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Business Innovation and Skills - Minutes of EvidenceHC 342
Taken before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
on Tuesday 18 December 2012
Mr Adrian Bailey (Chair)
Mr Robin Walker
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE, British astrophysicist, Chair of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Kate Sloyan, Doctoral Prize Fellow in the Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton, and the Institute of Physics’ 2012 Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year Award, Helen Wollaston, Director, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Campaign, and Trudy Norris Grey, Chair, WISE Campaign, gave evidence.
Q314 Chair: Good morning, and thank you for agreeing to come before the Committee to help us in our deliberations on women in the workplace. We are slightly early, but we are on a very tight timetable with a lot of panellists, so if I can squeeze in an extra minute or so of questioning, I do so. Just for transcription purposes, if you could introduce yourselves, that would be helpful.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: I am Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astronomer from the University of Oxford.
Kate Sloyan: I am Kate Sloyan. I am a research fellow at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton.
Helen Wollaston: I am Helen Wollaston, Director of WISE.
Trudy Norris Grey: I am Trudy Norris Grey. I am Chair of WISE, but I have been in the technology industry for decades.
Q315 Chair: Thanks very much. Some of the questions we ask will be person-specific and others will be to all of you. Even if I ask a question for all of you, do not feel that everyone has to say something, if everything you wanted to say has been said by the previous speaker. Equally, if you need to either add to or subtract from what has been said, obviously you are free to do so.
This one is a very general question to all of you: do you think it is easier or harder for women to work in science than it was, say, 20 years ago?
Trudy Norris Grey: Ostensibly you would think it has got to be easier, but actually I think, as somebody who has been working in this industry for a very long time, that some of the challenges that I encountered all those years ago are still remaining. First is around stereotyping in schools, in terms of what the options are to girls and boys. Are we dealing with the unconscious bias there? I am not sure that we are-not in the depth that we really could-and not just with career councillors, but with parents and teachers. What are the options out there? There are so many in this broad area-this broad descriptor "science"- and there is so much interest in careers out there, so we need to get that message out more. So stereotyping is the first thing, and I would also say that if you then go into careers, whether it is academia or in industry, the culture has not changed a whole lot. So, again, unconscious bias is playing its role. I would say the difference-if there is a difference-is that people do want to know what they do not know, but they need help with enabling that. We have a lot of work to do around that because people do not know what they do not know.
Q316 Chair: Does anybody wish to add to or subtract from that?
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Definitely not subtract.
Helen Wollaston: I will just pick up on Trudy’s point and look at what has changed, from an industry point of view. I have been involved in WISE for about six months-so, from relatively recently-but I have seen a lot of interest from businesses and industries that genuinely want to increase female representation in their work force because of skills shortages-I am talking in science, engineering and technology in the broadest sense. There is a demand to increase that diversity. So it is about working with industry, and that is what our organisation is seeking to do.
Q317 Chair: Would you agree that there is, at one level, if you like, an awareness of the need to have more women, and that often that awareness is keenest among those who need women to fill skills gaps, but that that has not yet translated into a cultural appreciation in the pipeline that will enable them to overcome that problem? Is that a reasonable summary?
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: That is absolutely right. I think people have not really fully appreciated what needs to change, reflecting on what Trudy said about unconscious bias and stereotyping. People have not fully appreciated what needs to change in order to achieve the wonderful-let’s use a sexist phrase-"motherhood and apple pie" statement that they made about wanting women.
Trudy Norris Grey: I would add to that, as a generic statement, that there are still influential pockets where people say, "I don’t know what the problem is," as though it closes the conversation down, rather than opening it up. If you change the tone of that to, "Well, tell me what the problem is," you can do a lot more with that and that is a cultural thing.
Kate Sloyan: Also, in my experience at least, there is an element of, "It’s somebody else’s problem." So, for example, when talking to people in my department about why there are no-or very few-women applying to do PhDs with us, the attitude is, "Well, the women do not apply. It’s not our fault if they do not apply; what else can we do?" I think it is very easy for schools to say, "The role models are not there," or for people in universities to say, "They are not coming through," or "They are not doing it at A-level." There is a lot of buck passing.
Q318 Chair: So there is a recognition of the problem, but no one person or body is prepared to take ownership of it and do something about it.
Kate Sloyan: Yes. To a certain extent, it is everybody’s problem, especially when you are talking about stereotyping and things like that-that is a society problem-but it makes it easier for people to push it to one side.
Q319 Chair: Yes, it becomes nobody’s problem or nobody’s responsibility.
This question is to you, Kate. You were awarded the Institute of Physics’ Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year Award for your work and also for your initiatives to encourage women and schoolchildren to enjoy science, so, presumably, you have got a track record on this. Can you just describe what you have done?
Kate Sloyan: Okay. I am a former director and member of Lightwave, which is the outreach programme that we run in our department. The idea with that is we mostly target primary school-aged children. We have a load of hands-on experiments that we have built- such as button pushing, good bits at science museums-and we take those out into schools, as well as to Brownies and Guides groups, trying to push the women in science bit. We also take part in days on campus where not just kids but families get involved as well. The idea is to get kids enthusiastic about science first, to educate them a little bit, second, and also, and more subtly, to provide role models. We make an effort to have a mixture of people involved. All the PhD students are encouraged to be involved at least once. So, by just showing that there are men and women, and people from different countries, it demonstrates that all sorts of people can be involved in science-not just the one Einstein-style old bloke.
Q320 Chair: That is interesting. You are taking it out to children-and young children. It has long been my feeling that it had to be targeted at primary school children.
Would you also say-and if you do, do you do anything about it-that part of the problem is actually with parents as well? Do you do anything encompassing the whole family, as well as the children?
Kate Sloyan: During these days at the university, families can get involved as well. I certainly try and involve the parents as well as the children. I notice that there is, perhaps, in general, more reticence among mums to get involved-perhaps that is a lack of confidence. You tend to get dads coming and saying, "Oh yes, I know this about this thing," and then you say, "Well, mmm, mostly." In general, the mums feel, "Well, I was never any good at science at school, therefore I won’t get involved." Obviously, I do not think that is a very good role model for sons or daughters. We try and overcome that by getting everybody involved.
Q321 Paul Blomfield: I am sure you are right about early intervention being critical, but looking at the other end of the academic ladder, you all know clearly that very few women are professors in universities-and yet there have been. The report, Tapping all our talents, describes a number of schemes that have been put in place to try to address that loss of talent, but with not much apparent success. I just wondered if you could share with us why you think women do not reach the highest levels in physics.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Should I start on this? I am sure, Kate, that you have got some ideas as well.
Our report, which I can see some of you have got, covers the whole of STEM, if I can use that acronym. Of course, physics is my interest as well. What is extremely interesting is to compare the British figures with figures from around the world. On page 11 of the report, there is a table showing the number of astronomers in different countries around the world. Mostly, astronomers have done physics to get to astronomy, so physics figures are really very like this. There is huge divergence around the world. Argentina has 37% of its cohort female, whereas Japan has 6%. Local cultural influences dominate. This is not biology; this is not women’s brains. This is the culture in the country-what is considered appropriate for women in that country to do. It is my impression that it is our sisters, our cousins and our aunts who determine what is appropriate for women to do, to a large extent. They influence the early decisions of girls. Their progress will be determined by the people in power, who are often men. There are very, very strong cultural effects, so what we are trying to change is the culture in the country. That is a big one, and it is slow and it is painful.
Q322 Paul Blomfield: I do very much take that point, but I just wondered if there were issues around advancing up the career ladder, and if there are barriers to women that you see that might mean that entry into the academic world of physics is possible, but then not reaching the top. I think that is particular point across a whole series of areas, and it is an issue we are trying to explore.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: One of the reasons why women do not reach the top is that they make slower progress than their male counterparts. It is said in the field-I think it is true-that a woman has to be two or three times better than a man to get the equivalent job, so that slows progress and that is partly why there are few at the top. There are also few at the top because the pipeline is thin at the beginning. We have talked a bit about girls choosing science at schools. The pipeline is leaky because, at every stage, proportionally more women than men drop out. I do not think there is a single obstacle other than the culture. A lot of people focus on child rearing issues that mothers have. There certainly are issues, but I want to stress to this Committee that women without children also progress more slowly-it is not just those with children. There is quite a bit of emphasis on stopping when you have children. My hunch is that this is an acceptable excuse for getting out of an environment that you are not totally comfortable with.
Q323 Paul Blomfield: I wonder if I could ask Kate a question. You are tipped for the top, and I assume you would like to get there, so what barriers you see in career progression?
Kate Sloyan: Especially at my stage of the career-the post-doc stage between PhDs and lectureship-that can be very difficult for lots of people, not just women. There is an expectation that you will be on short-term contracts lasting from six months to a couple of years, and you will have to do that for five or 10 years. Now, there are issues there if you want to have children, because obviously those 10 years coincide with you being 25 to 35, which are child-bearing years, you would think.
There is also a pressure that when you are one of the few women, you are representing all women in physics. If you make a mistake, people will think, "Well, girls aren’t any good at physics," whereas if a man makes a mistake, they say, "That guy’s not good at physics." That can get a little bit draining. Sometimes that works in your favour, in that people know who you are, because you were "the girl" who gave the talk, but there is quite a lot of pressure and that does get a little bit draining. You do get the odd comment, but there is nothing malicious. I would not say you are necessarily driven out; there are more subtle things than that.
Trudy Norris Grey: I have age on my side. I now know through hard experience that women want to be themselves-they do not want to be a woman in man’s clothes. They want to be appreciated for who they are and how they approach a job, not the style of, as Jocelyn said, rules determined by men. That is the first thing I want to say.
The second thing is-I will do this by way of illustration-that in my experience, when I go through career progression conversations, what is fascinating is that when you talk about a woman, we talk about the female performance, which is a good move-meritocracy is good. When we talk about a man, it is about their potential-this is very, very subtle. It is those kinds of things that I mean when I mention unconscious bias. In my experience, most people, when they are shown that there is an error in their thought process, want to change, but they do not know. That is the second thing.
The third thing is-I wish I could say otherwise, and you have got, hopefully, four impressive women in front of you-that women generally lack confidence, as a comparator with men. We may look confident here, but our tummies have butterflies and all the rest of it. How can we help women to say, "It’s normal; be yourself," and go through the process? That would be the next thing.
The last thing-I really have got so much experience on this, personally and statistically-is the culture of academia and industry. You could also go into the staff room in schools. There is this testosterone that fuels the culture. Again, I do not think it is deliberate-it just is. Women say, "Do you know what? I don’t want to play the game. It’s not my game."
Kate Sloyan: Can I just pick up on that question of confidence? I think that is really important, particularly because, as a post-doc, you have to convince someone every year to give you a job. When you get further along, you have to convince research councils or whoever to give you money, so there is a lot of emphasis on selling yourself and standing up for yourself. That can be harder for women to do, particularly if-I think it is not just in science-there is this attitude that if you are an assertive woman, you are angry, hormonal or whatever, whereas if you are an assertive man, you are strong and forthright.
Helen Wollaston: It goes back to stereotypes.
Kate Sloyan: Yes.
Q324 Mr Walker: Turning to this table from the International Astronomical Union, you are talking about the culture of different countries playing a big part, and I am very surprised to see Argentina so far out in front there, given that it is famous for its macho culture. I was just wondering if you knew of any particular initiatives that they had taken that other countries could learn from to help them get into that position, because it does seem quite striking.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: There are probably several PhDs in that table, which is why the numbers are the way they are. I can identify several factors. If a family stays geographically close and there are grandparents around, it is easier for a professional woman to carry on her profession, because grandparents can help with the childminding. Equally, if there is large economic divergence in the country, with rich people and very poor people, the rich women can go to work because the poor women will come in and do their housekeeping and childminding-that is a factor in other countries as well. In countries in the far east, it is perfectly okay for women to do engineering and science; it is absolutely normal. In Britain, the typical undergraduate physics class is 25% female, if you are doing well. In Malaysia it is 60% female and 40% male. It is a different ambience-I was using the word "culture" too much, so we needed something else.
Q325 Paul Blomfield: I could continue this conversation a lot further, but I am conscious of the time, so I will ask a different question. In the back of your report, you list 17 organisations and initiatives that are trying to tackle the issue of women in STEM subjects. Do you not think it would be more helpful if there was one overarching organisation driving change?
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: That was what we were trying to get the Scottish Government to sign up to, yes. There have been a tremendous number of initiatives: local ones within an individual university; those covering regions; and those covering nations. They have tended to work independently, and they would be stronger if they could interlink, but it does need an overarching organisation, as you say. One of the strongest recommendations in our report, which is relevant to Scotland only, is to ask the Scottish Government to take a lead and appoint somebody at Cabinet level to have responsibility for this. They have not done that yet, but they are still referring very glowingly to the report, so we will see.
Helen Wollaston: There are now 16 because WISE and UKRC are now one-we have taken on WISE and are trading as WISE. We are not in receipt of any public funding, so we rely on income from business and industry to sustain the organisation. I do think that the plethora of initiatives shows there is a passion for the subject and huge interest in it, which is great and really positive, but there is clearly a need to harness that to make a bigger impact because the numbers are not shifting in the way that you would expect, and in the way they need to shift for the good of the economy.
What we would see in our organisation is that we now have a remit from classroom to boardroom, because WISE traditionally was more on the education side-the schools and girls side-whereas UKRC was looking at workplace culture and some of the issues Trudy was talking about within workplaces. Now we span that whole spectrum, covering science, engineering and technology, and we would hope to have a voice across that wide spectrum, so it is great to come here and give evidence today. We are talking to the Women’s Engineering Society, which is another one on that list, about working more closely together, so I think that things are moving in the right direction, but there is still a way to go.
Trudy Norris Grey: It is a continuum, and the questions have lent themselves to making that point. It is not just about having one organisation; it is about having visible commitment that it is important. It is not a set of initiatives. It has got to be a programme, in my view-to your point, if I could embellish it-with a detailed understanding of where we are, what the obstacles are and what needs to be overcome. It needs to be fact-based and then you need to monitor progress. Then comes the question of quotas versus targets, and non-quotas and non-targets. To me, you do need to have an end point that you are driving at, and somebody of consequence and influence championing it as a programme. It needs precision targeting at stress points, because we will unearth that information as it is out there. I would agree with you that we need one organisation to corral and really to provide a beachhead.
Kate Sloyan: You need to be careful, if there is one powerful organisation, of labelling certain things as women’s issues. With things like child care, I would like to think that there are lots of men who would like to be involved in caring for their children. In my opinion, it makes it easier to ignore certain things if you label it as a woman’s problem, particularly if you do not have very many women in your group to start with.
Trudy Norris Grey: It is an excellent point.
Q326 Caroline Dinenage: My question is in relation to this pipeline that we were talking about, in terms of the lack of women coming in at the front and the leakage as we go along. I wanted to know whether you felt it was in some way self-perpetuating, because there are not enough female role models that make women feel that it is achievable and doable. I was reading the other day there are now more female vet graduates than male vet graduates, because there are female veterinary role models, so I wondered how the panel felt that that actually impacted upon the issue as well.
Kate Sloyan: I think you have to be very careful, particularly with young kids, about just telling them about the stereotype in the first place. If you are telling a teenage girl that no girls want to do physics, even if you then go on to say, "But, you know, you can if you want to," what teenage girl-or teenager generally-wants to be the one who is being weird? This is something that we are careful about in our outreach. We never target the girls and say, "Oh, you can be a scientist too," because we do not want to tell them that anybody is thinking that they can’t, if that makes sense.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: I suspect we are using the few role models that we have to death, said she with feeling. There is a limit to what we can do with a limited number of role models, and there is also a perverse argument that you need to be aware of: kids are not stupid. If you hold up a female Nobel prize winner, kids will know there are not many of them, and chances are that they probably cannot get there themselves. You need to find women who are not necessarily particularly high profile, but who are doing a great job-and enjoying it-and are well embedded in their organisations, and then profile them.
Helen Wollaston: Cue the WISE awards. I have brought copies of those because there are eight examples in there of exactly that-women at different stages of their career. There is a young woman who works for BT who got one of the awards, which is similar to the early career award that Kate got from the Institute of Physics. She talks passionately and goes into schools. We have not got time to go through it, but I will leave those with you.
Chair: I am sure we will have a look at this, but can we just move on, because I am very conscious that we are running out of time?
Trudy Norris Grey: Let me just say: I think role models absolutely. If you think about the STEM ambassadors, 40% of them are female, so it may not be at the very highest level, but that has real resonance. When I go out, people say, "Oh, I see you’ve got three kids and you come from a working class background in south Wales," and they ask me to tell them more about who I am and the fact that I am part of the technology industry and have had a satisfying and well-paid career. That is the conversation they want-the human conversation. If you are out there on the left-hand side as a geek, that will appeal to one or two people and that is of value, but the general is in the normal distribution-what you would say is the norm.
Q327 Ann McKechin: Dame Jocelyn, I was struck in your report by the actual reduction in the number of people who pursue their careers in academia in STEM subjects and the fact that trained female scientists have been lost in much larger proportions than men at every step along the way. I wonder whether this is a combination of gender stereotyping and ageism. Trudy mentioned stress points. I met a number of life scientists at Glasgow University last year, and the young women-some had children, and some were perhaps going to in the next year or so-had said, "Well, we are expected to produce so many academic papers by the age of 30." For some reason, the age of 30 suddenly becomes a magic point in academic circles for how you then progress. Are there particular systemic problems within careers in science that are actually causing such a high rate of dropout?
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: The dropout is different at different points in different subjects, so there is not one particular pattern, and the numbers are very different in the different subjects. There are lots of women in the life sciences and few in the physical sciences. The rockiest bit is the part that Kate identified-the post-doctoral bit. Certainly, in physics, on average, you do not get tenure until you are aged 35, and for young women that is very much the childbearing years and it is very, very tough. It is also tough for the blokes. It is a craziness in the British academic system at the moment that there is such a long post-doctoral period and temporary funding. We are probably unique in that. Fixing it is another issue.
Q328 Ann McKechin: Is that your experience, Kate? You mentioned this insecurity.
Kate Sloyan: Yes. I just want to add as well that regulation, top down, is not necessarily the way to combat that, because things like flexible working and maternity leave are very much dependent on the culture in your group, as in what your supervisor says. You have these recurrent short-term contracts. There was a survey in 2010 that said that 70% of people on these post-doctoral contracts got their job either because they worked at an institution or because they knew someone. It is very much about who you know. Although you might have rights legally, standing up for those rights can be difficult if the culture in your group is that you have to be working for 60 hours a week and the flexibility means that you have to be ready to come in at weekends.
Q329 Ann McKechin: Are these assessment panels dominated by men?
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: In physics, yes, perforce, but an encouraging thing is that in the run up to the REF, which is the upcoming assessment exercise, there was discussion about the provision for maternity leave and what discount you were allowed. It was absolutely minimalist, and there was a huge outrage and we got it altered. Women acting together are beginning to find a voice, and e-mail helps.
Kate Sloyan: On this point as well, it is not always a question of panels evaluating people. It is your supervisor deciding to submit a grant to employ you, or the supervisor having a stash of money and choosing whether to give you a job or not. It is not something that is evaluated from outside.
Q330 Ann McKechin: And it is not audited in terms of how objective that process is.
Kate Sloyan: As far as I am aware, not at all.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: It could be, if merit payments included an element of, "How many women have you employed or promoted since your last annual assessment?"
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Q331 Ann McKechin: That is a good recommendation.<?oasys [dc0] ?>
You mentioned earlier the percentage of female graduates in the far east, which is replicated in the middle east as well. I was struck by the figure in Iran, where I think 60% of graduates in many STEM subjects are female. I am intrigued as to why the culture has emerged to be that supportive, given all the other constraints on women in many of these countries and their traditions.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: It might mean that the men perceive science to be not as prestigious as law or medicine. Certainly in Malaysia, that is an element of the figures there-the men are going elsewhere.
Kate Sloyan: I actually asked a middle-eastern colleague about this. She and her husband, I think, did their undergraduate courses at an Iraqi university. She said that there are a couple of reasons. One is that physics is seen as a route into teaching which, in a conservative society, is something that it is acceptable for women to do. The other is that there is this idea that physics leads to a stable office job, whereas engineering, say, leads to a much more interesting, flexible job, so the men are very much going towards engineering and will push towards engineering-I do not know if they are choosing, or if they are pushed-and the women are left doing physics.
Helen Wollaston: The number of female engineers in the middle east is also better than in the UK. I think it is partly cultural as well, and it is about getting to that tipping point where some of those young women will have parents-mothers-who have been scientists and engineers, so it becomes more something they are encouraged to do. In this country, if they are good at maths and science, they will be steered towards medicine more than the other sciences. We need to tackle that culture and perception, and look to initiatives that they have done and to some of our global companies that employ people in those different cultures to transfer some of those attitudes to the UK arm of the company.
Q332 Mike Crockart: I will be brief, because we have already used up all of our time, but there are a couple of issues that I want to bring up. Returning to the point that you made about the post-doctoral fees and post-doctoral funding, I wonder whether that was what led to recommendation 10 in your report, which talks about the funders of universities and research linking funding to gender equality. Is the difficulty with that not necessarily going to be that those funders themselves will not have gender equality in their own organisations? Is it realistic to expect them to put conditions on their funding that they have not actually met themselves in their own organisations?
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: We are putting pressure on Research Councils UK to bring in some threshold above which a university department must achieve to be eligible for funding, as is already happening in the medical field. They are going slowly. There is a slight scare, inevitably, that the quality of research might drop if this is brought in. I think that is highly debateable-it might go up, not drop-but they are being very, very cautious. I think they are acutely aware of their own gender balance. They suffer the same problems as universities, and have the same preconceptions and lack of imagination. However, like universities and colleges, they are endeavouring to address it, so I do not think that we can point the finger too hard at them in that respect.
Trudy Norris Grey: A broader statement is that this is an economic challenge for the UK. If I speak to any industrialist, they know that they have not got enough STEM skills-and they want them. The biggest untapped pool, perforce, is female. If you go after it, they can fill the supply chain gaps that they have got. If you appeal to people on the economic argument that says, "We need these," you would unearth the fact that they will not want quotas, but that they are starting to set internal targets, because it is impeding their business. I would say that that is impeding academia as well, because there is a supply chain element to that.
Similarly, on business-university collaboration, where we get a lot of innovation, if you have got a mixed community of men and women, or diversity in its true sense, you again get a much better outcome. If you unearth, you will get people to understand that they have got to do it and, actually, if you can help them, as opposed to strong-arm them, that would be preferable. We have to get out of the gates because we are not getting out of the gates on this and it is impeding the standing and the well-being of the UK.
Helen Wollaston: I think another driver, in terms of the link between universities and industry, is that some of the companies we are talking to are actually targeting the universities where they look at the gender balance and look at where most of the females are on the courses where they want the STEM skills, and that is where they are recruiting from. That will drive change in the universities when they see that happening because, in terms of employability and so on, they will want to be the ones that are creating the people who industry needs.
Q333 Mike Crockart: Finally, I just want to return to one thing that you said earlier on. You said it was not just about children, because those without children were not progressing as well, but presumably there is a difference in progression rates between those with children and those without. Do you think that the recent Government announcements about rights to ask for flexible working or shared parental leave go far enough? Will they help or, given that the situation is with multiple temporary contracts, is it just not going to make any difference?
Kate Sloyan: This is going back to the point I made before. I think it is all very well saying people have the right to ask for flexible working, but if the culture in their group is that you do not, people will not. You also have to bear in mind that a large proportion of researchers in groups will be PhD students, and obviously they are not employees, so they do not have the same rights as employees. It might be difficult to say to PhD students, "You have to do this," while the members of staff are having much better working conditions.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: The right to flexible working is too slack. An example that I know well is two university lecturers-she is in an arts subject, he is in physics, and they have small kids. They decide that he will have Mondays off and she will have Fridays off, so the kids are in care only three days a week. They each go to their heads of department. Her head of department says, "Fine, which day do you want off?" whereas his head of department says, "Don’t you even think of it." So much for the right to request flexible working.
Trudy Norris Grey: Flexible working helps. We have got to tackle the elephant in the room about child care. I headed up a UK technology company and, in 2005, I introduced flexible working. The biggest uptake, because of the culture, was men. It comes back to the culture. How can we make an intervention there for it not only to be acceptable, but for it to be acceptable to all?
Helen Wollaston: Role models will help with that-people at a senior level, male and female, taking the opportunity for flexible working and still doing that senior role.
Trudy Norris Grey: If that can be in tandem with the fact that it does not harm the business, but actually benefits it, we move on.
Chair: I think that we could have continued this discussion for another hour, at least, but we have got a lot to get through this morning.
Can I thank you, first of all, for your very thought-provoking contributions? If we feel that there are further questions that we would like to ask, we will table them in written form and would be grateful if you would respond. Similarly, if you feel that there is anything that you have not said today but would have liked to, feel free to let us have the information in a written supplementary. Thanks very much.
<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witness
Witness: Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, Director, DG Justice, Directorate D Equality, European Commission, gave evidence.
Q334 Chair: Good morning, and thank you for waiting patiently. Could I just ask you to introduce yourself for transcription purposes?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Good morning. Thank you very much for the opportunity that has been offered to the European Commission to come here and talk to you about what we are doing. We have a policy of engaging with the Parliaments of the member states, in particular on this legislative proposal that we will probably discuss today on bringing more gender balance on company boards. We have already interacted with a number of national Parliaments-
Chair: Could you just introduce yourself?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: My name is Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, and I am Director for Equality in the Directorate-General for Justice of the European Commission.
Chair: Thanks very much.
Q335 Mr Walker: Good morning. Could you briefly explain to us the European Commission’s policy on positive action for women?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: It must be said that the proposal that was adopted last November by the European Commission is the first initiative that can be qualified as positive action that has been adopted so far at European level that the Commission has tabled to the European Parliament and to the Council, although calls to member states to undertake action to bring more women into decision making, and, in particular, into economic decision making, and on to the boards of companies are older than this. In 1984, there was a recommendation adopted by the Council, and also in 1996 there was another recommendation adopted by the Council. In a way, looking back retrospectively, and looking at the performance of member states and companies, it was resisted in the member states. Seeing the rather slow modus pace of progression, the Commission has reached a conclusion that it is necessary to be bold and to put on the table of the member states and the European Parliament the first proposal inviting positive action, and asking member states and companies to undertake positive action. So we have moved the policy debate one step further.
I would also like to underscore the fact that this proposal adopted last month by the Commission does not come in a vacuum-it has been accompanied by a policy document and communication where we list a range of other measures that we will, ourselves, support, sometimes with the support of the EU budget, or that we will encourage the member states to undertake to accompany implementation of the proposal that we have made and to widen the effects on the women’s participation in company boards.
Q336 Mr Walker: Can you expand on the point you just made about measures supported by the EU budget? What sort of things would you be actually spending money on?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: For instance, we will already have launched by the end of this year, across all member states of the European Union, a programme that is called Equality Pays Off. That is meant to bring to the attention not of decision makers any longer-no longer of national Governments-but of individual companies directly, particularly leading companies in each member state, but also more modest companies, the need and usefulness of involving more women, not only in the decision-making bodies of companies, but in the work force as well. It is about what kind of policies would produce beneficial effects and what best practice has been developed in other companies across the European Union? This programme, Equality Pays Off, is meant to reach a peak, but not to be over, next March, when we will organise, in Brussels, a business forum, bringing from across the European Union a large number of companies-larger and smaller-to discuss this. This programme entails events, discussions and debates in each of the member states and also in the enlargement countries of the European Union. This is one example.
Q337 Mr Walker: So, essentially, you are funding a marketing campaign, with events and discussions going on, and bringing organisations together.
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes.
Q338 Mr Walker: What sort of monitoring does the Commission carry out in member states to check what progress they are making on their equality measures?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: For 10 years, we have been maintaining a database illustrating the situation in each member state, particularly in respect of the listed companies on the stock exchanges-but not only-in terms of the participation of women as CEOs, executive directors and members of supervisory boards. That already gives us the picture of the evolution of the situation across the European Union.
In March, the Commission, and Vice-President Reding who is in charge of this file in the College of Commissioners, released a report that makes the point, draws a line and draws a number of conclusions about the evolution of the situation. The report presents in a comparative perspective what the situation is, what attitude has been expressed by the member states and what initiatives have been taken so far by a number of member states. On the basis of this report and of the data that were incorporated in this report, which is publicly available on the website of the European Commission, we have also launched a public consultation where we have invited not only Governments, but non-governmental actors and economic stakeholders, to state their views and make suggestions about how the participation of women in economic decision making and, in particular, in company boards, should be tackled.
Q339 Chair: If progress is slow, do you think that there might be moves to compel states to take positive action?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: I am not sure I have understood your question; I’m sorry.
Q340 Chair: Well, there is a process by which states are adopting positive action measures. If, in the view of the Commission, this is not adequate, do you think there will be steps taken to make countries implement measures?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: This is what it is about in the proposal that has been adopted this autumn by the Commission. Our conclusion, looking at the figures that we released in the spring, which were collected over the past decade, was that, on one hand, the pace is very modest. Also, the number of initiatives-not only legislative initiatives, but voluntary initiatives such as self-regulation-that have been undertaken only by a limited, rather small number of member states is reduced. In a number of member states, this problem is completely ignored, which leads to increasing discrepancies across the European Union. We have variations from 27% participation of women in the company boards in Finland to 3% in other member states.
Our assessment was that there is an increasing divergence in the practice of the member states that has repercussions on the performance of companies and on the situation and participation of women in such economic decision-making bodies. This can lead, in the future, to problems in the internal market, so more decisive action is necessary at the level of the European Union with due respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. This is what we have tried to do with this proposal that, on the one hand, is ambitious, because it defines an objective of 40% by the end of this decade to be reached not on the basis of being women or men in those companies where men are under-represented, but on the basis always of competence, experience and qualities. On the other hand, while making an ambitious proposal, we have also put on the table a system and a solution that is flexible and takes mainly into account the different points of departure across the European Union. We have member states like the United Kingdom that are above the European average, and we have a rather large number of member states that are far below the average. Again, this has repercussions in the performance of the companies, but also in the measures that the companies need to take in some member states that are more concerned and where the public and societal debate is deeper about the need to do something for an increased participation of women in decision making. Companies are, in a way, put more under pressure. In other quarters of the European Union, there is another attitude and a free ride in this respect.
Q341 Chair: If I can summarise the situation, the short answer is: yes, but not until the end of the decade; and, in the meantime, countries will be able to address this problem in a way that suits their particular culture.
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes. The proposal that has been made by the Commission is a binding one. It asks the member states actually to take measures and, in the absence of measures, sanctions should be applied. At the same time, we recognise the measures already taken by a number of member states, and if these measures can be demonstrated as having an equivalent effectiveness in bringing more gender balance on company boards, those member states can pursue their policies and their self-regulatory or regulatory approach.
Q342 Ann McKechin: Mr Ciobanu-Dordea, I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions around the explanatory memorandum to your proposals. Is it the Commission’s understanding that a company could not be sanctioned by a member state if it had fully applied with all the procedures and the directives but, none the less, had still failed to meet the 40% target?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes.
Q343 Ann McKechin: Could I just also ask, as a supplementary, why you have placed so much emphasis on non-executive directors? One of the criticisms of these quotas is that in many countries-Norway is given as an example, but it is not part of the European Union-have had quotas for many of years, but do not have one CEO of a major company who is currently female. Why did you make the emphasis on non-executive directors?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: We did this in order to comply with the principle of proportionality and to make an intervention, or to ask the member states to make an intervention, in the economic life of companies that does not interfere too much with the right to property and the right to conduct a business. We believe that the intervention, as defined in our proposal, strikes a fair balance between the need to take proactive measures and a proactive attitude, and the need to respect other fundamental rights. Also, we believe that addressing the non-executive members of boards will trigger a number of changes in the policies applied by the companies when the supervisory board will look into how the company is run as a business and what policies, in terms of employment and in terms of striking a fair balance between work and private life, such as maternity or paternity leave-
Q344 Ann McKechin: I would like to slightly press about this. What you have had in some countries where you have had quotas is women who end up on multiple boards, so you have not, perhaps, made a huge increase in terms of the actual number of women at senior level. Some other companies are saying that perhaps the emphasis should be at the next stage down-the three tiers of senior management before you get to the board-and actually trying to increase the number of women there so that you actually increase the pool of potential candidates. I just wondered what consideration you had given to intervention that actually increases the pool, as opposed to an intervention that simply focuses on non-executive directors.
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Let me make two remarks in this respect-speaking about the pool of resources and their availability, and the risk of continuing to see the golden skirts phenomenon. We believe that there is no such risk, or that this risk is being significantly diminished. Over the past three years, we have strongly worked together with business schools across the European Union. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that on 12 December, the leading business schools in the European Union released a database that is now publicly available that contains 8,000 female candidates who have the qualifications required to become members of boards.
Secondly, in order to address more directly your question, we have, with the current proposal, also left the door open, but not just open-we have asked member states to invite their companies also to address the participation of women in the executive boards, but by establishing themselves individual targets. Here we have allowed and invited self-regulation to operate and, of course, we intend, in 2017, when we will need to report publicly about progress, to look also at progress at this particular area of self-regulation.
Q345 Nadhim Zahawi: Aurel, can we just confirm the Commission’s understanding that measures, as referred to in article 8.3, could, in theory, be non-legislative measures-for example, the measures currently being pursued in the UK through the Davies review?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes.
Q346 Nadhim Zahawi: Is that a "yes" that measures do not necessarily mean legislation at the moment?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes, absolutely. We are fully aware of the Davies report and process. If I can say so, we are aware of a number of other self-regulatory initiatives across the European Union and we have factored this in when defining article 8, paragraph 3. The answer is, clearly, yes, and it is the effectiveness of these initiatives-regulatory or self-regulatory-that counts, and which needs to lead to results by the end of the decade that are freely comparable with the objective defined by the Directorate.
Q347 Nadhim Zahawi: Thank you very much. Can we just now explore the Commission’s understanding of a trigger for suspension of the application for procedural requirements in Article 8.3? Is it right that what would need to be shown is that by 2020, or 2018 for public undertakings, an average of 40% of the non-executive directors of all affected companies are female, as opposed to showing that each and every company will have 40%-i.e. that it is the average across a member state, versus each and every company?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes, it is about the average.
Q348 Nadhim Zahawi: Some can be lower and some can be higher.
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes, absolutely. We cannot expect the member states, when they will take the decision to suspend the application of certain provisions, to guess, for instance, in 2016, what exactly will be the performance of each and every listed company in 2020 or 2018. The member states will need to demonstrate convincingly that the average situation and evolution of the listed companies will fit with the growth objectives. In exchange, at the end of this period in 2018 or 2020, the assessment of the effectiveness will need to be demonstrated on a case-by-case basis, and those companies that have not reached 40%, while having applied transparent, pre-established, gender-neutrally defined criteria- I am sorry; those companies that have not reached 40% will have to introduce the criteria that are asked by the directive.
Q349 Nadhim Zahawi: What is the reprimand for member states that do not hit those targets?
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: As in any other directive, this proposal puts in the hands of member states the responsibility and obligation to define sanctions that are adequate to their legal systems and national experience, because we have member states that-as I mentioned is the case in the UK-have already undertaken a number of initiatives, and some of them apply sanctions already. Other member states will have to define these sanctions, which can be administrative or non-administrative, depending on the specificity of their legal systems, to address the objective of this legislative proposal. We only ask, as it is the case with each directive, that the sanctions have to be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. We have even suggested-but these are only examples-in article 6, paragraph 2, a range of sanctions that could be taken as a reference by the member states.
Q350 Nadhim Zahawi: So-you mentioned this earlier-the principle of subsidiarity is respected.
Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea: Yes. I can even elaborate on this, because we know that this principle is particularly important for our member states and also for the United Kingdom. We believe that, with the establishment of an objective that needs to be attained according to solutions that are developed at company or member state level-with the sanctions being put in the hands of the member states; and with the opportunity for member states to suspend the application of certain obligations defined by the directive in case they have a more effective system, or at least as effective a system, already in place-subsidiarity and proportionality are clearly respected.
Chair: Thank you. That actually concludes our questions. I would just say, of course, that if there is anything that you would wish to submit to us as a supplementary, please feel free to do so. Again, if we feel there is a question we should have asked you but did not, we will write to you and would be grateful for a reply. Thanks very much.
<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Claire Martinsen, founder, Breckland Orchard, Emma Heathcote-James, founder, Little Soap Company, and Mike Cherry, Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, gave evidence.
Chair: Good morning and welcome. Thank you for agreeing to give evidence to us this morning. I believe, Mike, that you had a very early start this morning. Can you just introduce yourselves for transcription purposes?
Mike Cherry: Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses. I also run a manufacturing business in the midlands.
Emma Heathcote-James: I am Emma Heathcote-James. I have got two businesses: Spotty Dog Productions, which is a PR company; and the Little Soap Company.
Claire Martinsen: I am Claire Martinsen. I am the founder of Breckland Orchard; we make soft drinks in Norfolk.
Chair: Thank you very much. In view of the shortness of time, I would be grateful if you did not all feel the need to answer every question unless, of course, you have got something to add to or subtract from what somebody else has said. Some questions will be person-specific while others will be to all of you, but do not feel obliged to say something if you have not really got anything to add to what anybody else has said.
Q351 Mr Walker: We have some great write ups of your businesses in our brief, so I will not ask you to introduce each of those. Can you tell the Committee how many people you employ in your businesses, and what the proportion is between men and women, and full-time and part-time, among those?
Claire Martinsen: I have myself and one other full-time person, who is actually a student placement. I employ two part-timers and a whole raft of independent contractors-people who work freelance flexibly for my business.
Q352 Mr Walker: What is the male-female breakdown?
Claire Martinsen: Gosh, I had never thought of that. I would say that the majority are female, but that is just by default.
Emma Heathcote-James: The Little Soap Company is just me-it is purposely that way. The whole point of me doing it was that I did not want to employ anyone; I have got out of that rat race. I have got about 16 freelancers and suppliers who work for me. Spotty Dog Productions is exactly the same with freelancers that I sub out to.
Mike Cherry: There are five of us-three males and two females. One of those females is well past the old default retirement age and works part-time for us now. Previously, we had been around 18, probably five years ago, when the proportion was much higher female to male-it was 11:7.
Q353 Mr Walker: Do you think SMEs are suited or unsuited to working with flexible working and to taking account of the opportunities for flexible working?
Mike Cherry: I think they are far better suited and better able to recognise the requirements of their employees. From the FSB’s point of view, our surveys repeatedly show that small and micro businesses are better people to employ females, disadvantaged groups and the long-term unemployed. We take the risk and we give them the opportunities. So long as we feel that we can train them, their gender or any other orientation does not matter. They are people who we want to do the job, and if that requires us to be more flexible in our approach because of child care or any other issues, we tend to do that almost automatically, because that is the way small businesses tend to behave towards their employees.
Q354 Mr Walker: Would that reflect the position generally?
Emma Heathcote-James: I think it is very hard. What we do is so different to what you chaps all do. There is no kind of option to me; it is totally cost-effective. It has got scalability to it. If we have got a big order, I quickly need people. I could not afford to have people on a payroll; it just doesn’t work like that. It is a no brainer when you are on the ground doing it.
Claire Martinsen: I would say, likewise, that I have no need for a full-time HR person. I do have a need for HR input. I have a need for payroll, etc. It is far more cost-effective to bring those services in, and it enables me to have very skilled people with the expertise, but for the hours I require. I would like to say that I absolutely agree with Mike: small businesses are fundamentally more suited and more open to flexible working. I just want to come to that and say some of the legislation on flexible working actually works against small businesses. You have this juxtaposition where these businesses are very set up for this, but the legislation all favours bigger business. That is where there is that crunch, and the question of how we actually manage that. There is a positive mindset, but the legislation works in a way that does not necessarily help.
Q355 Chair: Can you give an example of that?
Claire Martinsen: It has not occurred to me-it has not happened yet-but, for example, my business is very heavy, and people who work for me do need to do quite a lot of lifting of heavy bottles. We are typically lifting about 13kg at a time. If I had someone who was going on maternity leave who worked for me, and if I had to do a health and safety assessment and they could not be lifting that amount of weight, I literally would not have anywhere to put that person in my business. I have no other job. I would not be able to find alternative employment for that time period. I know the consequences are that I might have to pay that person for their maternity leave-pay them off while they sat at home and did maternity leave. That would be quite scary for my business. My finances would not really allow that and that would be quite bad.
Q356 Caroline Dinenage: Would you say that there is almost a disincentive for you to employ women of childbearing age because of that? I have run a business myself for many, many years, so I can empathise with what you are saying. I am just wondering if you feel there is a real disincentive for you to employ women who, at some stage, might have a child.
Claire Martinsen: The legislation would be set up that way, yes.
Q357 Julie Elliott: You have answered bits of this, but I am going to ask it anyway. We have heard differing views through the different meetings we have had in this inquiry about the effect of regulation on SMEs, which you have started to talk about. Some views are that flexible working is a burden to business, while others say it is an opportunity and an advantage. I think we are starting to get the same here. What issues do you think SMEs face when trying to accommodate staff who ask to work flexibly? I know, Claire, you have just talked about your area, but what views are there from other areas?
Emma Heathcote-James: It is difficult. Again, the way I operate is not a nine-to-five job. I am working flexibly, so I would want everybody else to work flexibly. It is a very different mindset, if that makes sense.
Q358 Julie Elliott: I think your companies are very small in terms of employing people, so it is perhaps the nature of the company.
Emma Heathcote-James: But there are a lot of people out there like us, and there are a lot of people out there, rurally, like us. To be rural and like us is very different from being a small company in the middle of the city, so we have got added problems.
Claire Martinsen: I will add to that. I previously worked for very large businesses, so I had 17 years in the corporate world, and I set up my business three and a half years ago. Having experienced three and a half years of running a small business with a flexible work staff, I can absolutely see the advantage of it. Were I to have a groundhog experience and go back to those large businesses, I could see numerous opportunities that I probably could not see when I was in that corporate mindset and the culture was very different. In that respect, SMEs have huge amounts to lead on and to teach back into big business-it absolutely is possible.
Mike Cherry: We did, at one time, have three sections to the business, when we employed 35 to 40 people. We always operated flexibly because, quite frankly, we needed to do that from the business perspective. With the amount of time it took us-and still takes us-to train people to come into particular jobs, you need to keep those people as long as you can, because it takes us at least three to six months to train people, and sometimes a little longer. You cannot just take somebody off the street and say, "There is a job here. I want you on that particular machine." There are all the issues around health and safety, apart from everything else that we need to do for our business. I think it is a little bit unfair to say that just because we are a bit small now, we are not representative.
Q359 Julie Elliott: No, I was not saying you are not representative; I was actually looking at these questions and thinking that they are geared to people who are employing more people. I was not saying that for a second.
The Government have recently made an announcement about the right for employees to ask to work flexibly. Will that cause you any problems?
Mike Cherry: I think that is completely ridiculous. There is no need for it. Small businesses act flexibly in any case-it is in their nature, as I said. Who on earth wants a statute for a right just to request when that happens naturally?
Emma Heathcote-James: I think there is a lack of understanding in some areas, which is why that has come about, because we do that anyway. There is not a question.
Q360 Julie Elliott: So you have no issue with the right to request flexible working.
Emma Heathcote-James: We are doing it anyway.
Q361 Julie Elliott: Would you have found that in the corporate world when you worked there-the right to request flexible working?
Claire Martinsen: I think it depends on the culture. I worked in two large companies. The first was very, very male dominated, and it certainly would have been quite hard in that environment.
Q362 Julie Elliott: There is a lack of investment-or it has been recommended that there should be more investment-in helping small businesses to recruit and retain flexible workers. Would that help your businesses, or do you not see it as a problem?
Mike Cherry: I think it depends very much on the sector that you are in. If you are in a manufacturing sector, it is not always so easy to have two people, for example, or to accommodate school times or things like that. Where we can do it, I think most small businesses would be pragmatic about it, and would try and offer that, if they could do it in their particular industry.
Q363 Ann McKechin: Both Claire and Emma mentioned that they employed freelancers-people who are self-employed-and you mentioned accountancy services and HR services. Presumably you are employing a range of different freelancers. Are these people who are just one-woman or one-man businesses, or larger enterprises?
Emma Heathcote-James: On the terminology-it was only on the train down here that I was thinking about it-the people I employ are what you probably term suppliers-they have got their own limited company which, from my point of view, is fantastic, because I do not have to worry about insurance, sick pay or holiday. That works really well. Now, that is not me only employing other companies; it is just the way it happens. There are a lot of us out in the sticks who operate like that, so I suppose you would term that a supplier, rather than freelancer. My background is in the media. I worked in the BBC and the creative industries, so freelancing is completely normal and I have grown up with this, but I appreciate it is not seen as normal by SMEs, though it is going that way.
Q364 Ann McKechin: So the freelancers are actually companies which are themselves employers.
Claire Martinsen: Yes.
Q365 Ann McKechin: Would that be the same in your case, Claire?
Claire Martinsen: Yes, absolutely. I also use distribution services as well. All my warehousing is outsourced. It means that I do not need to employ people to sit around waiting for orders to come and cases needing to be packed.
Emma Heathcote-James: It is the same for the web thing. I do not want someone permanently doing the SEO-it is a six-month operation to get us up there. I employ people very ad hoc for short spaces of time.
Q366 Julie Elliott: On a completely different subject, have you ever used the services of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which gives advice and support to SMEs? Did you know that the Equality and Human Rights Commission does that?
Emma Heathcote-James: I have not even heard of it, to be honest.
Mike Cherry: I am aware of it from our links with the FSB, but members will tend to use our advice lines and legal help lines, rather than go elsewhere.
Claire Martinsen: My first point of call will always be the FSB.
Q367 Chair: Just before we move off this, let us go back to the question on the right to flexible working. Mike, you were pretty dismissive of it. On one level, I understand your perspective: when you are working in a corporate environment where this is quite normal anyway, it seems irrelevant. On the other hand, that may not be representative of all corporate environments. Would you not concede that, in some areas, where there may be employees who would like to request flexible working but feel that they cannot, that particular piece of legislation underpins and reinforces their confidence in asking for it?
Mike Cherry: If I may elaborate on that point, what is actually being proposed is not going to achieve what you want to end up with, because all you are doing is putting into place a procedure or process that is going to need more administration to deal with it. What you actually have to look at is what is required and the cases that Claire has alluded to, where it is to try and change the culture. I think a soft approach to enable that to happen, rather than just underpinning a process by statute, is where I would be coming from on that one.
Q368 Chair: How would you change the culture?
Mike Cherry: I think it is best practice and sharing knowledge. At the end of the day, it is competency, and ensuring that people are perfectly able to do the job and that they should feel free to tell their managers if they want to take time off for whatever. Whether that suits the business, the manager can then always turn around and say yes or, "No, I can’t abide by that." <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>If you put it into statute, you run the risk, particularly if you have the eight proposed areas that the business can turn it down on, that a business will just use one of those eight. It is almost a sledgehammer that is not going to achieve the aim.
Claire Martinsen: It is for the companies to create the culture in which people feel that they would be able to ask for flexible working. In my experience, small businesses have the best culture because the bosses are very close to the employees, by nature of the fact that they are very small businesses, so the culture is automatically generated. When you have very large businesses with top-down management and an extruded number of employees, geographically dispersed, I think that is when the culture is very difficult.
Emma Heathcote-James: It is that difference of working to live and living to work, and there is a big divide there. It is a very different mindset.
Q369 Paul Blomfield: Mike, I work with the FSB locally, and I am very conscious that your membership-although it is very heterogeneous-might be divided into two groups: those you have a relationship with as employers in a small business of a small number of people; and micro-businesses, where the owner running the business has a range of different issues. On this specific question of barriers to women-and there are very different issues facing those two groups-I just wondered what your members raised with you in terms of equality issues and women’s place in the workplace from those two different areas.
Mike Cherry: I think you are running a risk. Our latest employment report, which came out over the party conference season, reflects this. When you have got nine out of 10 of the longterm unemployed disadvantaged-that includes females-finding their way back into work with a small business or by setting up their own business, there needs to be more recognition of the role that small businesses play in that process. One of the things that comes out very clearly from that report is that over-regulation acts as a very distinct barrier to those groups. We have gone past that point, which is why the FSB advocates much less regulation and much less change of regulation. We see that acting as a very distinct barrier against members being able to grow their business, as well as taking up so much administrative time with having to comply.
Q370 Paul Blomfield: In relation to the issues that we are exploring in terms of women in the workplace, what are the areas in which you believe-or your members are telling you-that we are overregulating?
Mike Cherry: The biggest one that is coming up at the moment is very clearly paternity and maternity law. We shall obviously be engaging in the consultations on this, but this is the seventh change to that particular legislation in recent years. It is the <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>constant churn and change. More importantly, there are the issues around a specific group. Most of our members will take on people on their ability, and if you overregulate for one group or another, it acts as a barrier.
Q371 Paul Blomfield: We were told by a witness that one of the biggest problems in relation to maternity legislation was the uncertainty of the date of return to work. You are nodding, so presumably you concur with that.
Mike Cherry: The sooner a business knows, the sooner it can make plans and it can cover. Part of the problem is that it is so late sometimes that we just do not know. Therefore, more certainty in trying to find cover, or in trying to ensure that if somebody wants to come back a bit later, the business is not disadvantaged by that, would be very beneficial.
Q372 Paul Blomfield: The main point that you are making is that it is not the legislation or the regulations that are necessary the problem, but it is the lack of stability and the constant changes in regulation that you are complaining about.
Mike Cherry: On that particular point, as well as the constant change and churn of regulation. That is not just on maternity and paternity laws; it is in other areas of employment legislation as well.
Q373 Paul Blomfield: In my area of South Yorkshire, we have got something like 40,000 SMEs, most of which are at the micro end of the spectrum, and many of which are led by very impressive, dynamic women. I had a round-table discussion prior to the start of this inquiry, and they felt that their needs were overlooked when we were considering women’s role in the workplace and the economy. In their context, regulation was not an issue one way or the other, but they talked about businesses falling over as a result of having a child or other caring commitments. Are those issues that are raised within the FSB?
Mike Cherry: You have got separate issues around females specifically. One of the big issues coming up is affordable child care. Certainly, when you are running your own business, the impact of having a baby means that you still have to get back to run that business, whether you have the baby or not. Affordable child care is very much an issue, particularly in London, and that is one of the things our members are constantly telling us. There are other issues. Access to finance is probably more difficult for females in business, and that is an issue that needs to be addressed quite obviously, if it is impacting them disproportionately.
As far as employees are concerned, it comes back to ability and competency, rather than a business making a conscious decision not to employ a particular sector, but that is where the overregulation clearly kicks in. I think you will find, if you talk to a lot of female owners, that they would feel nowadays that they are a little dis-incentivised to employ people of childbearing age.
Q374 Paul Blomfield: Could I wide the discussion out to Emma and Claire? I am particularly interested in focusing on this issue of microbusinesses and women running them. Mike has made the point about childcare and access to finance, and those were certainly issues that were raised in the round-table I held in Sheffield. I wondered if you would concur, and whether there are other issues where you think society or the Government could make a more positive intervention?
Emma Heathcote-James: Mike is talking in terms of London. If we look at the countryside, there are very few child minders, and the few who are there and are good get booked up very quickly, and therefore they put their costs up. A lot of my friends, colleagues and peers have to travel 45 minutes to an hour to drop their child at child care, so you have got the fuel and the time, and then you have then got the cost of child care. A neighbour of mine, who is an HR exec, is practically working for nothing by the time she has got her takehome and she has paid the child care and the travel. You are working for nothing; what is the incentive? It is difficult.
Q375 Paul Blomfield: Are there other issues?
Claire Martinsen: I am not sure I do concur. My child was not even a year old when I started my business, and I had a three-year-old as well, so I have established a business with very small children at my coat-tails. I don’t think that has held me back; I think it has pushed me on. Being in an SME and being able to work more flexibly has helped.
To come back to the issue on culture, because you might think as a business owner, "Well, that’s okay," I have experienced quite a lot of prejudice, and generally women do. An example would be that if I am at a trade show and I have a colleague who comes and works with me who is 60 and male, people will automatically think he is the business owner, no matter how much he says, "No, she is the owner, you must speak to her. If you want to know prices, you must speak to her."
There is an overwhelming culture that people will go to the oldest person who is male. That has happened on more than one occasion. Somebody met my guy who does credit control and said, "He is the real business owner, isn’t he? He is the man who makes decisions"-absolutely not. People assume my husband owns the business and my husband is somehow financing me. It is that overwhelming culture to continually get over. You actually can be a female starting a business and you do not need to have a load of males behind you, but that comes up again and again.
Q376 Paul Blomfield: And on access to finance?
Claire Martinsen: Personally, I do not concur that access to finance is an issue.
Q377 Paul Blomfield: Obviously that is a problem for all small businesses, and it is one that we have looked at as a Committee. Locally, I have picked up that it was a particular problem, for the same reasons you are describing, Claire, in terms of culture and perception-that maybe applications are viewed less credibly.
Emma Heathcote-James: I have no experience of that, to be honest.
Claire Martinsen: Generally women are more riskaverse, so their nature is probably not to borrow money in the first instance. To be fair, a lot of female businesses are more craftbased, and may be more difficult to get lending against.
Emma Heathcote-James: There are perhaps lower startup costs.
Q378 Mike Crockart: We have touched on this, so it might be quick to answer. Looking at specific issues that there might be for SMEs in rural areas-you touched on it with child care availability and the difficulties in getting children into that-are there other particular issues that affect rural SMEs that do not affect urban ones?
Emma Heathcote-James: Where do we start? I created a north Cotswold group for women in rural enterprise, the WiRE group, which is fantastic and has helped me massively over the last four years. You are very on your own, out in the sticks. We have got the internet, which is our portal to get us to other people, but on a good day, I get 0.5 Meg, so I cannot do any webinars, I cannot Skype and I cannot do any online learning, because it buffers constantly. Mobile phone-I cannot do anything on that. I can use FaceTime, if there is a learning thing, but it is so different. It is so weird to be in London and my mobile phone rings; it is such a different world.
WiRE subsidises training for women. It started off aimed at farmers’ wives who needed to diversity. Obviously, they were farmers’ wives and did not have any business skills, and that was how WiRE started, but now it is open to all women rurally. It saves us, as women, from having to travel to London, Birmingham, or the City for training, which is not very costeffective. I think more subsidy needs to be put out to groups like WiRE, because it is so helpful-it is such a lifeline. Everybody is on the same hymn sheet, and everyone is thinking the same and doing the same.
Q379 Mike Crockart: Where does the funding for that come from currently?
Claire Martinsen: I think it is membership only.
Emma Heathcote-James: I think they do have some grants, but they are getting less and less.
Claire Martinsen: I would definitely echo Emma’s point. Norfolk is notoriously bad for broadband, and when fuel goes up, it affects rural business massively more than urban ones.
Emma Heathcote-James: It is 12 miles for me to go to the post office daily-that’s petrol.
Q380 Chair: Where are you based?
Emma Heathcote-James: I am based in the north Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.
Planning regulations is another issue. I have moved my workshop from Worcestershire to Gloucestershire, because my house was listed in a conservation zone, and obviously you cannot do anything. It was easier to build a purposebuilt workshop, which I have done, and that has cost.
Footfall is obviously the other thing we have got little of. What I do is very much internetbased, as well as going to suppliers. For me to go to the suppliers, I am going miles up and down the country. It is not a whinge; I absolutely love it and I would not change it, but it is very, very different.
Q381 Mike Crockart: Mike, are there any issues that have been raised through the FSB membership that feed into this?
Mike Cherry: There is a generic one, certainly around broadband and mobile network access which, as you are probably aware, we are continually haranguing the Government about. This needs to happen much, much quicker, particularly to cover the rural areas, but there are urban areas that are affected as well. Whether you are a female business or any business, that is a major issue that has to be addressed.
Chair: Thank you very much. That concludes our questioning. You probably heard what I said to the previous panels: if you feel there is anything you would like to add to the evidence you have given, please feel free to submit it to us. Equally, if we feel there is a question that we should have asked, but did not ask, we will write to you, and would be grateful for a reply. That was very helpful indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea, former Deputy Chair and former Interim Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Mark Hammond, Chief Executive Officer, EHRC, and Karen Jochelson, Director of the Economy and Employment Programme, EHRC, gave evidence.
Q382 Chair: Good morning, and thank you very much for agreeing to appear before the Committee. Could you just introduce yourselves for transcription purposes?
Karen Jochelson: I am Karen Jochelson. I am the Programme Director of Employment and the Economy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mark Hammond: I am Mark Hammond, the Chief Executive of the commission.
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: I am Baroness Margaret Prosser, and until 3 December, I was the Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Q383 Julie Elliott: What research have you undertaken on inequality of pay?
Karen Jochelson: We have published extensively on pay inequalities. We can provide you in our written briefing with the listing; it is all publicly available on our website. Our research has compared pay gaps between men and women, and between other protected groups. We have also published research on the use of pay audits and company views on them. Our triennial review, which is a statutory requirement, has also published a wide range of evidence on pay gaps, and the different experiences of men and women and other protected groups in the economy.
Q384 Julie Elliott: You have mentioned that you have done research on pay gaps between different disadvantaged groups. What have you found to be the principal causes of those inequalities?
Karen Jochelson: It is a very big question; some of them came up in the earlier session. I will begin by answering, but I will then also refer to Margaret, who has an enormous amount of experience in the area.
Some of it goes back to the kinds of jobs that people enter in the first place. Women tend to go into more poorly paid or parttime work than men. There are also pay gaps that emerge because women tend not to climb the career ladder in the same way as men, so when women fall pregnant, they may fall out of the work force, or when they re-enter the work force, they go back into lower status, less well paid, and often parttime work. There are also areas around discrimination, where men and women are being paid dissimilar rates for work that is similar, which is not really in line with our equal pay legislation. Margaret, would you like to add to that?
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: I have brought along-the Clerk may find this useful as background to the work of the Committee-a report on the work of the Women and Work Commission. The commission, which I chaired, sat from 2004 to 2006. The responsibility of that body was to look at the continuing gender pay and opportunities gap-it is important to include opportunities. Three years after our report and our recommendations to the Government, there was a review of those recommendations, and what the Government had or had not done in terms of taking them forward. I think that would be really helpful to the Clerk.
To build on what Karen has said, when the report of the original work of the Women and Work Commission was done, lots of people said, "What’s the answer then?" Lots of people thought that equal pay audits would be the answer, and no doubt you will come on to that. Actually the answer is multilayered; there is not a single, easy way in which you can say it is better and easier for women in the world of work, because the issues are multilayered, and pretty many and various. They start in school with education choices and expectations of what girls may or may not want to do, leading into occupational segregation. Many jobs that women choose to do are lower paid. You could ask the philosophical question: are they lower paid because women do them, or simply because they are those kinds of jobs?
Despite the fact that girls, largely speaking, are doing rather better than boys in educational terms, and indeed young women overall are earning more than young men in a certain age group, by the time you get a few years down the line, there is the impact of having had children. That is quite often combined with the fact that the skills those women have had have not been able to transfer into later years; unlike young men who choose to be plumbers and electricians, and they can still do that when they are 50-odd, but often women have lost the skills they have chosen. So, the pay gap reasserts itself at that later stage.
Q385 Julie Elliott: You have alluded to the next question: what works in reducing the pay gap-transparency or equal pay audits?
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: Equal pay audits lead to transparency, and that of itself is a very good thing. There is no doubt that conducting equal pay audits is a very helpful exercise, but it does not do away with the fact that the reasons for the pay gap are outside those very straightforward technical areas, if you like. If you have few, if any, opportunities for well-paid parttime employment, all the equal pay audits in the world are not going to change that. They are extremely useful and important, and transparency is very important, but you need all those other social structures to be implemented before the issue is going to be cracked.
Q386 Julie Elliott: What are your views on the Government’s decision not to introduce regulations imposing pay auditing duties on employers under the Equality Act?
Karen Jochelson: We hope it is going to stay on the statute books. There are a lot of activities underway, and the Government themselves are running "Think, Act, Report", which asks companies voluntarily to report more publicly on their pay gaps. It is worth waiting to see whether that makes any difference, but should there be little difference, it is worth thinking about using the legislation that we have in place.
Mark Hammond: That is right, Karen. It reflects some of the comments from your last panel of witnesses-the colleague from the FSB and so on. We face, as a regulator, this continual challenge about what actually works, and what will make the difference that will have a longterm sustainable impact on the sort of gaps that you are addressing and the issues of your inquiry? Our underlying view is that, to use the phrase, the statutory underpinning is always important-there needs to be an understanding among all sectors of employment that there are standards that are expected of organisations.
Moving beyond that, the individual tools that can change a company culture and change the culture of a profession are longterm issues that you cannot crack with the sledgehammer of a piece of regulation. Going forward, the challenge for all of us regulators, and the partners that we work with, is to identify those tools that are going to have a genuine sustainable impact. For us, that means building more of the partnerships and alliances that some of the other people you are talking to in this inquiry are involved in.
Q387 Julie Elliott: Has the removal of the requirement for male comparators in certain circumstances under the Equality Act helped to prove inequality where there is occupational segregation in the workplace?
Karen Jochelson: We have certain concerns over the use of the male comparator. The aim of equal pay legislation is to ensure that women are not paid less than men for equal or similar work, whether as a result of indirect or direct sex discrimination. There is a new section 71 in the Equality Act, which allows for a hypothetical comparator, but that applies only when the pay difference is directly discriminatory-it does not apply when the pay difference is due to indirect discrimination. Certainly most of the cases that we see are a result of indirect discrimination. In this case, the claimant has to identify an actual male comparator.
We have concerns that this might not be completely compatible with EU legislation. There have been several cases, two of which we have been involved in, and we have information about the range of cases we have been involved in that relate to equal pay. They have focused around the issue of finding a suitable male comparator and have gone into very technical arguments, before reaching the real hub of the issue, which is around whether pay discrimination has taken place. Margaret, do you want to add anything about those cases?
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: The whole question of finding the male comparator throws up a big dilemma. There are cases that have been through, and one that is continuing to go through. If you look at the circumstance where services in the public sector are contracted out, generally speaking they are very much on sex-segregated lines-for example, you have got all the dinner ladies, the gardeners, the road diggers and so on. Those salaries come out of the original budget of the local authority, health service or whatever it might be. It has been decreed by the European Court that because there is not what it sees as a single source of payment, those women-dinner ladies, for example-cannot compare themselves with those male gardeners, despite the fact that it all comes out of the original budget.
That throws up for me the question of whether or not the current Equal Pay Act is fit for purpose, because it was designed, as we all know, back in 1970 and introduced in 1975, and the world of work has changed out of all recognition since then. It would be quite a good piece of work for somebody to look at the nature of the Equal Pay Act as it stands, where it does not match up to today’s labour market, and ways in which it ought to be brought up to date.
Q388 Julie Elliott: That is a very interesting point. How can the public sector equality duty help with equal pay by requiring public sector employers to ensure equal pay, and by requiring public bodies with whom they contract in the private sector to guarantee equal pay?
Mark Hammond: That is an interesting question. The Committee will be aware that the PSED itself is currently subject to a review that the Government are undertaking that we and others are contributing to. There are two issues around that, and it slightly overlaps into the review. The duty is a duty to have due regard to the issues that might arise from the decision you are examining. This has been the subject of debate recently as to how that should be done. Our view is that we need to consider, even at this early stage of the PSED, whether it is going to have the impacts that were intended for it, if it is only looking at whether you thought about the decision.
It is important to have that due regard, and we have seen public authorities of various kinds fail in court to prove that they have taken that due regard, with or without an equality impact assessment document, but it is, in the end, a process duty. It is about whether you have taken the issues seriously and shown that you have addressed them in your thinking. It does not impinge on the results of the decision you eventually take. We see the PSED review that is under way as an opportunity to come back to a debate that was had during the period when the duty was first drawn up to say, "Are there ways in which, without increasing the bureaucracy, red tape and burdens of the duty, we can address more what results from the decisions that organisations take?" I think that that goes back to the point you are making.
Q389 Julie Elliott: Do you think that the duty does make a difference in that having to consider something can sometimes make a difference to outcomes?
Mark Hammond: It can, and we are drawing together an evidence base as part of the review, with our partners and other organisations, about where, even in the short time the duty has been in effect, we have seen impacts from it. I was talking to a local authority earlier this year after it had lost a judicial review around the PSED, and I had a very productive day going through what was necessary, what it needed to consider, and how it might take a different decision in the light of the information that it gathered when it did take due regard. That was a very successful exercise for us.
Again, it is very possible to do an excellent PSED due regard exercise to fulfil all that is required of you under the duty, and to take the same decision you might have done even if you had not gone through that process. For us, we would like to come back to the debate with our partners and the Government as to-for example, when taking a duty perhaps to contract out a service in local government-how you are looking at the way the potential operator of the service subsequently will address some of these issues. As Margaret was saying, as the world of work changes, and as responsibilities and functions move into different areas, how is the chain going to hold firm so that what is required in the standards around equality continues to hold, even if the chain of delivery is making such a difference, as we are saying?
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: We should conclude that the vast majority of discriminatory decisions and choices are not made from malevolence; they are made just because people do not think. If the public sector equality duty makes a person focus on those issues, that has to be helpful.
Q390 Julie Elliott: In a previous oral session, the FDA said that the duty might be weakened by the Government. Would you see this as a positive thing or a negative thing, or would it not make much difference?
Mark Hammond: It is under review, so I think that any outcome is possible at this stage. As I was saying, in a sense we welcome the review, because it is an opportunity to reflect on what has happened with it so far and to look at the evidence-indeed, to look at whether there is any evidence that it has increased bureaucracy, red tape and burdens, as is sometimes said. I am not sure that we have seen any evidence of that yet, but there is an opportunity for the review to bring that forward. It is also an opportunity to look at how it works, what people’s understanding of it is and whether, having had that proper regard, people are then looking at their decisions differently. It is an opportunity to look at whether we are achieving better compliance with the standards Parliament has set in the legislation through the working of the duty?
Q391 Julie Elliott: Finally, do you think that equality impact assessments should be reinstated on a statutory rather than a nonstatutory basis?
Mark Hammond: I think the short answer is no. We rather agree-we have said so in all the guidance we have issued around the PSED-that the temptation to fall into the trap of producing the piece of paper at the end, putting EIA on the top of it and then saying, "Phew, that is done, " is a very easy trap to fall into. As has been said by others, it is the intelligence and application of thinking while you are wondering about what decision to take. As Margaret says, if you are addressing the issues, implications and possible consequences well and consciously in that process, the central issue is not whether those are encompassed in a particular piece of paper or not at the end. It is the quality of that thinking that you are putting in, particularly at the early stages, when you are formulating policy.
Q392 Julie Elliott: Can I just ask a question from something you have alluded to a few times? The world of work is a changing picture, almost on a daily basis. It changes all the time and at a speed that, in recent years, has massively altered. Do you think that some of the rules, regulations and obligations around work are keeping pace with that? Moving forward, we have some quite rigid things, in terms of legislation. What I am picking up is that that is a little out of kilter with how the world of work is changing, or am I wrong?
Mark Hammond: The others might want to say something as well. It is an important point that the Committee may want to consider, and some of your previous witnesses that we heard were reflecting the same thing. There are two things. There are the standards that Parliament has set down in legislation that all organisations and individuals should adhere to. Having set those standards, there then has to be some mechanism and process by which people are measured, held to account and so on, as to whether they are achieving it. That is, perhaps more often than the standards themselves, where the problems start to arise.
These are the issues that small businesses particularly confront. I am absolutely sure, as Margaret says, that they want to do the right things. This is not about malice or spite: it is the challenges of the practicalities. All of us who are involved in regulating any of these standards need to be always aware of whether we are achieving the goals of the standards, or in some ways monitoring the process? We would much rather be focusing on achieving the standards.
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: I slightly differ-respectfully, of course-with the view of the Chief Executive, because there is an expression used by people in business: what gets measured gets done. I entirely agree that we have to be careful about tick-box exercises and too much bureaucracy, particularly given that growth in the economy is, largely speaking, coming from small business and entrepreneurs getting started. However, they are the very people who will not apply their minds to these exercises unless they are required to do so. Somehow we have to make the exercise as meaningful and easy as possible, in the sense of not too much bureaucracy, but if we do not keep a beady eye on it all, it just will not happen, I fear.
Karen Jochelson: There have been some instances when we have warmly welcomed some of the changes the Government are trying to introduce. You could argue that they are additional bureaucracy, but they are actually what Mark calls standards to hold companies accountable to. For example, BIS recently published a consultation around a proposal to have greater transparency by quoted companies on the number of men and women on their board who are managers or who are employed in the organisation as a whole. My understanding is that companies need to comply or explain why they cannot comply, so they have a degree of control in how they choose to comply.
What is quite interesting is there are several investing firms that have come out in support of that, and they have said that they are now going to look at that part of the annual reports when they make some of their investment decisions. That is part of making a transparent culture, and about holding companies to account. We have had some concerns about proposals to reduce legislation. There have been a range of consultations in the past six months on proposals to remove third-party harassment and to change some of the legal framework around employment tribunals, where we think there is potential for regression in the way we protect people’s rights.
Again, we would be happy to provide further evidence, and all our consultations are publicly available. The one I will draw on for now is a suggestion that the questionnaire that is used in discrimination claims should be removed. We have suggested that this would be a negative step to take because, in effect, the questionnaire gives both the employer and the employee some guidelines about the appropriate kind of questions to ask, how to present your information, and what you are going to be called on to request. Without that, it makes it far more unstable for the employer. That would be an example where red tape may be a positive thing that helps both our legal system and our employment system function a lot better.
Q393 Caroline Dinenage: This is to the whole panel. This morning we have heard about the European Commission’s policy of positive action for women. How do you think that the positive action provisions in the Equality Act help to promote equality for women? Are they being used efficiently? If not, what more could be done?
Karen Jochelson: We are delighted that the positive action provisions are strengthened in the Equality Act, but dismayed because they are not that frequently used. I think there is a lack of understanding by employers about how to use it without risking some kind of litigation. The idea of positive action is that where an employer has evidence that a particular protected group was disadvantaged or had different needs, or that there was low participation in the workforce, there are a range of actions they can take, but those actions are voluntary, so it is not a requirement that they do it.
In employment it can take place at two stages. One is at application stage, where if an employer is aware that the group is under-represented, they can look at ways to encourage groups to apply for the jobs. It does not mean that those applicants are going to get the job; it just means you are opening the field. The advantage to the employer is that they are seeking talent from a far more diverse pool.
The second place where positive action can play a role is when you are at the point of making an appointment, because if you had two equally qualified candidates, you could choose the one from the group that fulfilled one of those three evidence requirements around disadvantage. You could then choose to appoint the more disadvantaged candidate, as long as they were both equally qualified.
We have some examples where employers have done this. We have a group called People First, which works with the sector skills council and has looked at positive action in the application stage. There were very few women who were train or taxi drivers, or pilots, and they provided some pre-employment training. I imagine it was along the lines of helping people to understand what those jobs entailed and building their confidence so that they were at least able to apply for a job they may not have chosen to consider before.
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: The People First thing was part of a wider piece of work. In 2006, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated £40 million to be spent on focused training for women, on up-skilling and reskilling, and on enabling them to take their place in the labour market appropriate to their capacity and abilities. Something like 13 sector skills councils participated in that programme, under the umbrella of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
The programme ran from 2006 until March this year, when it was closed down. Over that period, more than 25,000 women were upskilled and retrained in a whole variety of areas of the economy, such as agriculture and the textile industry. As Karen said, it also involved People First, with driving skills. The People First one was interesting, because they took women off the unemployment register, so it paid for itself like billy-o-it was really very successful. That is an interesting and quite exciting example of positive action that is designed for and focused on an area where a particular group in the country needs some special extra help to get up to where they need to be.
Q394 Caroline Dinenage: One witness said that the EHRC does a lot of work providing advice and support for SMEs and others who are nervous about discrimination law and need somebody at the end of a phone line to talk them through the problem. However, they said that such work was not being promoted enough. Do you agree, and how could these services be better provided?
Mark Hammond: It is a very interesting question, and Karen might want to add briefly. We heard the colleague from the FSB talking about this in response to a question. It is very helpful to us: we are in the process of planning our work for next year and beyond with our new Chair and board. I did want to say, if I may, that we do very much look forward to the Committee’s report helping us understand what we might do, and we very much hope to engage with you as you come to your conclusions so that we can be part of delivering any changes you might recommend.
We are very conscious that we need hugely to improve and enhance the relationships we have with the CBI, the FSB and the chambers-all those organisations. Karen is leading on that for me and the organisation. We are not precious about how the information, advice and support get to SMEs, particularly. If it comes through us, that is great, and we can provide material and assistance to the employee organisations that they look to-that is absolutely fine. The impact for us is the same: getting that advice and support out to SMEs, sole traders and all those who might need it.
We are very conscious of looking at all the channels we can use. It is not a matter of us producing something and letting it sit on our website-that is not the view we take. We are working with the Government Equalities Office on some road shows it does for businesses up and down the country and seeing whether that might be more appropriate for us, or as something for us to do in partnership with the GEO. Perhaps Karen might want to add to that?
Karen Jochelson: What I am after is ensuring that our message gets out. As Mark said, I am not too worried about how it gets out or who gives it. We are a small organisation, and there is a very, very big world out there. For us, it is about how you get your message across most effectively. For me, that means working with and through others who have a joint commitment to equality.
I can give you two sets of examples. The first is where there has been a piece of legislation that affects most businesses. We have tried to work in partnership with organisations that would be trusted by large or small businesses. For example, we published guidance on how to do an equal pay audit for small businesses, which we did with the British Chambers of Commerce. We have also run some training seminars on the Equality Act and equal pay, which were run nationally with Eversheds. Most recently, this year we published a piece of joint guidance with ACAS looking at the requirements around the redundancy process when you are dealing with workers who are pregnant or on maternity leave. For me, it was striking that, when I last looked, we had over 18,000 downloads in a very short period of time, which was partly due to the fact it was on two websites, rather than just ours.
Another example of where our dissemination is far more targeted to the market-if you are not in that market, you are not going to be aware of it-is work we have done for our inquiry into conditions in the meat and poultry industry. We set up a task force after our inquiry report was delivered, which drew together supermarkets, the labour providers, processors in meat and poultry, the various trade associations, and the trade unions who worked in the industry. They agreed that some guidance arising from the problems that we had identified would be very helpful. We published that guidance two months ago, and we calculate we probably reached 80% of the processing firms and about 2,000 labour providers.
The way we were able to do this is: our guidance now sits on the supermarkets’ supplier intranet, which is not something we would have access to except through the supermarkets. The British Meat Processors Association, the British Poultry Council and the Association of Labour Providers all have our guidance on their website, and they have advertised it through their own web and newsletters.
To me, it is the fact that our guidance was supported in the first place by that industry. It has helped us to figure out the best way of disseminating it, and it has been disseminated with its support, which is what is going to make it most effective, but if you are not in that industry, the chances are that you are not going to have read it.
Q395 Ann McKechin: There have obviously been drastic cuts to the budget of the EHRC over the last couple of years. I wonder whether Margaret and Mark could comment on what difference that is making to your work and how you are going to prioritise your work, given you have got a smaller budget to deal with.
Mark Hammond: Yes, our resources have fallen, as with organisations across the public sector. To unpack that change a little bit, there have been several aspects to it. On the helpline that the commission used to run, the funding for it moved across to the Government Equalities Office, which has let a contract to others to deliver a helpline service. Although the money has come out of our budget, the service is still being delivered through these different arrangements. Similarly, we used to provide some grant services for strategic and legal grants of around £6 million a year or so. That has ceased now. Although it is an overall reduction in the amount of support in this area, it obviously has much less impact on us as an organisation-essentially it was money in, money out, with a small team.
When you look at those sorts of changes and what we are anticipating the budget will be over the next couple of years, our reduction is around the one-third mark, which is about par for public sector organisations. I would not want the Committee to feel, in a sense, that we have been singled out or have had something particularly disproportionate. The challenge for us, which we have been working on over the last year, and will continue to work on with the new Chair and board, is how you take a reduction in funding and have a lower impact on the services you are delivering. It is a challenge I have had in other roles. Whatever the funding cut you have had, if you have 10% less money and do 10% less service, that is a pretty poor result; if you have a 10% cut and do 5% less service, you have made a difference in the way that is implemented.
We could go into whatever detail you would like to. For example, we have reorganised the bulk of the staffing of the commission into a single resource pool, so that rather than trying to cram each year’s work into a rigid structure of departments in the organisation, we agree what the work is going to be with the board and then allocate the resources directly to it. This should help us to make sure that we get the very most we can out of all of our staff and the resources available to us.
My job, supported by the management team, is to ensure that we are refocusing, that we are working in different ways, and that, whatever the funding reduction we have had, we are still maintaining the greatest possible impact for people and communities out there.
Q396 Ann McKechin: I was interested in what Karen said about an inquiry on the meat and poultry industry, because some of the figures we have had about occupational segregation are abysmal: 1% of electricians are female; female engineers are 6%; and the number of IT professionals has declined in the last 10 years. Perhaps you could tell me why, to date, the EHRC has given relatively little priority to occupational segregation-or why you think you have had so little impact-and what you are going to do about it.
Mark Hammond: I will let Karen talk in a bit in detail, because some of the work we have done around careers advice is the way that we can try and influence that over the longer term. As to what we do in the future, these are all the issues that our new Chair and board will be debating over the next couple of months. We do have to make choices. There is a huge number of areas in which, given our wide mandate, we could put resource and effort into making a difference. The board will have to decide, over January and February into next year, where it sees the priority for the resources and people we have.
Karen Jochelson: I can talk a little bit about the packs that we have developed around aspirations and information around careers. We decided to focus on primary school children, because our research found that gendered ideas about what was appropriate work, if you were a little girl or a little boy, start very early. We have developed a pack with educational specialists that tries to help children to think about cultural stereotypes, the world of work and the benefits you get from work. We published that in September this year, and it has been marketed through our partners at various educational conferences. It is called Equal Choices, Equal Chances, and it is a partner piece to a similar piece of work called Equal Rights, Equal Respect, which also focuses on stereotyping, but more from a human rights angle.
Q397 Ann McKechin: Can I just stop you there? Is that just an offer that is made to schools that they can take up voluntarily?
Karen Jochelson: They can choose to take that up, yes.
Q398 Ann McKechin: Right, so it is not compulsory.
One of the questions we asked earlier to Dame Jocelyn was about the issue of 16 to 17 different types of initiatives scatter-gunned around in a very fragmented way, with no actual systemic approach by central Government. You make recommendations and your budget is controlled by central Government. I would put it to you that perhaps the ideas need systemic change within Government, and this needs to be a compulsory part of the curriculum, not just something that schools can pick and choose.
Mark Hammond: I think that is a question for my colleagues at the Department for Education.
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: Who have not necessarily embraced these debates, shall we say.
Karen Jochelson: It is probably worth acknowledging that some of the careers advice services have been closed down, and that will have some impact eventually.
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: I agree entirely with Mark’s point about the relationship between the reduction in our budget and taking away the need to provide certain services, such as the helpline and grants. I do think, in terms of how these important issues are made to influence people’s lives outside, that the loss of the grants programme, at the same time as the legal aid Act came in, was very unfortunate. I do think there are going to be many people who will find it very difficult to get advice on a whole range of areas, but in terms of the responsibility of the Commission, on receiving advice on matters of discrimination, that is going to make life much harder.
On a slightly brighter note, one of the things that has been determined by the Commission-through experience, if you like-is that there is a greater opportunity to work in partnership with some of the bodies outside. For example, up in the north-east, there is an excellent equal opportunities body. The south-west of the country has a very good one, as has the north-west. Working with those umbrellas on what seem to be important issues in their particular regions, and with the knowledge that they will bring, will, I think, be quite a rich vein.
Q399 Chair: Just a couple of concluding questions. First, there are some changes in the rules under which the EHRC operate under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. Can you tell us your views on that and how it affects your working?
Mark Hammond: Colleagues may have seen the briefing that we provided to both Houses about this. The legislative changes to our powers were well trailed in the Government consultation. Our overall view is that none of them will significantly impede the commission’s work going forward. I do not think we would have brought them forward ourselves as proposals for change, had we been asked, but we do not regard them as causing substantial issues for what we plan and deliver as an organisation.
Q400 Chair: Is that the consensus of the panel?
Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea: There are different views about the role of public sector equality duties and whether they are as important or otherwise. There is a view that says that having the public sector general duty embodied in legislation gives purpose to the Equality Act and sets its framework and background. I merely make the point that there are different views about that. That will be discussed in the House of Lords when we come back in early January, so we will see how it pans out.
Q401 Chair: We will watch with interest.
This is a very tricky question: there is a school of thought-particularly in certain elements of the media, but not entirely confined to the media-that equality and human rights somehow represent a politically correct agenda pursued by a bunch of ideologues that does not really reflect the real world. Would you acknowledge that particular attitude? How does it affect you? How do you think you can combat it, assuming that you do acknowledge it does exist?
Mark Hammond: That is a very big question, Chair. Clearly there is a school of thought-we read it online and in papers daily, weekly-whatever it may be. There are perhaps different issues around equality and around human rights. A few minutes ago, the Bill of Rights Commission will have given us some views around the human rights agenda. I would go back partly to what I said earlier in response to a question about the difference between the standards that Parliament has said that people should be held to and should be accountable for, and the way in which the machinery collectively holds people to account and monitors their performance against them.
It is always possible to find ways of improving, streamlining and reducing the unnecessary burdens of the process by which the standards are held to-that is a constant challenge for us as regulators in parts of the public sector. That is different from any suggestion that we go backwards on the standards that the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act have embodied, which is that individuals should not be discriminated or prejudiced against in any way because of the characteristics that they happen to have. We, as an organisation, stand absolutely on the standards that the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act have put forward and Parliament has agreed.
We need to try and continue to work with the media, our colleagues and those who have concerns to understand what is at work here: is this about the standard or is this about the process? If it is about the standard, let us have an argument about it. Let us agree whether we think people should be treated equally and whether we think discrimination is ever viable. If it is about the process, let us debate how we can make it better.
Similarly, on human rights, the issues are very complex, as I am sure the Bill of Rights Commission report will outline. They are partly about individual rights and their operation within the courts, and underneath that-this is a debate we might all have in the next couple of years-there is an issue as to whose rights they are: are these rights that we all hold that we allow our legislators and the courts to have a view on, or are they rights granted to us by the legislature? These are very basic, big issues, and in terms of the confusions that sometimes arise in the media debates, hopefully there is an opportunity in the next couple of years, building on the Bill of Rights Commission report, to talk about how we want this system to work more effectively.
Q402 Chair: Finally, you do a lot of work that I would guess is unrecognised by the world at large. How best do you think you could sell yourself and the work that you do?
Mark Hammond: Again, that is a very big question. As we have talked about, the organisation is changing: the resource changes we have had do mean that our reach is somewhat different, as we do not deliver as much in terms of front-line services as the organisation did when it was first set up. As we have reflected on, it is very important to us that we are working in partnerships and alliances with many organisations. We are able to have a hugely greater impact by working with people like CQC and ACAS on the key sectors that deliver for individuals and communities out there.
We would like to be a very respected organisation for what we do, for the objective and evidencebased nature of what we produce and for what we say. Whether that makes us always popular with all aspects of the media, we will have to allow that to happen, as it does.
Chair: Thanks very much; that was very helpful. I will repeat what I said to the other panels: if there is anything you would like to contribute that you have not had the chance to contribute today, please feel free to do so. Equally, if there is a question that we have not asked, but in retrospect we think we should have asked, we will write to you.