Does report signal another step closer to equality in the workplace? (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Does report signal another step closer to equality in the workplace?
First the good news. A new report by the Office for National Statistics says that over the past 40 years there has been rising employment for women and, perhaps even more encouraging, the number of women working in managerial positions is slightly higher than the European Union average.
Could this, then, be an end to the old “glass ceiling”, the invisible barrier to progression that meant women, no matter how capable, were often denied entrance to the boardroom and better paying, higher powered jobs?
Well, don’t count your chickens. While undoubtedly there has been great improvement in levelling the playing field and ensuring equality in the workplace is the rule rather than the exception, the Women In The Labour Market report, released yesterday, still points to some ongoing bugbears.
For example, although over the 40 year period men have experienced falling employment, “men have consistently higher employment rates than women above the age of 22.”
And male employment tends to be in professional occupations which are associated with higher levels of pay than women, while women dominate employment within the caring and leisure occupations.
If you think it’s a level playing field for those leaving university with a degree, no matter what their gender, think again: “Female graduates are more likely to work in a slightly lower-skilled occupation group than men.”
All that notwithstanding, though, the picture does seem to be improving. A lot of the shifting balance – female employment increasing while male employment falls – is due to the changes in Britain’s job market from the early 1970s onwards, when the traditionally male-dominated manufacturing industries went into sharp decline and the rise of service sector employment, which broadly employs more women.
There has also been a raft of employment legislation which has helped matters, from the 1970 Equal Pay Act to the 2010 increase in State Pension age for women, which means more women are working longer.
Jane Vincent, as head of the recruitment agency Candelisa People, is well placed to observe the changing nature of employment over the years. Happily, she reports that equality certainly seems to be bedding in, if her experience in Bradford is anything to go by.
Jane says: “In the sector I work in, women have always had senior roles and I have never seen what people refer to as a glass ceiling. We recruit at all levels and have never been in a situation where we have had a client wanting a man rather than a woman. It is always the best person for the job.
“When I first started my career in late 1980s there were a lot of ‘jobs for the boys’ situations but over the years this has changed. There are still certain sectors where top jobs are male dominated, but maybe because women are not attracted to the sector, for example engineering. I have two friends who have just graduated in law and were the only people on their course to secure a legal contract with a law firm.”
One of the major obstacles to women progressing career-wise has always been the fact that they are the ones who have the babies and are forced to break their working lives for maternity leave.
Jane recalls: “A new generation has come through. I still remember when I was asked by a retiring business owner in an interview, ‘So you wont be having any more children will you?’ Rather than find it offensive I found it highly amusing and thought gosh how things have changed!”
The very fact that women can juggle jobs and having children is something to be celebrated rather than be seen as a hindrance, says Jane. “Women have, over the years, shown their ability to manage a family and a career and multitask. Through credibility and companies realising it is good to have a balanced board, women are being given more opportunities. Research has shown that by having women on the board they are performing better overall.”
There are certainly more women going back to work after giving birth. The report says that in 1996, 67 per cent of married or cohabiting mothers with dependent children were in work. By this year that had increased to 72 per cent. And as for single mothers going back to work, that too has increased, from 43 per cent to 60 per cent over the same period.
This can only have a positive effect for the future as young girls today are being brought up in an environment where their mothers are working rather than staying at home, thus giving them more ambition and impetus to work themselves, says Kate Hardcastle.
Kate has a 20-year background in business and charity work and is also a non-executive director of Bradford Bulls. She will be giving the keynote speech at the Women As Leaders conference in London this November. She is also the mother of a daughter, who she wants to create a better future for.
“Things are changing for women in the workplace, and we have to celebrate that,” says Kate.
“In my working life I have often been in the position where I was the only woman in the boardroom, the first woman in the boardroom, the first person under 30 in the boardroom.”
But she warns against complacency just because things are not as bad as they were. “There has been an increase in part-time employment, which is good because it offers job opportunities to more people, especially women. But this accounts for some increase in employment among women and part-time roles are obviously not going to be the best paid.”
One thing Kate does not want to see is a swing too far in the other direction in the equality stakes, and jobs being offered to women merely to fill quotas. She says: “I want to be given a job because I’m the best candidate, not because I’m a woman.”
Kate says that the positive change is good, but must continue.
“Things aren’t going to change completely in the next five years. It’s our responsibility to keep on fighting for equality. Part of it is about empowering women, giving them the confidence to believe that they can do any job. I think what we’re doing today is carrying the baton for the next generation, and that’s when we’ll see the real change.
“I want to leave a legacy for my daughter, but I don’t want that just to be the keys to the house. I want her to be able to believe that she can be a doctor, or a rugby player, or whatever she wants to be, and that there should be nothing to stop her achieving that.”
Case Study: Sonia Atkin, HGV Driving Instructor
Sonia Atkin is among Britain's growing band of female truck driving instructors, after joining her father’s firm, Atkin’s LGV training, in Drighlington eight years ago.
The 37-year-old mum-of-two from Birkenshaw regularly turns heads when she drives the company’s articulated lorry, but unlike her fellow truckers, who are transporting goods up and down the country, Sonia’s role is teaching men, and women, how to do it.
Sonia’s ambition began when she passed her driving test at 17. Her first set of wheels was an ice-cream van. Growing up with an artic and an ice-cream van parked outside the family home, it was a natural progression for Sonia to enter the family business. Her three brothers work in fields ranging from construction to teaching driving instructors.
“I have grown up with brothers, so that is why I am more into a man’s world," says Sonia. Before she was eligible to drive, she helped her father, John, in the family ice-cream business, which he ran before developing the one-to-one truck driving tuition business.
Sonia holds Class 2 and Class 1 licences, enabling her to drive lorries up to 38 tonnes.
When she started out delivering electrical equipment for a Leeds company, it was unusual to see a woman behind the wheel of a heavy goods vehicle. She soon realised the difficulty women faced trying to get a foothold in a male-dominated profession when she pursued an ambition to drive tipper trucks for the construction industry.
“I went for a job and as soon as they found out I was a woman I was more or less turned away,” says Sonia.
Motherhood led to a brief break from trucking, but Sonia got back into it when she joined the family firm.
“My dad kept asking me to come and train for him because he had a lot of women wanting to learn to drive wagons. One day I thought I would do it,” says Sonia.
Case Study: Geraldine Howley, Incommunities
Geraldine Howley has just marked ten years at the top of Bradford’s social housing company, Incommunities.
Geraldine was appointed to her current post of Group Chief Executive in February 2003. She has a BA Hons Degree in Housing, is a MRICS Chartered Surveyor and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.
She is also a Board Director of the Northern Housing Consortium, and a member of the National Housing Federation’s Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Committee.
Incommunities has always prided itself on its drive to employ local people, and has made particular strides in apprenticeships, currently a growing and popular form of providing work, especially for young people.
She has said: “What I like about the programme is that we have a wide age range of apprentices, from 17 to 47. It’s not just for school-leavers – some people are older and looking to retrain in a different job, some have been unemployed for a while, and some have taken a break to raise a family. More than a third of our apprentices are women.”
Case Study: Danielle Dixon, Kinder Haven Nurseries
Danielle Dixon (pictured above) was a self-confessed low achiever at school.
Now she owns the Kinder Haven chain of children’s nurseries and scooped not only the Woman In Business gong at this year’s Telegraph & Argus Bradford Means Business Awards, but also the Winner Of Winners accolade.
Danielle was raised on the Holme Wood estate, had unemployed parents and admits she missed a lot of school as a child. But she said it was her determination to “keep on trying, keep on changing, keep on evolving” which had been the making of her.
Receiving her awards, Danielle said: “This absolutely means the world to me. I was a low achiever but a hard worker.”
Asked what the secret of her success was, Danielle said: “I think it’s just passion and drive and proving to everybody that you can succeed, no matter what, if you believe in yourself and surround yourself with positive people.
"Then whatever’s thrown at you, you have to keep on trying, keep on changing, keep on evolving.”
Case Study: Sandy Needham, Chamber Of Commerce
As chief executive of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Sandy Needham (pictured right) is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Bradford business community.
She represents the views and concerns of almost 1,100 members and leads a team of around 50 staff. She says: “The first proper job I had was with a small company and the excitement of doing business, of helping to improve its performance, and dealing with the problems, provided an experience that encouraged me to join the Bradford Chamber and work with local companies.”
Sandy joined the Chamber in 1997 and a couple of years ago she was one of the delegates at the West Yorkshire-founded Women In Business forum. Sandy said at the time: “Things have been slow to change and new initiatives are needed to improve the role of women in senior positions, but quotas are not the answer. It's essential that firms create the conditions where women of calibre can rise to the top on their own merits.”