Speech

Women's role in economic growth

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Maria Miller outlines the government's plans to help women in the workplace.

14 November 2012
Deloitte, London 

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Introduction

Thank you for that kind introduction - and thank you to our hosts, Deloitte.

I know Deloitte has long been seen as a great employer and recognised as such in The Times Top 50 index of companies where women want to work.  You are clearly an employer which recognises the strong business case for encouraging women to achieve in work.

And that’s really what I want to talk about today - about the contribution women are making to our economy, and women can be helping more to drive economic growth.

There are now more women in work than ever before and they stand at the heart of this country’s economic growth.

When we talk about support for women and work, aspiration and success, we have to think carefully about where our focus is placed.

Yes, it’s important that we talk about the role of women in boardrooms and as Chief Executives - but it’s also vital that we focus on every day family life and what women are doing to balance their financial needs and family life.

Personal commitment

This is something that I care passionately about.

As a working mother of three, working in the advertising industry for 20 years and now in the world of politics, I have experienced first-hand the challenges faced by working women.

I know the guilt that working mums feel; worrying about my children when I am at work and worrying about work when I am with my children. I agree that it can be a difficult balance. But I disagree that this is in some way a ‘choice’ women make.

In Britain today, record numbers of women are working to give their families financial stability - to them work is not a choice but a necessity.

Role as Culture Secretary

Combining the role of Minister for Women with that of Culture Secretary gives added strength.

There is huge synergy between the two - from encouraging women’s participation in sport, through to the portrayal of women in the media, and the representation of women in the culture, media and arts sectors.

The Olympics and Paralympics this summer gave us a phenomenal legacy in relation to women.

The games have changed the way women are being talked about and represented in the media

Not just as mothers or celebrities, but importantly as achievers and champions. It is Jess Ennis, Katherine Grainger Ellie Simmonds and Victoria Pendleton that spring to my mind when I think about the achievements of the summer.  

So, for me, a key legacy of the Olympics must be a generation of girls and young women who have the confidence, courage and aspiration to rise and to succeed in whatever they choose.

Government’s record

Right across Government we are addressing the barriers faced by women and girls. Lasting structural change to ensure our workplaces and above all, our society match the needs of women in modern Britain.

I’m talking about helping families who face a rising cost of living by:

  • Cutting tax for over 23 million working people, lifting 2m out of income tax altogether - the majority of whom are women;
  • Increasing child tax credits for low to middle income families;
  • Freezing Council Tax and ending the Fuel Duty Escalator;

Tackling the biggest problem women face in returning to work by:

  • Extending help with childcare for those who work less than 16 hours a week;
  • Extending the free entitlement to early education to 260,000 two-year-olds from lower income households;

Tackling the concern parents have about their children getting the right start by:

  • Providing more good school places by radically reforming our education system and tackling failing schools;
  • Investing a record £7.5 billion ‘Fairness Premium’ on education which helps the poorest children get the boast they need.
  • And creating the biggest apprenticeships programme our country has ever seen.  Last year, more women than men started an apprenticeship.

The toughest challenge women face is having enough time to look after their families and do a good job.

Just yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister announced that we will be pressing ahead with our plans to extend flexible working - and also to reform our system of parental leave so that parents have much more choice and flexibility over how they look after their children in the first year of their lives.

Women should not have to choose between their job and their families, all of these changes will help them to find a balance that works for them.

Removing barriers

As a mother, I want this country to be an even better place for my children to bring up their own children. Leaving them saddled with the debt is no way to achieve that. 

That is why it is right that the first priority of the Government is to cut the deficit, in doing that we are living within our means and reducing the burden on future generations.

Our economy is starting to heal and that will help secure an economically secure environment for families.

But times have changed - it’s no longer good enough to be competitive with Germany, France and Ireland, we must remember that Britain is in a global race, and there’s so much more we need to do to make ourselves competitive.

It makes no sense to stifle the achievement and aspiration of 50% of our society. It is essential that we maximise the contribution that women make to our economy. 

Not because of political correctness, but because of economic reality.  Now more than ever, we need to remove artificial barriers which women and men face in the workplace.

Some say this can be best achieved through quotas or regulation. I know that today the European Commissioners will meet again to discuss their proposal to introduce quotas for women on boards. 

My experience of business is that the Commission is wrong to pursue this approach. 

Instead of imposing a solution, we are encouraging and supporting employers to put the right measures in place themselves. 

And the evidence shows this voluntary approach is clearly working.  Cranfield School of Management have analysed recent board appointments and found that, in the past six months, women represent 44% of FTSE100 Board appointments - and 36% of FTSE250 appointments. 

Those that say there is so much more to be done are of course right.

But look at where we have come from, this is strong progress and I must pay tribute both to Lord Davies and to Helena Morrissey of the 30% Club for their powerful leadership on this issue. This progress has to continue so that we can resist outside intervention.

Think, Act, Report

We are taking the same approach with Think, Act, Report - a voluntary scheme to promote greater transparency around gender equality in the workplace.

Think, Act, Report encourages companies to do exactly those things: to think about how to offer equal opportunities for women in the workplace; to take action, where a need for action is identified; and to report their progress.

By shining a light on the great work that many businesses are already doing here, I know we can encourage others to follow.

Since its launch last September, over 50 leading companies have signed up to this initiative. These include Deloitte, Marks and Spencer, Three Mobile, BAE Systems, Angel Trains and EDF Energy.

This means that - over a million employees - are working in organisations signed up to Think, Act, Report.  

And today we are publishing our first annual progress report which lists all the companies, with case studies showing what they have done to support their female employees, from job sharing to helping their employees find quality childcare, and importantly for those in the sandwich generation, eldercare.

And they are doing this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they have found that what is good for their employees is good for the bottom line.

So I hope to see all companies in this room today sign up to Think, Act, Report.  And if you have already signed up then please encourage your partners and suppliers to do the same.

Enterprise

Women are also increasingly seeing starting their own business as a viable option - and I know this is something Deloitte want to encourage too.

I saw for myself as a DWP Minister how the New Enterprise Allowance was helping women who had never thought of working for themselves to start their own business. 

And I’m thrilled that more than 6,000 women have responded to government’s call and have signed up to mentor others who want to start up or grow their own businesses. 

These are women helping other women, and businesses helping other businesses - passing on their knowledge, skills and experiences.  I want to pay tribute to each and every one of those volunteers. 

Women’s Business Council

But we won’t stop there. 

One of the most important projects under way anywhere in government is the work of the Women’s Business Council, led by Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO at MITIE.

The Women’s Business Council, which will report next year, will show how women can contribute more to our economy and I look forward to working with them on this. 

Childcare

The Council are inevitably looking at the childcare sector too. 

This sector is, of course, a major employer of women, and it also one where there are huge opportunities for women to start up and run their own childcare businesses.

Over 57,000 people are already running their own childminding businesses in England today.

The sector is also a key factor in helping parents to take up or continue in work.

Despite billions of pounds of money being spent on childcare, this is an area in which the UK lags behind other countries. Figures show that just two-thirds of UK mothers with children work.  That’s less than France (72 per cent), Denmark (83 per cent), the Netherlands (78 per cent) or Germany (72 per cent). 

Of course, I understand that not all mothers will want to go out to work.  But we know that half of non-working mothers would like to work if they were able to arrange good quality childcare which was convenient, reliable and affordable.

That’s why earlier this year the Prime Minister asked me to look at how childcare supports parents to move into work.  And today, informed by both this and the work of the Women’s Business Council, I’m really pleased to announce new measures to boost growth and create more childcare businesses.

It’s important to stimulate the market over the next year so that more childcare places are available - and more women can get into work because they have good reliable childcare or indeed start childcare businesses themselves.

So from next April, we will be making £2m available to provide grants of up to £500 to people wishing to set up new childcare businesses, including childminding businesses.

This will help as many as 6,000 new childcare start-ups with some of the costs which they can face:

  • Equipment
  • Legal costs
  • Training
  • Insurance or
  • Adaptations to premises.

At the same time, we will target business support on the childcare sector, both to encourage new childcare start-ups, but also to help existing childcare businesses become more sustainable and grow. 

As part of this, we will build on the mentoring programme I referred to earlier with business mentoring support for individuals and providers within the childcare sector. 

The measures being announced today are far from the end of the story on childcare.  They are not in themselves the solution to better quality, more affordable childcare. 

The Prime Minister’s commission on childcare will report its findings in due course.

Today’s measures will help ensure that more people can enter the childcare market, and that we have a thriving sector where enterprise and innovation are increasing the availability of childcare and the choice for parents.

Closing - Call to action

There can be no doubt that women are central to the health and competitiveness of our economy and that the Government understands that and is committed to helping them achieve.

Government and business, must play a leading role in ensuring women are supported to make the fullest contribution.

The way to do this is not through special treatment, like the European Commission’s quotas idea, which undermines the business case.

It is not through looking on women as a niche group who have niche concerns and require special policies.

It’s through ensuring women and girls from the earliest age achieve their best.

I want us to inspire every girl in this country, so they believe that being an engineer, an elite athlete or a Chief Executive of a leading business isn’t the privilege of a male world.  It’s something they will do too.

We need all hands on deck - and I look forward to working with all of you to make this a reality.

Thank you.