, starting new jobs.
It shouldn’t even begin to cross their minds that they might not be equally capable of taking certain subjects, choosing certain careers, that they might not receive equal opportunities, or pay, or recognition for their talents.
We all have a duty to ensure we set the right example, and that our words and our actions reflect without a shadow of a doubt our absolute support for women in the workplace.