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Secretary of State for Education speaks at the APPG Group on UN Women evening reception about women in leadership.
Thank you Pauline [Latham MP]
I’m delighted to be here today. It’s wonderful to see so many new faces - and a few familiar ones!
First I’d like to say a heartfelt thanks to the UN Women All Party Parliamentary Group for organising this event, which brings together Parliamentarians, business and civil society to shine a light on an issue that is fast becoming one of the causes of our time - women in leadership. And it’s a genuinely global cause.
All around the world, there simply aren’t enough women in political and corporate senior decision-making positions. That’s why I’m delighted that women in leadership remains 1 of UN Women’s 6 strategic priorities for 2014 to 2017 .
I’m pleased that, in the last 2 years, there have been 10 women appointed as leaders of their countries.
- Michelle Bachelet, elected Chilean President earlier this year for a second time, following her outstanding service as the first Executive Director of UN Women
- in the Central African Republic, too, Catherine Samba-Panza has been elected as the new interim President
Bringing the total number of women leading their countries to 22. A huge step forwards, globally. But here at home there’s still plenty to do.
The UK economy is dependent on us better utilising the talent of women, capitalising on the wealth of skill and talent that women leaders can bring to our top companies - and to all levels of political and public life. We can’t afford not to let half our population realise their potential!
After all, we’re one of the world’s strongest economies, one of the world’s most developed countries. So we should be leading the way when it comes to gender equality.
I’ve been involved in politics for 25 years now - that’s since I was just 16. I remained involved throughout my time at school and university - and then whilst I trained as a solicitor and during my career in the city.
It’s fair to say I’ve seen the government go through a lot of changes in that time!
And since becoming an MP 4 years ago, I’m proud to be part of the most diverse Parliament ever - currently 22.7% of MPs and 21.7% of peers are female - some of whom I’m delighted to see here today.
Over recent years, as the number of female MPs has grown and grown, we’ve seen a range of new policies on flexible working, stronger equality legislation and critical action on violence against women.
Women are also being supported to stand for Parliament through initiatives such as Women2Win. And in my own department, I’m proud to say that almost half of our senior civil servants are women. Because I want to see a government that truly represents the country. But it’s not just in the political arena that women are breaking new ground. They’re also making their mark in the world of business.
Here in the UK, women now make up almost a quarter of the boards of our top companies. For the first time, we now have a woman on the board of every FTSE 100 company.
And only 24 more women need to be appointed to the boards of these top 100 companies to reach Lord Davies’ target next year - of women making up 25% of company boards.
But to achieve this we mustn’t let the momentum slow down. We must ensure that we break down the remaining barriers preventing women from reaching their full potential in the workplace.
Access to affordable childcare is one of the major challenges. But raising children does not and should not prevent women from getting to the top.
And that’s why the government is doing our bit to help women balance their work and home life. We’ve extended the right to request flexible working to all employees. Next year we’ll be introducing shared parental leave and tax-free childcare worth up to £2,000 a child. In 2012 we set up the women’s business council (WBC) to look at how we can also remove the other barriers that stop women progressing.
I’m pleased 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 a great example of government and business working together is the initiative Think, Act, Report, which drives greater transparency about pay and the numbers of women in senior positions - all to create a fairer workplace for women.
Over 260 companies have now signed up, covering 2.5 million workers. We’re already seeing a culture change as a result because we must work with industry to change cultures and attitudes.
And, as I’m sure lots of you will know, just over a fortnight ago we saw the gender pay gap narrow to 19.1% thanks to the continued efforts of this government. Both overall, and for full-time workers, it’s at its lowest ever point in history. A true achievement.
But as I’ve said - we can’t let the momentum stop, or even slow, if we’re to see the workplace equality that women deserve.
Because we need the best people to lead our academic institutions, the best people to serve on company boards, the best people to join Parliament - regardless of gender. We need role models to inspire the next generation of girls - to lead by example, to show them that no career, no future path, is out of their reach.
The government’s playing its part here.
In fact, it’s where my roles as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities are so well interconnected. In May the Your Life campaign was launched, a social enterprise with a call to action to get educators, industry and government to commit to boosting women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and maths careers. It’s through programmes like Your Life that we can raise children’s aspirations and encourage them to consider a diverse range of subjects and careers.
And building on initiatives developed by the government is where organisations like UN Women come in. Your work to empower women and girls around the world is, put simply, invaluable.
With your support - and if government, business and civil society continue work together - as we strive towards our shared aim to see more and more women in the leadership positions they deserve, I know we will succeed.