- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
The next item of business is an Equal Opportunities Committee debate on the subject of women and work.
- Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab):
As convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I am pleased to open this debate on women and work. The subject of women and work is a key element of the committee’s work. We have held a round-table evidence session with the Scottish Trades Union Congress’s women’s committee, and I will touch on some of the points that were raised during that. The Equal Opportunities Committee will continue its inquiry into women and work later in the year. Today’s debate is an opportunity to hear views and concerns from members, which will be invaluable to the committee in making progress with the inquiry.
Last week, in a debate on women’s representation, the Parliament heard from my colleague Jenny Marra that women make up only 25 per cent of executive non-departmental public body boards, 36 per cent of advisory boards and 11 per cent of Scottish public limited company boards. Those are shocking statistics. The Parliament needs to take action to end gender inequality and imbalance, as equal female representation will struggle to improve organically.
Recent research has shown that women hold less than a third of the United Kingdom’s top jobs and that, in the police service, only 16 per cent of top jobs are held by women. Around the same time last month when BBC research found that women are in less than a third of top jobs, research from Cranfield University showed that candidates for board-level jobs are generally hired based on their fit with the existing, mostly male, directors. There is a need for Government to legislate for greater representation, as much research shows that the imbalance will not correct itself. As Ms Marra pointed out, the Scandinavian countries are an example of what can be achieved when quotas are set.
The glass ceiling continues to exist for women in the workplace, as was highlighted during the Equal Opportunities Committee’s evidence session and excellently by Annabel Goldie, who told us of us her experiences during her time as a partner in a law firm. Even in workplaces that are predominantly run by women, there is a struggle to advance, as Margaret Boyd from the STUC women’s committee found during her time in employment with a major biscuit company. Ms Boyd stated clearly that, no matter how clever a woman is, men still get the top jobs in shop-floor management, and the most that a woman can get is a position as a supervisor or team leader. That is in a workplace that is dominated by women and has been for many years. There is not only a boardroom glass ceiling, but a glass ceiling in management.
It is no surprise to me that that still exists, but it is shocking when women tend to excel more at education than men. As women become more qualified than men, why are women underemployed or segregated in the workplace?
Kirsty Connell, the vice-chair of the STUC youth committee, said at the round-table:
“We now have a generation of women who are coming through who are highly educated: they’ve had a lot of investment in their education at every level, and they’re outperforming boys both at school and at university.”
That is what I have said before, and continues to be of no surprise. However, in relation to the glass ceiling, Ms Connell added:
“it is to do with having access to career support throughout their working life in terms of going for promotion, and to softer skills, such as networking, mentoring and working with more senior men and women in the workplace, which is crucial.”
Influences on young people making career choices mean that there is a need for positive female role models from an early age, which is becoming increasingly hard in this age of celebrity.
The committee also heard from Linda Somerville from the Scottish resource centre for women in science, engineering and technology, who said:
“All too often, careers advisers and teachers are blamed for guiding young people up the wrong avenue, but it is parents and parental influences that most commonly reinforce people’s attitudes to or stereotypes about gender and employment.”
Ms Somerville then described a situation at a national economic forum at which employers were blaming others for the reputation that they had. However, when she asked them whether they had taken steps to rectify their reputations with schools, they said that
“they thought that taking such steps was beyond them.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 21 February 2012; c 240-1.]
Proactivity must be at the heart of the policies of those employers that struggle to recruit females, especially graduates who hold the same skills and qualifications as their male counterparts. In fact, we must all be proactive.
In “Tapping all our Talents—Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics: a strategy for Scotland”, which was published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, one of the key recommendations was that the Scottish Government should
“take the lead in committing itself to a national strategy for Scotland—an Action Plan—aimed at retaining and promoting women in STEM and led by a Cabinet Secretary”.
In fact, Linda Somerville stated that
“The Government could bring in a proactive programme that gives meaningful work experience and tries to move both sides into non-traditional industries.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 21 February 2012; c 241.]
She went on to highlight a pilot project in the north of England that has used college experience to move young men and women into non-traditional areas, such as beautician work for men, with positive feedback and evaluation. Similarly, a local engineering employer in my area runs a successful apprenticeship scheme every year, which has made a significant effort to recruit and retain women. However, no matter how much we praise modern apprenticeships, there are some people who take issue with the programme, saying that it appears to reinforce occupational segregation. That is something that I hope that we can consider further.
During the round-table session, we heard great examples of good practice in the areas of apprenticeships, career advisory services and work experience programmes. Kirsty Connell mentioned the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations third sector internship programme, and Dennis Robertson praised a modular programme in a school in his constituency aimed at secondary 2 pupils. There are many more great examples like those across Scotland.
One of the main themes that emerged was the lack of flexible childcare, particularly for women working shift patterns. In my opening remarks at the round-table discussion I noted my history as a Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers representative and the experiences that I shared with many women who worked part-time shifts or antisocial hours, especially those who are often asked to work at short notice or are forced to take time off due to lack of affordable childcare. Indeed, many of those who gave evidence in February declared that childcare should be flexible, widely available and free at the point of delivery, or at least much lower in cost. However, we all know that we are some way off that target.
Flexible childcare can bring women out of unemployment, as many struggle to find flexible jobs. It also reduces the stresses of juggling family and work life as women, especially single mothers, are traditionally expected to. For many large employers, flexibility depends on their corporate governance, on the size of their human resources office and on budgets and targets. I worked for a large retailer, and my colleagues and I were lucky because we had a good union agreement and representation, as well as an employer who would listen to and negotiate about flexible working requests. However, the attitude of many employers to flexible working is to offer either a zero-hours contract or a flexible contract. As I said at the round table, both examples give flexibility to the employer, but absolutely no flexibility to the employee. It appears that employers experience fear when employees request a change in their hours—a fear that must be exacerbated because of the recession, as companies increasingly struggle. It is not only employers who experience fear. Women are too frightened to request changes to their hours, as employers may use threats against the employee—and have done so—when such requests are made.
There must be a change in culture among employers and a change in attitudes. Many public sector bodies such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are years ahead of the private sector in their willingness to accommodate flexible working. However, as I mentioned, budgetary constraints make it easier for managers to turn down such requests. In many sectors, such as customer service, performance targets also have a negative effect on flexible working requests. Emma Ritch, from Close the Gap, underlined that point when she provided the example of a team in the financial sector for whom the financial performance targets were the priority.
I have touched on only some of the barriers and issues that women face in the workplace. I look forward to hearing speeches from members across the chamber in what I am sure will be a constructive and consensual debate.
- The Minister for Youth Employment (Angela Constance):
I am delighted to speak in the debate on behalf of the Government. As well as having an obvious portfolio interest, like other members I have a wider political and personal commitment to ensuring that women have an equal opportunity to get into and progress in work. I welcome the upcoming Equal Opportunities Committee inquiry into women and work, and I look forward to the committee’s discussions and findings.
The Scottish Government recognises that women face barriers to not just getting into work, but sustaining jobs in certain sectors, as well as experiencing difficulties with the availability of flexible working and progression opportunities. The Parliament has rightly focused its attention on the rise in female unemployment in recent times. Although the female employment rate in Scotland remains higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom, it has, over the past year, dropped by around 1.2 per cent. The situation is particularly acute for young women. Unemployment is rising faster among young women than among their male counterparts and we are seeing a levelling-out of youth unemployment, with the gender split currently 60 per cent young men and 40 per cent young women whereas, historically, the proportion of unemployed young men has been much higher.
I hope that the committee will have the opportunity to consider some of the longer-term concerns in addition to the current labour market challenges. Women are still underrepresented in a number of business sectors. The most recent figures on the pay gap show that women are generally paid around 11 per cent less than their male counterparts, and, despite encouraging increases in recent years, far fewer women than men enter self-employment. The current wave of welfare reform that is being pushed through by the UK Government is also having a particularly detrimental effect on women, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirming that women will be more adversely affected than men.
However, in the face of those challenging statistics, we must recognise that some progress is being made on several fronts, especially regarding young women. In the past academic year, 90.3 per cent of young women leaving school went on to a positive destination. That is an increase from 86.7 per cent in 2005-06 and is higher than the rate among young men, which is currently 87.4 per cent. Although there are still real challenges around the types of professions that women seek, 56 per cent of new entrants to higher education in 2010-11 were women and a staggering 77.9 per cent of medical students are women.
Equality underpins the Government’s economic strategy, which recognises that we must create a fairer society, in which everyone can participate. While many of the powers to help women are reserved to Westminster, the equality and budget group is helping to ensure that we consider the impact of every penny that we spend on key groups, including women.
For example, we understand that childcare remains a real problem for many parents. In addition to funding that has been made available to support learning and childcare, we have announced a major medium-term step. The children and young people’s bill in 2013 will increase the current provision of 475 hours of pre-school education to 600 hours of early learning and childcare for three and four-year-olds and looked after two-year-olds, to be delivered flexibly from 2014.
Later this month, we will hold a national summit with business representatives to explore how we can promote more flexible working and family-friendly policies in the business sector.
I am delighted to note that in the face of a hugely challenging financial settlement last year, the Scottish Government’s equality budget has been maintained at the 2011-12 level—£20.3 million—over the new spending review period, 2012-15.
We have increased spending on work to tackle gender inequality by nearly 30 per cent on the level that was allocated by the previous Administration, which I hope provides a clear signal that the Government gives a high priority to that work.
It is important to recognise, however, that there is no monopoly of wisdom or concern on this issue. We need to take expert opinion and listen to the views of women throughout Scotland on how we can help to move more of them into sustained work. I am therefore pleased to tell the Parliament that the women’s employment summit, announced by the First Minister in April, will take place on 12 September. The event will discuss issues such as childcare, workforce challenges, employability and welfare reform. We are working with the STUC to develop what we hope will be an inspiring event that generates a range of new policy recommendations for the Government and others to consider. I am sure that the work of the Equal Opportunities Committee will make a vital contribution to that debate.
- Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab):
I was invited to my local Asda last week, partly to hear about its successful work experience programme but, more important, to join its mums listening group, which is a new initiative in which the supermarket gathers together a group of mothers to talk about how the current economic situation is affecting them. It was a useful exercise to hear at first hand and to confirm the iniquitous choices that many families are having to make in the face of difficult circumstances.
One of the many things that struck me from the discussion was the unanimity of opinion among that group of women when asked what the Government and others could do to help. One example was cheaper, more flexible and more widely available childcare. They were all mothers, but they were also teachers, lawyers, shop assistants and more. Not all were ready to return to their previous occupations or careers, but all felt that their choices were constrained by the lack of affordable childcare.
There is no doubt that childcare is an incredible burden on parental income. Scottish childcare costs are among the highest in Britain. Scottish parents can expect to pay more than £100 for 25 hours of nursery care for children under two. In some cases, it is up to or more than £230 a week. For children over two years of age, families can expect to pay £95 a week—and that is when childcare is available.
I look back at the huge investment in and expansion of nursery education for all three and four-year-olds under Labour as one of the most significant achievements in the Parliament, but it feels as though progress on improving childcare has stalled. It is more than five years since the SNP promised extra childcare. Despite the political support that any such move would get from Labour, the Government has, as the minister has just confirmed, postponed the introduction of a children’s bill until next year at the earliest.
On the broader issues, I congratulate the Scottish Government on its promise to hold a women’s employment summit later this year, but, as with the lack of affordable childcare, I fear that not enough is being done to tackle effectively the central problems affecting women in the workplace. As the minister mentioned, we know that young people have been particularly badly affected by the recession, but it is worth highlighting that unemployment among women has increased faster than among men. In fact, since the SNP was elected, it has doubled from 4.1 to 8.2 per cent with more than 100,000 women now out of work.
I will not try to blame the Scottish Government for that entire issue or the wider economic recession that we are in, but I highlight that unemployment among men has dropped recently from 9.7 per cent, at the beginning of 2010, to 8.2 per cent. In other words, the impact of the recession has not been evenly felt. There is no single explanation for that, but gender stereotyping, segregation in the workforce and other negative attitudes and practices are undoubtedly a part of the cause. Even ageism, which demoralises so many people in their 50s and 60s who still have plenty to offer, is thought to affect older women more than older men.
Those unemployment statistics are likely to become worse as austerity cuts take an even greater toll on people’s lives. We know that cuts to the public sector are likely to result in further huge job losses with women expected to be worst hit. In fact, it was depressing to hear it confirmed today that more than 25,000 public sector workers have lost their jobs over the past year. I am afraid that it was no surprise to hear that unemployment among women in Scotland is now higher that it is across the rest of the UK. Basically, women are far more likely than men to be employed in the public sector—they account for two thirds of the workforce—therefore it is unfortunately the case that public sector cuts will lead to twice as many women losing their jobs as men.
If we look at the practical steps that we can take to make a difference, it is disappointing that the Government is not doing more. Last week, we called for a gender quota system to be introduced for public sector boards. That measure is supported by many organisations from Oxfam to the STUC, and I was pleased that Mary Fee, the committee convener, referred to it in her opening remarks. That proposal has been rejected by the Government despite the fact that quotas have proved successful in similar small countries, including Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
Of course, in addition to women facing a threat to their employment, there continues to be a glass ceiling. A pressing issue over which the Scottish Government certainly has control is that of the disparity between men and women in apprenticeship schemes. It is essential that we offer a vocational alternative, but we have to challenge gender stereotyping and segregation, not reinforce it. Such disparities create uncomfortable working practices and pigeonhole men and women in certain industries.
There is so much more that we can do. We need to close the pay gap, challenge occupational gender segregation, offer more, not less flexible working, and improve the gender balance at boardroom level. I am pleased to support the committee’s work in highlighting the challenges ahead.
- Annabel Goldie (West Scotland) (Con):
I am delighted, as a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, to take part in the debate, and I am very pleased that time has been found for it in the parliamentary schedule.
The inquiry that the committee will undertake into women and work is, in my opinion, extremely important for three reasons. First, there is an issue and everyone can see that. Secondly, there is a valuable opportunity afforded by the debate to identify and highlight the areas and the aspects of the issue that we as a committee need to explore. Thirdly, our committee and the parliament have the opportunity to inform thinking and practices not only in Scotland, but in the rest of the UK and beyond.
My starting point is that the economy and society benefit when women are at work. That means work in all the widely recognised fora that are workplaces; it also means women playing their full part at all levels within workplaces.
The number of unemployed women in Scotland is not just worrying and disturbing in its own right, but it suggests that during recession and times of financial challenge women are more vulnerable, which is an issue that Ken Macintosh alluded to. Much of that is down to inherent structural weaknesses in the employment pattern. Evidence suggests that women are predominant in low paid, insecure and short-hours jobs. That certainly is the view of Save the Children, which provided a helpful briefing for the debate. The reasons for that situation are multiple and some are more obvious than others. I certainly like to think that if our committee inquiry can lay bare those reasons and investigate sensible solutions to address them, we shall achieve two very important objectives: we shall accelerate the pace of women playing their full and proper role in the workplace and we shall strike at that structural employment vulnerability that is so damaging.
As has been indicated in the debate, some of the reasons are specific and obvious: lack of affordable childcare has already been identified as a major issue. However, that deficiency does not explain why some women fail to acquire skills to enter the workplace or, having acquired skills, seem to hit obstacles in career progression, or fail to be recognised as meriting consideration for public appointments, to which issue Mary Fee alluded; nor does it explain occupational segregation.
On the matter of skills, we like to think that with a combination of education, training opportunities and modern apprenticeships we do a lot to prepare young men and women for the workplace—and we do—but let me share an experience. Last week, I visited a successful manufacturing company in an area of significant unemployment. Much of the work requires full-time, skilled sewing machine operators. The company has vacancies, but it cannot fill them. Young people with those skills are not coming forward. I am taking the matter up with the local council to see what has happened to the teaching of such basic skills at school level, but I find that kind of mismatch in this day and age alarming.
The issue of the obstacles confronting women with skills was partially touched on in last week’s debate, as Mary Fee indicated, when the bizarre sparseness of women on many of our public sector boards of governance was highlighted. We all agree that the paucity of female presence has absolutely nothing to do with the unavailability of female talent, so there must be a question over attitudes and appointment procedures. In fairness, I have detected a willingness by the Scottish Government to take that on board.
The private sector, however, does not have too much to shout about either in that regard. The most recent labour force survey figures show that in skilled trades occupations 93 per cent of employees are men and 7 per cent are women; and in the realm of process, plant and machine operatives, 87.7 per cent are men and 12.3 per cent are women. The survey also shows that of 212,000 managers, directors and senior officials, only 36 per cent are women.
I believe that the whole scenario has to be probed. The minister was wise to say that no one has a monopoly of knowledge, wisdom or solutions on the issue. However, something is getting in the way of women getting on. Is it prejudice? Is it inadvertence? Is it attitude? Is it historic legacy? Is it lack of skills or lack of confidence? Is it lack of help with family responsibilities? In some cases, is it down to the individual choice of the woman? We need to find out. I hope that this debate will throw more light on what we need to explore, examine and challenge.
- The Presiding Officer:
We now move to the open debate. Members have only four minutes for speeches, I am afraid, and our time will be extremely tight.
- Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
As a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the vital work that is ahead of us to ensure that we remove as many barriers as possible for women seeking to enter their chosen career. I welcome, too, the minister’s announcement of the summit in September, which is perfect timing.
It is not just unemployment among women that should worry us, although that has doubled since early 2008. We should be equally concerned about the type of work that women undertake. Recent figures suggest that just over 40 per cent of employed women are employed part time, compared with roughly 13 per cent of men. In many cases, that is because flexible working policies have not been fully implemented by organisations, forcing those with young families to seek reduced hours in order to balance their work and home lives. That can have a knock-on effect on career progression and family income, which is not healthy for the economy or for society.
Linked to the issue of career progression is career choice. The Royal Society of Edinburgh released a report entitled “Tapping All Our Talents” in April this year, which details a possible future strategy to boost the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and halt the current situation whereby, unbelievably, 73 per cent of female STEM graduates drop out of the sector, which is an issue that we must investigate. The report also presses women to be more proactive in seeking out opportunities, to take risks and to step outside their comfort zone. I urge all of the members present to read that report and to consider how best to take on board its constructive recommendations for stopping that brain drain.
Equally striking is the disparity between economically inactive men and economically inactive women who have chosen to look after their families. Currently, 31 per cent of economically inactive women fall into that category as opposed to 5 per cent of men—those figures may be due to the continuing discrepancy between maternity and paternity leave, or they may be due to trouble accessing childcare.
As the Minister for Youth Employment mentioned earlier, the Scottish Government is beginning to tackle the issue of childcare by increasing the number of free nursery education hours from 475 to 600. That will make a huge difference to a number of women—certainly in my ken. Putting in place family-friendly structures through the national parenting strategy must continue to be one of our priorities, as must mitigating the disproportionate impact on women of Westminster welfare reform as best we can within the current constitutional parameters.
Women at all levels face challenges. Currently, there is a 10.7 per cent pay gap between men and women in full-time employment across Scotland. That gap is exacerbated by a glass ceiling whereby only 36 per cent of higher-level jobs are held by women. Indeed, only 35 per cent of the members of this Parliament are female. Like my colleague Shona Robison last week, I find it hard to believe that
“there are not equal numbers of ... suitable male and female candidates”
across the parties, and even harder to believe
“that the best candidate just happened to be male on so many occasions.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2012; c 10062.]
I encourage all members to give this issue some serious thought. Although society has taken some large strides in the past few decades to level the playing field, as always there is more that can be done.
- Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):
I thank the Equal Opportunities Committee and its excellent convener, Mary Fee, for bringing forward this important debate, particularly on a day when figures have been released that show that female unemployment is not going down in line with more general trends.
As a previous convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I want to touch on two issues. They are seemingly separate, but they share some similar solutions. Both relate to women on the edge.
This is refugee week and today is world refugee day. I want to highlight the particular plight of refugee women in their quest for work, so that both we as parliamentarians and others can consider how best to help.
“The Struggle to Contribute” is a report by the independent refugee women’s strategy group. Some of the group members are in the public gallery. The report identifies some of the barriers that are encountered by refugee women on their journey to employment in Scotland. The names of the women and some personal details have been changed to protect their identities.
More affordable childcare that is accessible for refugee women is sought. Amina fled her abusive husband and family in Pakistan with her young daughter three years ago. She was taken out of school to work before being forced to marry at 15. She had only basic literacy in Urdu when she was granted refugee status in Scotland. Amina had several hours a week of tuition in English for speakers of other languages while she was in the asylum process. Her jobcentre adviser has tried to persuade her to get a job in social care despite her poor English language skills. More funding is needed for specialist employability services, information provision, work placements and employability preparation for those who are in the asylum process and for those who are recognised as refugees.
Leila has a law degree from Algeria and had just started practising law when she was forced to flee with her husband and young son in 2001. Leila spent many years in the asylum process with her family living on less than 65 per cent of income support. Throughout the challenges that she faced, including two years in administrative homelessness, she has been an active member of her community and a volunteer. She speaks fluent English, Arabic and French, but her law qualifications are not recognised in this country. I ask the Equal Opportunities Committee and the Scottish Government to consider what the report recommends—that there should be mechanisms in place to recognise the qualifications and prior work experience of refugees.
We need to consider how we can monitor the specific impact that welfare reform and cuts to services are having on refugee women.
I also want to touch on the subject of women offenders, which is close to my heart. I have spoken on the subject in the chamber several times and, in the recent debate on women offenders, I spoke about the importance of breaking the pattern of reoffending by helping to create openings for women who have few or none. For many women who are caught up in the cycle of reoffending, the cause is financial exclusion, whether that is directly linked to criminal activity or whether it simply leads to circumstances in which crime is seen as the only option.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland noted in its evidence to the commission on women offenders:
“The social characteristics of prisoners suggest a lifetime of social exclusion. Compared to the general population, prisoners are ... 13 times more likely to have been unemployed”.
Evidence continually shows that women in employment are far more likely to desist from criminal activity than those who are unemployed.
- The Presiding Officer:
The member has 30 seconds left.
- Claudia Beamish:
I ask the members of the Equal Opportunities Committee and all other members in the chamber to consider those concerns and the issue of women on the edge. I am delighted to hear about the event to be held on 12 September, but I ask the minister to ensure that women on the edge are included in it.
- John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
As we have heard, women are being disproportionately affected by the recession, and that will be compounded by the policies of the Westminster Government, particularly with regard to welfare reform. The STUC is clearly concerned about the issue, especially as women’s unemployment has increased by 19 per cent in the past year, while male unemployment has declined. The general secretary of the STUC, Grahame Smith, said:
“The STUC looks forward to working constructively with the Scottish Government on this key issue over the coming months.”
I am delighted that it will be involved in the first women’s employment summit, which will be held later this year. The agenda certainly sounds interesting.
We cannot rewrite history, undo the wrongs or change the assumptions that have been made—assumptions that are often forgotten in a time of war. The post-war treatment of women is a clear example of hypocrisy in our society.
We know that women are more likely to have primary caring responsibilities, to work part time, to be in lower-paid jobs, to be in insecure and lower-status jobs, and to be lone parents. Those factors all impact greatly on what we are discussing. Many academic studies have covered the issues, and I am grateful to all the organisations that have provided briefings.
I will quote from an informal briefing that was provided to me following a conversation at the weekend with a young mother of twins in Inverness. Following a meeting with two other young mothers—she will like me calling her young—she provided me with some information about their concerns. I will tell members about them by quoting their words. As background, I note that they both work for the national health service and both have a child under one. One of the mothers has returned to work and the other has not.
Their concerns related to the following:
“Flexible working including the option to work weekends.
Lack of affordable and flexible childcare - only available 8 to 6, Monday to Friday.
Requirement to pay a month up front before a child starts with childminder/nursery - can be hundreds of pounds.
Employer attitudes to request to reduce hours on return from maternity leave - not always positive.
Complicated benefits/tax credits system that offers no assistance to middle income families.
Sheer number of firms offering childcare vouchers - one or two companies would simplify system both for parents and childcare providers.
Need for employers where possible to offer flexible working to fathers not just mothers.”
I am grateful to the convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee for mentioning the committee’s round-table discussion, at which we heard a flavour of the problems that exist. The convener mentioned as an example short-notice changes of shift for women who have primary childcare responsibilities, who often care for other family members as well. The significance of that is shown by the fact that it was discussed at the STUC women’s conference, and we had some very good input on it at the round-table discussion.
We also heard that there is a huge gulf between employers’ agreed policies and what happens in practice. I am grateful to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for highlighting the following, which is another issue:
“Work-life balance and diversity initiatives, as well as the right to request flexible working, are likely to be given lower priority by employers during the current recession.”
It is for that reason, and because of the well-documented concern that some people have about people’s ability to challenge malpractice, that we need strong trade unions and staff associations more than ever, not just to ensure that people are properly represented but to ensure that hard-fought-for workplace gains are not lost.
There is much that can be done. It is significant that neither of the two young women whom I mentioned knew about some of the Scottish Government initiatives. It is important that we get information out there. There is a lot to be done, and I look forward to the rest of the debate.
- Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab):
This is a very difficult time for both women and men, but there is no doubt that many problems have a particular impact on women. Unemployment among women is increasing; the pay gap persists; childcare is too expensive; flexible working is not widely available; and occupational segregation is rife, both horizontally through job stereotyping and vertically through women missing out on positions of power. Over and above all that, there is the sometimes subtle and unconscious discrimination that is quite difficult to identify and remove but which has been clearly exposed by many pieces of research.
The problem is knowing where to begin but, as in last week’s debate on gender quotas, it might be particularly helpful if we look at Nordic countries. This week, for example, a constituent recommended the Norwegian system of parental leave, which reserves some leave for men and allows both maternal and paternal leave to be taken simultaneously. Such a move would be helpful for women as well as everyone else and would fit into the wider agenda of family-friendly and flexible working that is so vital to families.
When that is not available, it is invariably women in our society who suffer—and let us not forget that the economy, too, suffers. Other members have referred to the Royal Society of Edinburgh report, which points out that, in contrast with men, the majority of women with qualifications in STEM subjects are not working in those areas and estimates the resulting cost to the economy at £170 million a year.
The public sector needs to show a lead in flexible, family-friendly working and I note that, in the Equal Opportunities Committee’s evidence-taking session, the NHS was particularly praised in that respect. I would go along with that view, although I know of another constituent who recently had to leave her job as an NHS nurse because she could not get the flexible arrangements that, as a single parent, she required.
Affordable, flexible and high-quality childcare is clearly central to all of this. Indeed, that was recognised over 20 years ago by women in the greater Pilton area of my constituency, when they identified campaigning for a childcare centre as central to their ambitions to get out of poverty and get into reasonably paid employment. In a Facebook exchange with me this morning, a woman who used the centre wrote:
“The Pilton Childcare Centre helped me to progress. I would not have been able to work full-time and do my degree without that project. I will never be able to thank the women who campaigned for the Centre enough.”
As I have said, such provision is central—and, as the minister knows, I cannot get through any of these debates without mentioning that wonderful childcare centre.
Occupational segregation is not only another massive issue but a major contributor to the pay gap. As gender stereotyping starts in the earliest years, it must be addressed at that point. However, it also needs to be addressed later on in, for example, modern apprenticeships, which various speakers have mentioned. The fact that only 2.6 per cent of engineering apprenticeships are female, while the reverse is the case for childcare apprenticeships, shows that this is a big issue.
The occupational segregation within companies and public organisations has been encapsulated in the phrase “glass ceiling”, but it also operates in subtle and unrecognised ways. A constituent who is doing research on the matter referred me to several fascinating pieces of research but, with only half a minute to go, I have no time to mention them.
There is also little time to mention the current public sector cuts package that is coming, in particular from the Westminster Government, but the fact is that, as the Fawcett Society makes clear in its report, austerity is having a particularly bad effect on women. It says—and this will be my final quote:
“Taken individually, the elements that make up the current austerity package will make life more difficult for many women across the UK; added together they spell a tipping point for women’s equality.”
I hope that that is not the case, but the Fawcett Society will be right if we do not redouble our efforts to address the many factors that make up gender inequality.
- Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP):
I am very pleased to speak in this Equal Opportunities Committee debate. As a previous member of that committee, I am proud to say that it lives up to its name and I commend its work.
Research has concluded that, in developed nations, there are clear links between higher rates of women’s employment and lower rates of child poverty. As Mary Fee said, Sweden and other small countries lead the way on that, while in Scotland there are much lower rates of maternal employment and much higher rates of child poverty. As Malcolm Chisholm said, there are certainly many lessons to be learned from other countries, particularly the Nordic countries.
I welcome the minister’s announcement that the women’s jobs summit will take place on 12 September. Among other issues, it will discuss childcare, which has been raised by almost every member so far; indeed, Ken Macintosh says that is his number 1 priority for getting women back into work. Although I welcome the increase in free nursery education for three to four-year-olds and looked-after two-year-olds, responsibility for children does not end when they reach a certain age. We have sometimes overlooked that when we have considered the various issues of nursery care.
We need to provide affordable childcare for the age group that is not in nursery school. Many women prefer not to go back to work when their kids are at nursery, if they are fortunate enough, but they want to go to work when their kids start school and the problems sometimes start there. They cannot re-enter their career and cannot re-enter the workforce.
A number of members mentioned the proportion of women in particular jobs. I will give members some of the stats that I looked up. In health and social care, 85 per cent of workers are female, yet in construction, 99 per cent of workers are male. In early years care and education—a very important career—98 per cent of workers are female, yet in vehicle maintenance, 98 per cent of workers are male. We must ask ourselves something here—it is a basic issue that every member has raised. Is that to do with gender stereotyping or cultural attitudes, and what can we do about it?
One of the things that we can do about it—and the Government can perhaps raise this issue at the jobs summit—is a positive attitude, which goes a long way. Obviously, having more female representation in the Scottish Parliament promotes a positive attitude to young women. Politicians can go out to schools and speak to young women’s groups to tell them where they can go, what we have achieved and how they, too, can achieve it. The media, teachers and parents can all put forward a positive attitude towards women.
Are the jobs and careers that have predominantly women employees undervalued? Is enough emphasis put on jobs such as teachers, nursery teachers, hospital workers and nurses, which are very important jobs? They seem to be undervalued. As Malcolm Chisholm said, it is about the economy. If women have the money, they will spend it, and their kids will be taken out of poverty. Perhaps the Government—possibly at the summit—will look at the undervaluing of those jobs. Perhaps it will take the lead by looking at the modern apprenticeship scheme to see where the money is going—whether it is to construction or to social care, as well.
I am grateful for being able to take part in the debate. I hope that we can move forward to give women a positive attitude and bring more women back into work.
- Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD):
I welcome the fact that the Equal Opportunities Committee is embarking on an inquiry into women and work. Within our devolved competence, much could be done to improve the situation. The committee’s chosen subject is, of course, very wide ranging and will throw up many interrelated issues that need to be tackled.
There is already a great body of research that committee members can draw on. Ahead of the debate, MSPs received excellent summary briefings from a range of groups, which I am sure will assist the committee in framing its terms of reference. In passing, I remark that I am surprised that there were no briefings from any of the unions or the STUC.
In 2012, why is it that to have children or to become a carer means inequality for women? Flexible working is not available in all types of work, including senior roles. Why is it that pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and other forms of workplace discrimination are not eliminated? Until we transform Scotland’s workplaces, women’s choices will remain limited. Men and women will not be able to lead family life in a way that works for them, older women will continue to be less independent than men, and our country will become less productive in a tougher global economy. Women are still undervalued and underpaid. I am particularly concerned about the apparent erosion of terms and conditions of those who are employed as carers, as councils continue to outsource provision of personal care for the elderly.
I urge the committee to look at the matter of women and work in the round. Topics for consideration should include occupational segregation, the modern apprentice programme and gender stereotyping generally in employment, vocational training and skills training, and how that reinforces occupational segregation throughout someone’s lifetime in employment.
As others have said, the issues of work-life balance and unpaid labour in care provision, which falls on women’s shoulders, should be considered. Access to childcare services, their affordability and their long-term stability are also issues. Another issue is the loss of employment opportunities for women as a result of the increase in part-time working by men. The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s recent report examines in great depth the lack of retention and progression of women in science, engineering and technology jobs. There is also a need to target women’s entrepreneurship and self-employment.
As members will know, I have always taken a keen interest in women in science, so I will focus on that subject in my last few comments. It is such a waste that 73 per cent of women with qualifications in SET subjects no longer work in those areas. There is no magic solution, but a consistent and pragmatic approach is needed to nurture young women scientists. The Scottish resource centre for women in science, engineering and technology, which is based at Edinburgh Napier University, is tackling many of those issues, but much more can be done.
The Athena SWAN project aims to increase the number of women recruited to top academic posts in science. By working with universities on staff development, mentoring and networking schemes for women, Athena is helping to embed best practice in science departments. I urge the Government to encourage all universities to take part in the project. It is extremely disheartening that only a few universities have so far shown an interest in Athena, which is a proven way forward.
A complex web of interactions is having a negative impact on the retention and advancement of women in the SET sector. Barriers relate to organisational culture, mobility, long working hours, returning to work after a career break and the widespread use of fixed-term contracts. Those all contribute to the leaky pipeline in science that we have heard about.
A change in workplace policies and practices is required to reduce attrition levels at all levels of scientific, engineering and technology-related employment. Whole workplace cultures need to change to make them fair places to work for everyone. We should create workplaces in which it is acknowledged that family life is at least as important as working life and in which every individual can progress to attain their full potential.
Mary Fee mentioned last week’s debate on women on boards. I am disappointed but not surprised that that debate received hardly any coverage in the media. I hope that the Equal Opportunities Committee’s work will be covered in depth by the Scottish media and that it will generate not only debate but an increased resolve to tackle the problems.
- Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP):
It is to be commended that the debate has been designed to cultivate the broadest possible discussion, given that the issue is so multifarious in its scope.
It is an affront that in Scotland, a northern European social democratic country, the gender gap still persists across our society in so many respects. I hope that the difference between ourselves and our Scandinavian neighbours does not elude most members. We know that girls tend to outperform boys at school, yet women are generally less well represented when it comes to senior management positions and to climbing the career ladder, especially in certain fields.
As others have mentioned, we know that the recession and the UK Government’s welfare cuts will have a disproportionate impact on women and will have a knock-on effect on their children and families. Although the Scottish Government is trying to do all that it can to mitigate those impacts, it is equally important that we know why the imbalance exists.
Annabel Goldie gave a list of reasons that she thought contribute to the imbalance. I would say to her that it is about all of the above. We know that low pay among women contributes to the high level of child poverty in Scotland. That is why, for example, the SNP included in its local government election manifesto a progressive pledge to introduce a living wage of £7.20 an hour in all councils to help to tackle the issue. That measure is necessary because almost two thirds of the thousands of people who will benefit from the introduction of the living wage are women. Although that modern, progressive policy is to be commended, as a society we should ask ourselves why the majority of our lowest-paid jobs are done by women and why men continue to dominate the boardrooms.
We remember that, in a number of our council areas, the process of implementing single status has been a long and tortuous process. Those who we would think would most benefit from it and welcome it have often been the most obstructive.
Just as concerning is women’s traditional exclusion from other fields. Although progress is being made in attracting women into STEM subjects and areas of work, gender stereotypes continue to prevail. Last night, at the British Veterinary Association dinner, we heard that 80 per cent of veterinary medicine students are women. However, when it comes to being in line for a partnership, how many of those women will be overlooked? There is probably the same issue in the legal profession.
White, able-bodied males still make up the largest group in Scotland’s workforce, but they no longer represent the majority, so continuing dependence on that demographic in science and technology is unsustainable and represents a lost opportunity for female scientists and engineers as well as for the sector as a whole. A modern, scientific, energy-rich nation such as Scotland must address the issue.
In the north-east, there are loads of employment opportunities in STEM subjects, but colleges do not have enough flexibility to decide where MAs go. We could replace hairdressing apprenticeships with engineering apprenticeships, for example. We must challenge attitudes.
- Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab):
The recession is biting and there has been a rise in female unemployment. We need to take the opportunity to change the status of women in work for the better. We must work towards creating a more aspirational society for the young women in our country, in which women are presented not with glass ceilings and low wages but with the flexibility to have a family and a career that is not just a job.
Scotland might have experienced the biggest fall in unemployment in the UK, but female unemployment increased by 23 per cent last year. We must take the Government’s positive spin with a pinch of salt.
Earlier this year I was glad when the minister announced a women’s employment summit, and I welcome her comments about that today. Unemployment among Scottish women has risen from around 85,000 to 105,000 during the past year alone, so it is only right that the Government should start to set out a process whereby the rapid increase in women’s unemployment can be halted.
Nursery care costs have risen by 6 per cent, and 44 per cent fewer families receive help with childcare costs. We need to consider how we can change the culture, so that instead of childcare being expensive and inflexible it is accessible to working parents from all walks of life. That will be a difficult task, but we need to address the matter.
I welcome the changes in relation to greater qualifications in the childcare sector, to bring about better care. We must ensure that childcare is not just an easily affordable service but a profession—a female-dominated one, at that—that works for providers and users.
As well as making it easier for women to access work, we need to tackle the quality of work that is available. Women should have access to work that is fairly paid and has reasonable hours.
In a recent survey, the recruitment service Timewise Jobs found that 72 per cent of Britons think that it is not possible to have a senior job and work part time. Timewise also found that one in seven part-time workers tries to hide their status from their colleagues. An unacceptable stigma is attached to part-time work. That needs to change. We need a culture in which part-time work is no longer viewed negatively and the flexibility and additional options that part-time work affords are encouraged. We need to dispel the connotations of low quality, low status and low pay that are associated with part-time work. Many jobs and sectors could be better suited to part-time working or working from home. We should promote a positive approach to part-time jobs and the flexibility that they bring for women, particularly women who have childcare or other caring responsibilities.
We all too often hear about the pay gap between men and women. The most recent figures indicate that, on average, there is still a 10.7 per cent gap between male and female pay. We must work to see that that stops. Groups that are working to decrease the gap, such as Close the Gap, are making substantial inroads to paving the way for companies in both the public and private sectors to secure equal pay, but not enough is being done. The Equal Pay Act 1970, which came into force in 1975—37 years ago—has failed to be enforced for far too long. We need to ensure that the same is not the case with the Equality Act 2010.
Companies should seek to change stereotypes, not perpetuate them. Women should not be turned down or overlooked for the possibility of promotion for fear that they cannot commit to the hours or that they may require maternity leave in the future.
- Richard Lyle (Central Scotland) (SNP):
I congratulate the convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, Mary Fee, on securing the debate.
In the past, the Scottish National Party has strongly supported the single agreement for local councils. That has played an important role in achieving equal pay in local government, which is a major employer in Scotland. That affirmative attitude has set the foundation for equal opportunities in all sectors and underpinned the importance of the work of women.
We now need to reassert our determination towards achieving equal opportunities in the labour market. Across all levels, we need to close the segregation gap by providing more flexible work opportunities. Although women comprise 48 per cent of the Scottish labour force, those workers still have primary responsibility for childcare. A disproportionate number of carers are women, and provisions need to be put in place to allow women to balance work life and home life. Many women seek employment that offers some flexibility, whether through flexible arrangements, shift working or part-time hours. The Official Report of the Equal Opportunities Committee meeting details many situations that are faced by women, whether they are single, single parents or married. I would love to go into that further, but unfortunately I do not have the time.
We must tackle discrimination and the stereotyping of female jobs. Some 64 per cent of the lowest-paid workers are women. Female workers are more commonly found in low-paid jobs such as cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering and caring jobs, and less than a third of top-level jobs are held by women. Conversely, their male counterparts can enjoy higher-paid jobs in various fields.
The Parliament should be committed to making transformational changes to childcare. I understand and support the upcoming children’s services bill, which will make local authorities legally obliged to deliver the 600-hour minimum requirement for the benefit of Scotland’s children and families.
We must pledge to reinforce the importance and value of women in the workforce by introducing a living wage by 2013. Almost two thirds of the beneficiaries of that will be women. We should always endeavour to make work accessible and diverse for both women and men.
In conclusion, I compliment the Scottish women’s budget group. A paper by that group that I have received says:
“The advancement of gender equality and women’s economic independence requires employment and skills development policy and programmes; effective childcare and other care provision; effective responses to UK government welfare reform measures; embedded gender analysis in policy and resource decisions. The forthcoming Scottish Government ‘Summit’”
“must be a turning point for women’s employment.”
- Annabel Goldie:
The debate has been short, but extremely useful. Mary Fee set the tone with an eloquent critique of the broad issues and rightly referred to the evidence that the committee took on 21 February, in trade union week. After that, it seemed to me that issues came in thick and fast from a variety of contributors.
Perhaps it is not surprising that issues such as childcare, the pay gap and occupational segregation have been covered by members, including the minister, Jean Urquhart and Alison McInnes, as has the challenge of family responsibilities, of course. As many other members have done, I welcome the minister’s confirmation that there will be a summit in September. Claudia Beamish raised the specific issues that confront refugee women.
It is easy to feel quite gloomy about the issue sometimes, but I think that all of us, having listened to the debate and sensed the degree of purpose to do something about it, now feel a sense of optimism. Margaret McDougall articulated that feeling very well when she spoke about having positive aspirations, although she tempered those remarks with her comment about the stigma that is attached to some part-time jobs.
Some interesting things are already happening. I was struck by the reference to the relevance of quality part-time jobs and flexible working. The evidence that the committee received on 21 February was supported by written submissions, including one from a member of the public who outlined her own experience of part-time working. She was clear about the lack of quality part-time work and—interestingly—about the difficulty of making the transition from full-time to part-time work. She also noted the challenge of having limited opportunities for training and promotion. A number of members have spoken about the pay gap, but there is also a gap—which is different, but nonetheless important—between flexible working policy and its implementation.
We are clear about the challenges in front of us, but we are also clear that we can approach the task as a committee with—as I just said—a tremendous sense of purpose. Our approach will be greatly assisted by the speeches from members in today’s debate.
The committee will want to look at examples of good practice, because there are such examples out there. Mary Fee mentioned her experience in the retail industry. I was made aware of a charity in Edinburgh called Women Onto Work, which supports women who are trying to get back into the workplace. I was very struck by what it does: it gets self-referrals from individual women who are seeking help, and it does so without using any marketing or getting any referrals from service partners. It has supported clients into employment, further education and even self-employment.
One of the most successful dynamics for change involves using the experience and example of successful women. I hope that the committee can explore that area and identify women who could make a positive contribution to our deliberations. With no disrespect to the Presiding Officer, I regard every woman in the chamber as a successful woman. We have counterparts throughout Scotland in every area of life: we need to take the success of those successful women and thread that into the warp and woof of the web of the Scottish workplace.
- Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
I welcome the debate. Although it may appear that we have had a quick-fire debate and sped through some of the issues, I hope that it will be helpful to the Equal Opportunities Committee when it considers the issue in more depth.
Every member who has spoken has mentioned the availability, flexibility and cost of childcare, and it would be wrong to start with any other issue. I am proud that the Labour Party introduced free nursery education for three and four-year-olds, and I welcome the Government commitment to increase that provision to 600 hours and to extend it to looked-after children and two-year-olds. However, I ask the Government to consider the issue further and to reflect on the debate, because one point that has emerged consistently has been the availability of good-quality childcare.
Margaret McDougall mentioned the quality of childcare, and—as other members have discussed—flexibility and cost. She said that qualifications should be looked at to ensure that those who provide the childcare are seen as doing an important job as well as enabling others to do their jobs.
Sandra White mentioned child poverty. Good-quality childcare has the ability to lift children out of poverty, and it is one of the most important factors in that regard.
Claudia Beamish talked about refugees, for whom childcare is one of the main issues. If any issue has emerged that must be considered by the Equal Opportunities Committee and the Government it is childcare and ensuring that there is adequate provision of what is needed.
An issue that was discussed last week and which has been mentioned again today is women’s representation on public boards. I urge the minister and the Government to look at that again. It is not a reserved matter; it is an area in which the Scottish Government can take action. Such action would make a huge difference, because people who are in a position to recruit others tend to recruit people who appear to be like them. If boards are dominated by men, they will appoint men to the top jobs. In that way, the problem is repeated for future generations. Until we stop and use some positive discrimination, we will not change things. We had the same arguments in the legal profession in relation to judges and the like. Until we ensure that there are women in positions in which they are recruiting, we will not get women coming through to the top jobs.
Another issue that has been touched on is skills. In schools, a process starts whereby gender stereotyping results in guidance teachers and parents pushing girls on to different career paths from those of boys. At the weekend, I heard someone from the Scottish Women’s Convention talk about an inquiry that involved it engaging with rural women and looking at the specific issues that they faced. A big issue that those women flagged up was that their daughters were being forced down a path that was not giving them the skills in maths and sciences that would equip them for a career outside school. We need to ensure that women get into the non-traditional industries if we are to tackle inequality and the pay gap. Another interesting thing that I learned is that in countries such as Russia, most welders are women, because they are recognised for their skills, their concentration and their attention to detail, not their gender.
This is a short debate. Suffice it to say that the Labour Party is committed to equal opportunities and to ensuring that the gender pay gap ends and that women have their rightful place in society.
- Angela Constance:
Like other members, I feel that we have only begun to touch the tip of the iceberg, but I am sure that all our appetites have been whetted for more.
The big message that we want to get out from the debate to businesses big and small, the length and breadth of Scotland, is that diversity delivers. Getting more women into work and progressing in work is not just the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. We cannot continue to underutilise the talents and abilities of the majority of the population.
Malcolm Chisholm was absolutely correct to mention the wonderful childcare centre in Pilton. I have had the opportunity to visit it, and it is an inspiring project. Claudia Beamish rightly mentioned that it is refugee week, and Richard Lyle touched on the fact that it is also carers week. There are fundamental employability issues to do with carers, refugees and women who are seeking to get into the labour market.
Mention has been made of the modern apprenticeship programme. I hope that it is accepted and welcomed that the number of women who participate in the programme has increased. In 2008-09, 2,857 participants in the programme were women; in 2011-12, that figure had increased to 11,383. That is not to say that I am complacent. I accept that if we were to scratch below the surface of those figures, we would see some significant gender differences, depending on the framework. Someone mentioned the very low participation rate of women in engineering.
I do not accept that the modern apprenticeship programme reinforces occupational segregation, but I accept that it reflects current occupational segregation in the workforce. I also accept that how we move forward in the modern apprenticeship programme will give us an opportunity to do things differently and to encourage more young women into growth sectors and more technical sectors. I accept that we have much to do on that, in conjunction with the careers information and advice that we give. Of course, we also have a job of work to do in convincing some parents of the merits of various occupations.
Maureen Watt, Jean Urquhart and Alison McInnes spoke about women who are in STEM-related professions and about the importance of the work of the Scottish resource centre for women in science, engineering and technology. The Scottish Government supports that centre’s work; we stepped in to fund it when it lost some funding from UK sources. We also heard about the seminal and important work by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to which the Deputy First Minister will respond formally.
We need to be ahead of the game as a nation and as an economy and to take the opportunities that we are afforded by new and emerging sectors. That provides a great opportunity to tackle occupational segregation. It is important to note that an equality statement will sit alongside the renewables route map.
Employers and industry-led solutions are key to finding long-term and effective solutions to getting more women into work and making progress in work, particularly in the STEM-related industries, as well as in the energy and renewables sectors.
Welfare reform and childcare have been mentioned extensively. I do not want to get into a spat with Mr Macintosh, but I will say that the need for flexibility in how we plan to move forward and in how we deliver pre-school nursery provision is part of why we need primary legislation, although I understand the instinctive urge always to want to do more and do it more quickly. For older children, social enterprises and out-of-school care are an important part of the jigsaw.
As for last week’s debate, I understand that Shona Robison’s position was that she—along with others—wanted to meet the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland to discuss the pros and cons of quotas, so the door has most certainly not been shut.
At the start of the recession, men experienced 70 per cent of the job losses. However, we now know that joblessness disproportionately impacts on women. That will require us all to act and think differently. I am all for the advancement of women’s economic independence, whether that is through getting more women into work, dealing with occupational segregation and equal pay, getting more women into self-employment or getting more flexible working opportunities. I hope, and my aspiration is, that the women’s employment summit will be a turning point for long-term effective change. I am sure that the Equal Opportunities Committee’s findings will make an important contribution.
- Stuart McMillan (West Scotland) (SNP):
This is my first summing-up speech in my five years in the Parliament. I am delighted to close the debate on behalf of the Equal Opportunities Committee. The debate has been open, interesting and wide ranging, and it follows on from a debate last Thursday morning.
I will try to capture much of what has been said but, before doing that, I will make a couple of points. The committee’s discussion of women and work in February was an excellent way of opening up the issue. I am sure that every member finds it abhorrent that major issues affect women in the workplace. My opinion is that the worst issue has been the lack of equal pay. The legacy of women receiving less money than men for doing the same or similar jobs is shocking. Nothing that I can say today will fully reflect my disgust with that situation. The point might have been addressed now, but how much money has been wasted by organisations defending the indefensible?
My second point follows on from the debate that took place last Thursday morning. I am happy that today’s debate has not been a mirror image of that debate, but last week’s debate has helped to open up today’s debate. Some of the issues that were discussed last week are just part of the wider range of issues that the Parliament and the Equal Opportunities Committee need to look at. I am sure that we will do so in our future work.
I will touch upon some of the points that were raised today and at the beginning of the process. When Elaine Dougall of the STUC women’s committee gave evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee, she made the powerful statement:
“Women bring diversity to an organisation.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 21 February 2012; c 247.]
I think of the strong women in my family and how powerful they have been in shaping how the family went through life. I would not be half the person that I am if it were not for my mother and the strong direction that I got from her. It is extremely important for organisations to realise that women bring a totally different perspective on how an organisation could run and its decision-making process. Elaine Dougall’s comment was extremely powerful and when the committee is going through its inquiry, it should remember that comment at all times.
Annabel Goldie’s contribution on the three reasons why she supports the inquiry tied in with that and I absolutely agree with her. When we do that piece of work, I am sure that the committee will be as one on many aspects of it.
Clare Adamson, who was a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee in February, made an extremely powerful comment about the wider issues when she spoke in last week’s debate. She said:
“It is far more fundamental and must involve us all embracing a cultural change in our society.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2012; c 10067.]
That hits the nail right on the head and begs the question of how we forge a cultural change. Our society needs to take a genuine look at all the issues that have been raised today and more—working hours, stereotypes, childcare, the gender quota, women on the edge, as mentioned in Claudia Beamish’s powerful speech, welfare reform, working hours contracts—so that we can forge some type of cultural change. Various members touched upon working hours and contracts for flexible working. Clare Adamson mentioned that last week and at the committee meeting in February, and Margaret McDougall spoke about certain terms of equal pay. That is a very powerful argument and another issue that we need to look at.
Again, various members touched on occupational segregation. I am also a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee. At the committee’s meeting this morning, Fergus Ewing touched on occupational segregation and modern apprenticeships in the renewables sector. That was quite interesting, because he said that the focus is not just on boys doing engineering and girls doing something else. There is a genuine understanding of the issues in that regard.
On Monday, I visited a school in Port Glasgow and had a lengthy chat on that issue with one of the teachers. Port Glasgow was traditionally a working-class area in the shipbuilding and engineering industries. We talked about how young people’s attitudes today are different from what they were 30, 40 or 50 years ago, as are the opportunities.
Sandra White talked about modern apprenticeships. I am sure that everyone will welcome the women’s summit that will take place in September.
Many members spoke about childcare. In evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee, Anne-Marie Mackin of Play First (Scotland) Ltd made the powerful comment:
“If the childcare issues were dealt with so that care was available for longer hours, was more responsive to family needs, was provided in the right locations and was either free or relatively affordable, that would deal with many of the other issues.”
Obviously, there are positives. All members should warmly welcome the increase to 600 hours of free childcare a year under the forthcoming bill next year. I dare say that that measure will be welcomed, once it has been thoroughly scrutinised.
Another issue that was raised was about welfare reform. Once again, Anne-Marie Mackin made a comment that I thought was bang on the money when she said:
“I think that welfare reform might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 21 February 2012; c 249, 261.]
All members understand that welfare reform will have a detrimental effect on hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland, both male and female. However, given the issues of working conditions and childcare, welfare reform will have more of an adverse effect on women than on men. I am sure that we will consider that in our inquiry.
There are positives. I warmly welcome the women’s summit in September and the proposed increase in nursery provision. The work on the living wage in Scotland is also welcome. However, I absolutely agree with Richard Lyle that we need to reassert our desire for improvement. As the father of two young daughters, I want them to grow up in a Scotland that is fair and equitable and in which they have exactly the same opportunities and chances as males. I want them to work hard, but I want them to have exactly the same chances and opportunities. I look forward to the inquiry with my colleagues on the Equal Opportunities Committee. I dare say that we will discuss the issue further in the Parliament.