MPs endorse ‘skills levy’ to support progression of women in the workplace

29 Jan 2019 By Emily Burt

But experts warn recommendations will not go far enough without disrupting recruitment industry

Large businesses should be challenged on their hiring practices, experts have said, after the launch of a new toolkit supporting greater female progression in the workplace. 

The guide, How to Recruit Women for the 21st Century, was produced by the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and challenges employers and policy makers to take action on the “persistent obstacles that women face when entering, progressing in, and returning to the workplace”.

It lays out a series of policy recommendations to support women in the workplace, including a call on the government to broaden the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible skills levy that could be used to train temporary workers. The levy has faced ongoing problems with declining starts and unspent funds.

The toolkit was produced in collaboration with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Sophie Wingfield, head of policy at REC, said the potential skills levy was “a good step forward to allowing women to progress in their chosen careers”. 

“A flexible levy would help more women access jobs in key sectors that are finding it difficult to find the staff that they need,” she added. 

“This mirrors the core recommendation from the REC’s Future of Jobs commission which said changes to the levy will benefit employers, and ultimately the HM Treasury through productivity gains.”

The launch of the toolkit follows an announcement from the government of new legislation aiming to offer pregnant women and parents returning to work greater protection from redundancy. However, experts warned the legislation would not go far enough in tackling maternity discrimination. 

Speaking to People Management, Lisa Unwin, founder of returners consultancy She’s Back, said the government should be ready to throw weight behind retraining initiatives. 

“The APPG have done a fantastic job of picking up an issue and coming up with some practical suggestions for employers and individuals,” she said, adding: “There is a need to  think about how we can retrain people with skills that are going to be needed in the face of ongoing turmoil in the business landscape.” 

However, Unwin said progression for women would not improve without the recruitment industry being challenged on its practice. “Until we reshape how the industry works, a lot of these good ideas will not come to fruition. 

“There are individuals trying to address this from an employer view, but the way the industry works – with time-to-hire measures in place, applicant tracking systems, and the ways CVs are screened – significant barriers to women re-entering and progressing in the workplace will persist.” 

As well as offering practical advice for employers on improving recruitment practice, such as the introduction of name-blind CVs and neutralising the language employed in job adverts, REC and the APPG proposed additional measures to improve the business landscape around diversity. 

These included a diversity fund that would enable small and medium-sized organisations to offer coaching and mentoring to support women progressing at work, and strengthening the Equality Act 2010 to better protect disabled people and those with health conditions from discrimination on the basis of more than one protected characteristic.  

“If employers are to successfully hire and attract the best, diverse talent, they need to take recruitment seriously and review their processes,” said Jess Phillips MP, co-chair of the APPG.  

“This toolkit encourages employers and policy makers to make those changes, giving practical steps that will go some way in shifting persistent obstacles that women face when entering and re-entering the labour market.”

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