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Women face huge disadvantages in their working lives

Women from all walks of life are still finding that their gender affects their experience of employment and the labour market, according to new research findings being released at a national conference on Thursday 13 July 2006.
Headline findings from the study, conducted by experts at Sheffield Hallam University are:
  • over half of women working part time are working below their potential – 2.8 million women nationwide
  • women are more likely to live in poverty in the UK than men – yet women’s poverty and the reasons for it have been overlooked in many Government regeneration schemes
  • 1.4 million women outside paid employment want to work - but are often barred from the job market as they lack support and cannot find decent jobs flexible enough to meet their needs. Policy makers need to do much more to smooth the transition back into employment for those who have had a career break or need to update their skills or gain experience
  • in some localities a serious qualifications deficit exists, with low qualifications affecting women of all ages. In some localities more than one third of young women and half of older women had no qualifications
  • young women in deprived areas often have very poor experiences in the labour market and struggle to find a way into work
  • women are more concentrated at the bottom of the jobs ladder – they are also more likely than men to work close to home and most still have to fit their jobs around caring roles and domestic responsibilities
  • in the local authorities studied over 60 per cent of women earning over £27,000 a year had never used their organisation's flexible working policies
  • in some areas Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black African women were very much more likely to be unemployed than local White women living nearby
  • the proportion of working age women who are graduates has risen strongly - with a very marked rise for Indian, Pakistani and Black Caribbean women aged 25-44 – yet this is often not reflected in their position in the labour market

The findings from the three year programme of research suggest that there is still some way to go before women's skills, qualifications and experience are properly utilised in the workplace, and that until jobs are better designed and better paid, employers will be missing out on a crucial pool of talent.

The study, by experts at Sheffield Hallam University, focussed on a variety of factors that affect women's working lives - women and part time work; pay; unemployment and inactivity; employment in domiciliary care; ethnic minority women and access to the labour market; addressing women's poverty; and women's career development in the local authority sector. The studies explored the themes at local level across eleven localities in all parts of the country and listened to women's experiences, including those living in some of the most deprived areas of England. Each of the six new reports compares findings from different parts of England to highlight key local and national issues.

Professor Sue Yeandle, leader of the research programme at Sheffield Hallam University explains, "This far reaching study shows that women from every walk of life are finding that their workplaces do not meet their needs and that their gender affects the jobs that are available to them and their prospects for the future.

“Some women are still struggling to get into the labour market even though many employers are crying out for job applicants and reporting skills shortages.
"If the national economy is to continue to prosper, then the skills, talent and enthusiasm of half its population cannot continue to be under-utilised in this way. We must move on from an employment system designed for the last century. It makes good business sense to design jobs around real people's lives as this is the only way employers can recruit from the best possible pool of people and retain the talent they have."

Frances O'Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary, said: “This study proves that raising a family or caring for elderly relatives has a major impact on the jobs and careers of the UK’s female workforce. Many women work locally because they have to fit their paid work around school hours and childcare. This limits the type of jobs they can do and many women face an uphill struggle to access training or find work that fulfils their potential. As a result, many women earn much less and don’t progress as far in their careers as men of a similar age. "

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said, "These findings show that women are still facing many obstacles in the workplace and often end up in low paid, low prospect work despite being well qualified, especially when they want to work flexibly. There's a real opportunity for all us here. If the pay gap were closed, the Women and Work Commission estimates up to £23 billion could be added to the economy per year. It's particularly important to open up higher paid work to people who want to work flexibly so that they don't have to "trade down" to find the working style they need and employers don't have to lose out on their skills and experience. The EOC's ongoing investigation into transforming the workplace is looking, with employers, at how to do this."

The Gender and Employment in Local Labour Markets (GELLM) research programme was funded by a European Social Fund grant, with support from the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Trades Union Congress and the 12 English local authorities where the research was undertaken. The findings will be presented at a major conference, Promoting Gender Equality in Local Labour Markets, at Congress House in London on Thursday 13 July 2006, when the programme’s six new reports will be launched.

Lorna Branton | alfa
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