From the TUC

Increase the number of women working in male dominated industries and help fill the skills gap

07 Nov 2013, by Guest in Equality

Prospect is committed to combatting pay discrimination. Last year Bernadette Cadman’s equal pay case against the HSE was brought to a successful conclusion after almost a decade of fighting it through the courts. Since then we’ve had several more successes, including most recently at the Intellectual Property Office, where settlement benefited all staff in the relevant grade – not just the claimants.

But we know that ending unequal pay through legal action is a tortuous path and that it will benefit only a proportion of women at work. It must go hand-in-hand with a concerted focus on tackling the enduring problem of gender segregation in the labour market.

In 1913, when Emily Davison died at the derby, the vast majority of women at work were in domestic service. It is sobering to reflect that despite tremendous changes in the past 100 years, work patterns remain similar, with cleaning and childcare still the staples of women’s employment.

In STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) women account for only 13% of employees overall compared with 50% in the workforce, less than 7% of engineering professionals and only 1% of skilled tradespeople. Prospect has around 14,000 female members working in STEM, and whilst the majority remain motivated by the content of their work, they report very mixed experiences of the workplace – with many feeling isolated, unable to progress or finding it impossible to achieve a positive work-life balance.

So, in March, Prospect was pleased to receive the support of the TUC Women’s Conference for our ‘Charter for Women in STEM’. The Charter sets out a comprehensive programme of action – ranging from the provision of science and engineering apprenticeship programmes for disadvantaged young women to targeting science and engineering-based organisations to enhance board level representation of women. It also calls on the Government to add real value to sectoral initiatives by creating a cabinet level science minister with specific responsibilities to increase the representation of women at all levels of the STEM workforce.

We followed this up at the Congress in September with a resolution, seconded by ASLEF, and a fringe meeting calling for the promotion of good practice policies, practices and case studies that are easily accessible to all union negotiators. We want to see action – not words – to remove barriers to flexible and part-time working, and positive and diverse images of women at work.

We’re doing our own bit to raise awareness of the shining examples of Prospect women working in male dominated industries – including energy, defence, telecoms, transport, marine and public services. To help celebrate their achievements and help inspire the next generation to follow their talents, we’ve commissioned a fantastic freelance photographer Leonora Saunders to portray them at work. These photos feature in a ‘Prospect Pioneers’ calendar, of which part of the proceeds will be used to support a joint Prospect/Oxfam project to enhance the employment conditions and rights of itinerant domestic workers in the slums of Nairobi. To register an interest in the calendar, please email [email protected] with your name, contact details and number of copies you would like to buy.

Gender segregation also takes centre stage in a new union-wide ‘Prospect Pledge’ campaign, launched yesterday with cross-Party support in the House of Commons. Members will shortly be sending ‘pledge cards’ to their MPs, and to representatives in the devolved governments, asking them to agree that the government should set up a minister-led commission involving Prospect and others, to increase the 13% of women in STEM careers to 30% by 2020.

We’ve got the appetite to stick with this agenda, and are finding a growing number of employers willing to take up the challenge too – not least because many, especially in STEM sectors, are faced with looming skill gaps and shortages. But, as was evident at our TUC fringe, we can make most impact by working with sister unions and that’s exactly what we want to do.

GUEST POST: Sue Ferns is Head of Research at Prospect union.

2 Responses to Increase the number of women working in male dominated industries and help fill the skills gap

  1. Simon Fathers
    Nov 7th 2013, 1:52 pm

    Hi Sue

    Really interesting article. Tomorrow we are publishing a report looking at the mismatch between supply and demand for High Level STEM skills in the UK, which does touch on the gender disparity, although the focus is more on a quantitative assessment of the gap and the ‘leakage’ from the system that is exacerbating this, as well as looking at the increasing incidence of vacancies as the economy recovers.

    Please check our site – by the end of tomorrow all the materials should be online. The title of the report is (imaginatively!) ‘The Supply of and Demand for High-Level STEM Skills’. If you drop me your email I can add you to the distribution list!

    Simon Fathers
    UK Commission for Employment & Skills

  2. CSR
    Nov 11th 2013, 11:54 am

    To eliminate the discrimination between men and women number of working women must be increasing for better corporate culture