Government to focus on low-paid women rather than boardrooms in equality drive

New funding announced to help disadvantaged people back into work and ensure women ‘thrive’

The government has set aside £600,000 to support marginalised women and disadvantaged people returning to work, it announced yesterday.

The money was announced by Penny Mordaunt (pictured above), minister for work and equalities, in a speech that outlined a change in focus away from increasing female representation in the boardroom and towards better equality for women in low-paid, low-skilled jobs.

The funding includes £500,000 to support people returning to work, focusing on individuals facing additional barriers, including those who speak little English, people with disabilities, the homeless and victims of domestic abuse.

A further £100,000 will be used for “bespoke support for very marginalised women”, some of whom have little or no work history.

Speaking at Bright Blue’s Women in Work Conference, Mordaunt said that while improved representation at executive level was “emblematic of the progress women are making”, in reality it was “not the place where business is being reimagined”.

She added: “If we want every woman to thrive, to be as financially secure and resilient as they can be, and to reach their full potential, we need to broaden out our work beyond the FTSE 350, beyond London, beyond executives, women on boards and big business.

“We need a focus on small businesses, part-time work, women from all parts of the UK, low-paid women, women with multiple barriers to reaching their full potential, older women, financially fragile women, women who aren’t easy to reach, or measure, or sometimes even to see.”

Mordaunt said around 1.8 million women were currently economically inactive because they were caring for their family, more than eight times the number of men in that position. Women were also disproportionately more likely to work in caring, customer service and cleaning roles that tended to be less well paid, and three times more likely than men to work part time.

A YouGov survey earlier this year revealed almost half (47 per cent) of UK public sector workers believed employers discriminate against employees with caring responsibilities.

Mordaunt also announced the Government Equalities Office would be integrated into the Cabinet Office from April 2019. “From there, it will become an equalities hub and provide some much-needed clout behind those working to ensure all our citizens have what they need to thrive,” she said.

The CIPD welcomed the government’s change of focus towards women in lower-paid roles. To achieve this aim, Claire McCartney, inclusion and diversity adviser, said HR teams and employers needed to develop their flexible-working approaches to facilitate greater participation in the workplace. 

Employers also need to think about how they can improve the quality of work they offer, along with training and development opportunities, to help those in lower-paid roles progress.

Duncan Brown, head of HR consulting at the Institute for Employment Studies, said the gender pay reporting regime suggested many firms were “pinning their hopes” on improving equality through changes at the executive level, but said this was not going to fully address gender pay gaps.

“Women at senior levels are important for acting as role models, but structural inequalities in the economy are a major contributor to the national gap,” he said.

Baroness Margaret McDonagh, co-founder of The Pipeline, added: “The UK needs to liberate the economic power of women at all levels of the workforce, whether it's the shop floor or boardroom. It makes sense for individual organisations and our country.”