Thank you Ruth and welcome everyone to the House of Lords and to Westminster. This is one of the first times I’ve spoken publicly since the election, and I’m absolutely delighted to be returning to my joint roles as Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities.
I can’t believe it is a year ago since I spoke at the launch event. I have to say that ‘POWERful Women’ is one of the best-named networks. My other favourite is ‘Chicks With Bricks’, which is about women in the construction industry.
I’m sure a lot of you will have in mind the last POWERful Women conference in February, when someone I enjoyed working with very much spoke to you. So at this point I’d like to say that Jo Swinson did a huge amount for women during her time as a minister, and pay tribute to all that she achieved.
I know that my new fellow Minister for Women and Equalities, Caroline Dinenage, is looking forward to continuing her work.
Looking back over my time in government, I remember the launch event I went to last year in Aberdeen when I was responsible for oil and gas taxation at the Treasury. I wasn’t quite the only woman in the room but there wasn’t much competition.
I met so many talented people, and I know that Amber Rudd, as the new Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and Andrea Leadsom, another of their ministers, are excited about working with the sector to secure its future.
Equality for women and nurturing talent in the sector
Of course a big part of that future is harnessing the power and potential of women in the industry. That’s why I am pleased to see, in the ‘POWERful women’ report, that a commitment to nurturing and developing talent is 1 of its top 3 recommendations for companies.
The sector is clearly open to change - and importantly it’s equally open about the hard work needed to create that change.
Of course there is good practice to be seen. Larger energy companies tend to have more women on boards, and power and renewable energy companies do even better in terms of diversity: Centrica, the National Grid, and Royal Dutch Shell all deserve a mention here.
I’m also extremely proud of the progress we have made in narrowing the gender pay gap, but there’s more to be done in the sector, as in other sectors too. We need to make sure we have the right amount of female representation at every level.
Research shows that 30% is the magic number. The number at which a minority group starts to have influence and impact. In other words, the number at which our voices start to be heard. And I’m very pleased to say that our new Parliament is at 29.5%! So we’re nearly there - I can begin to look other sectors and industries a little bit more in the eye than I could in the last Parliament.
Cranfield University’s recent ‘Female FTSE 2015’ report highlighted different sectors with companies who had reached this 30% target - and those who have yet to reach it.
This report also shows that the sector you’re in doesn’t actually present a barrier to the appointment of female directors - a really diverse mix of organisations had reached the target.
So there is no reason why the energy sector can’t push hard for equal pay and equal opportunity. But despite that:
- 61% of the top 100 UK-headquartered energy companies have no women on their boards
- only 5% of executive boards seats of energy companies are held by women
- and there are no female CEOs of medium to large energy companies that are headquartered in the UK
That’s despite 70% of those surveyed for the ‘Igniting change’ report believing that their companies are too male-dominated.
So energy companies need to commit to a real culture change, and that’s why it’s so encouraging to see so many people here this evening.
And to have real sustainable change, that change must come from within.
At every level and in every role, women need to know their contributions are valued and their development is taken seriously. That’s why the POWERful connections network that you’re launching tonight is so important.
Women need to see senior staff leading by example, and they need to see role models all the way up to executive level.
I’m very conscious of the fact that, with my education hat on, that if we don’t continue to encourage more girls and young women into STEM subjects and careers, businesses will miss out on the home-grown talent that is vital for future development and economic growth.
Over the coming months, I’ll be continuing to encourage girls to get into STEM-related careers through the Your Life campaign - effecting the kind of culture change that we need has to start in the classroom and continue right through to the workplace.
A vital part of that culture change is challenging the all-too-frequent male-dominated culture found in this sector - this is where initiatives like POWERful Women come into their own:
- helping women to meet, share ideas, hold discussions, and inspire the younger generation, and to mentor them: building momentum and sparking change
- as I said, your new programme, POWERful Connections, which will give talented women access to the expertise and advice they need to advance their careers and reach the most senior positions - and I look forward to hearing [at] next year’s event how well it has gone.
As I said a few minutes ago, as Minister for Women and Equalities, I’ve been lucky enough to meet talented and enterprising women of all ages in the energy sector, and I’m talking to a room full of people championing equality and leading by example. I’m looking forward to seeing what together we can all achieve.
And who knows, by next year’s event, you might need a room double the size to fit people within the energy sector who have signed up to lead that momentum for change.
I wish you all the best, and it’s a pleasure to be back here again for your second event.