Earlier this week, to a packed room in CCHQ, we hosted our second policy debate on how to make work the most viable option for women. Our panel included Chief Executives from the following organisations; Employment Related Services Association (ERSA); the TaxPayers Alliance (TPA); the Elevation Network; Westminster Business Council, Dress for Success and London MEP Marina Yannakoudakis.
Childcare was an over-arching topic for the debate, raised by Kirsty McHugh of ERSA. The costs of childcare minimise the real benefits of work financially and only time will tell what the proposed changes will do to increase the desirability of work for mothers. One audience member in discussion with Matthew Sinclair of TPA highlighted research that showed that the UK was almost the worst country in Europe in terms of seeing a drop-off when women become mothers. And it’s not just formal childcare that matters. There is still more to be done by employers to see flexible working made a reality – both in terms of part-time and home-based work.
But, of course, especially at the younger age range, it’s not childcare that is the issue – despite the stereotypical belief that this is the major concern. Barbara Kasumu of the Elevation Network highlighted the need not just for mentors, but for women to be championed in the workplace. Networks are vital and always have been – not just in reaching the top, but in achieving any goal. There are networks out there for women, of course. But these are not necessarily reaching the people most in need. Time and again what comes out is that women don’t promote themselves, frequently, in the same way that men do. And this means that more needs to be done to reach out to women. Networks need to move beyond the traditional areas of the top professions, into wider support for those in other sectors.
This fed through into the need that Clara Eisenberg, of Dress for Success, highlighted – the need to boost self-esteem. No matter what the background or educational level of women, those in need of work often need a confidence boost. Whether that is through what they wear and the image they can therefore present, or the self-belief that they can achieve, it is badly needed. In a family where no woman has ever worked before, how will a young girl find the support that she needs? Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt of the Westminster Business Council highlighted the role of education, to ensure that girls grow up with the knowledge that work can be for them. Initiatives that promote entrepreneurship and the skills of the workplace are always valuable, and it is very important that every girl has the sense that she has the ability to go out and find work.
London MEP Marina Yannakoudakis highlighted that for any business, its greatest asset is its people. Whilst business is business, and it is not always possible to accommodate specific needs, a highly skilled, determined and enthusiastic employee who makes themselves valuable, will be far more likely to see a business try to help them through adaptations.
The key points coming out of the debate, and practically how to see women making
the choice to work, can be summarised in three key recommendations:
- Make childcare more efficient. Spending on childcare is already high – we need to make it work better for women
- Education to raise aspiration. Women have the skills and the grades, now we need to give girls the ambition to succeed
- Networks, mentors and champions. Women need people around them to encourage them to promote themselves, and business and interest groups can provide this structure
In 2013, Conservative Future Women will continue to focus on these issues, along with other policy areas that impact on the lives of women. As we enter our second year, we plan to launch a campaign to empower young, female Conservatives to strike out and create their own successes. If you would like to be part of that, get in touch with us now – we’d love to work with you.