In response to the hysteria being aired about Nigel’s remarks in the City this morning, let me clarify what women want, where women are in the workplace, and perhaps why there are so few women at the top of the City workplace or in most board positions come to that.
A top UK bank recently asked its management why they thought there were so few women in senior positions? There were people who had recently joined from US banks who commented that they had far more women in executive positions but fewer black and minority ethnic people and that Britain was much better at diversity than the US; but they couldn’t understand why in the UK so few women were applying for jobs.
One reason is our education system. Astonishingly, when that bank advertises its graduate recruitment programme, over 80% of the applicants are male.
I recently took part in a discussion panel on enforced gender quotas, something that the EU in its wisdom thinks UK companies should adopt. The other panellists and I (mostly women in business), were in agreement that the fault lies with girls’ education. Girls are still being pushed down traditional stereotypical gender roles. Until that changes, no positive discrimination will work because those women will be seen as tokens, and none of us wish that.
We must start to educate girls on a seriously equal basis. Take a look at the statistics on A level results and compare the numbers of those girls taking physics and maths compared to boys, and then look deeper into the private versus the state school system. You’ll see that girls are tragically being left behind, both in career advancement, earnings capacity and choice.
Another reason why women are not reaching the top is because we have to fix the pipeline of women coming through the ranks, tape up the leaky pipeline once they’re there, give them increased mentoring, put them in charge of profit and loss accounts, managing people but with support and encouragement along the way.
Women of child-bearing age are also finding it difficult to find employment. I am told by countless small businesses — and it is SMEs that this legislation affects, not large corporations who can absorb the cost — that they cannot ‘risk’ employing women between the ages of 20-45 because of the EU imposed maternity rights law which allows women to take up to year off work.
One employer told me, “A woman on maternity leave is under no obligation to tell you if or when she is returning, and that level of uncertainty can really cripple a firm. The problem is you don’t know whether to recruit a new person for the job or hold it open. I think after six months the maternity leaver should have to decide whether she wants to come back to work so the employer has the option of recruiting someone else to fill the job.”
This legislation is costing Britain’s employers £3bn. I can think of no other piece of legislation specifically designed to discourage the employment of young women. The costs to business will simply serve as a further reason to not employ young women of child-bearing age.
Legislation such as this closes the door on opportunities for young women and consigns them to a role as second class citizens, trapped at home by the stupidity of legislators. It will single-handedly turn back the clock by forcing employers to avoid exposure to the penalties by not hiring young women at all.
Until we change our education system and reverse damaging social legislation, the same gene pool of women will swill around taking non-exec positions at £30k a time.