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Friday, 14 November 2008

WOMEN IN BUSINESS


This week I was invited to give a speech on Women in Business at this year's GCC Euro Expo in London. I thought you might be interested to see what I said:



First may I thank the organisers for inviting me to speak at such an exciting and important event as this Gulf Cooperation Council European Expo. With the recent shake-ups in global financial sectors it is clear that now is a crucially important time to support businesses and to promote trade between Britain and the rest of the world.

But a key way for enterprises to grow and to prosper is by having more women working in business. The European Union is currently working towards its Lisbon policy objective of creating more growth and jobs across the continent by achieving 60% employment for women across the EU by 2010. Since Labour came into power in Britain more women are in work than ever before. But while improvements have been made all over Europe there is still not a single EU country in which the percentage of women in the labour force reaches even 50%. Moreover, studies show that of those women who are employed, business is still a minority occupation with men far more likely to be working as business managers, entrepreneurs or to be self-employed. Business remains an unpopular choice for the women of Europe.

What is holding women back from entering into business? And how can the European Union help to address the discrepancy between the genders and so ensure that businesses profit from having the best and the brightest working for them, no matter what their sex?

There are undoubtedly many issues that could be discussed here and that I hope will be discussed during this session. But I will focus on just three factors I consider to be crucial in preventing more women from working in business: education, work / life balance and the inhospitable climate in the business world.

Firstly, whist women consistently perform better than men both at school and at university, they are still underrepresented in the fields of science and mathematics. It is the study of these subjects that often leads to a career in enterprise. The EU is working to increase the overall number of graduates in science and mathematics by at least 15% by 2010 and MEPs on the women's committee have called for further measures specifically to encourage women into these subjects. Universities need to engage in more schemes that promote the study of maths and science to women and so break down some of the gender stereotypes that exist in education. And the EU needs to continue to support them in this.

Secondly, balancing the commitments of domestic life with a career has long been a factor in keeping women out of work. Motivated and educated women are more likely to be either unemployed or stuck in temporary or part-time work in their 20s and 30s than men are at the same age. This is often because they are held back as they are unable to find affordable childcare. Moreover, self-employed women, many of whom work in the business sector, have been particularly vulnerable to work / life clashes because they are not entitled to the same maternity provisions as colleagues.

But in an exciting recent move, the European Commission has announced an overhaul of existing legislation as part of a package to help working mothers. Whilst still in its infancy, this package will give self-employed women the right to paid maternity leave through their country's social security plan. It will also urge European states to live up to their commitments to provide affordable childcare. Only five EU countries, including the UK, have surpassed the childcare provision target for children under three years old despite the EU providing €500m to enable them to reach this goal. Who knows how many talented women are held back from entering and energising the business sector because they cannot find affordable healthcare? Who knows how many entrepreneurial women have been put off from starting their own businesses because of the lack of state maternity provision? Let us hope that this package will start to remove some of these barriers to women in business.

Finally, and perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome, certainly through regulation alone, is the inhospitable climate facing women that is present in businesses around the globe. Women are still hugely underrepresented in business boardrooms. The gender pay gap in the private sector is 25% - far above the public sector figure of 15%. And women face subtle discrimination in recruitment practices around Europe. The European Union is doing what it can to tackle these problems, from supporting womens' business networks at a local level to passing legislation to outlaw gender discrimination at the international level. But ultimately, change must come from within the business community. Businesses must realise the vast amounts of talent that they are missing by remaining dominated by men. They must realise that their productivity could increase vastly if women, as well as men, were able to fulfill their potential in business.

2009 is the European Year of Creativity and Innovation. I hope that in this year we can increase our level of creativity and innovation in Europe's trade with the rest of the world. But I hope that we do this by allowing women to play their vital role in business.



7 comments:

Kara said...

Women have come so far. Today's world requires women business. Women today are playing an important role in the economy and in politics. I'm not saying that we don't still have quite a way to go; there is definitely still inequality. But slowly, it's getting better. We have come a long way in the last hundred years and I'm excited to see how much more progress is made just in my lifetime.

Stewart Cowan said...

Perhaps the most important job a woman can do is to rear a happy, talented next generation.

This job is increasingly denied to women as the government tries to coax more and more into work while their young children are looked after by others.

It is therefore no surprise that we see a disintegrating society full of dysfunctional, vulnerable people dependent on state intervention.

Where did the figure of 60% employment for women across the EU by 2010 come from anyway?

Was it an arbitrary number? If not, what does having three out of five women in employment achieve?

If this figure is reached, will there be a new, higher target for the future where only women too old, too sick or wealthy enough will not need to work?

Is the EU's plan to totally destroy the notion of family life so that all its institutions can assume the role of surrogate parent?

I mean the agencies, whether government or fake charity funded, that try and control these dysfunctional families for example, in the areas of 'sexual health,' the benefits system, mental health, criminal justice system (whether for a real crime or an invented bin, smoking or 'thought' crime).

These systems of intervention and monitoring were called upon far less frequently when most families consisted of a father with a proper job and his wife who looked after the children in their formative years.

What evidence do you have, Mrs Honeyball, that women benefit from your social engineering?

I mean, children don't.

The Bug said...

In response to Stewart's comment, perhaps fathers taking more of a role in child-rearing might help avoid the social disintergration he is fretting about.

Stewart Cowan said...

Absolutely, Bug, the father's role is crucial.

It is therefore tragic and beyond comprehension that this government has taken away from children their right to a father.

Totally sickening; all in the name of "equality" or "diversity" or just social engineering in general.

Weaken the family and you weaken society and we become a nation enslaved by our masters.

Stewart Cowan said...

Mrs Honeyball: I was hoping for an answer to this question:

Where did the figure of 60% employment for women across the EU by 2010 come from?

Thank you in advance,

SC

Mary Honeyball said...

Hi Stewart,

Thanks for your comments.

The target for 60% employment for women by 2010 is one of the Lisbon Agenda targets. These were agreed in 2000 and renewed in 2005 with the aim of making the European Union the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.

If you would like to read more about this strategy, please follow these links:

http://europa.eu/scadplus/glossary/lisbon_strategy_en.htm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4373485.stm

Thanks for your interest.

Mary

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