Public Institutions

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 16th October 2014.

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Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon 9:30 am, 16th October 2014

What steps she is taking to increase representation of women on the boards of public institutions.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

The Government want half of new public appointments to be women by the end of this Parliament. The Cabinet Office has established the Centre for Public Appointments, which is supporting Departments in modernising recruitment practices, removing long-standing barriers, and emphasising skills and ability over previous experience. This has attracted a more diverse field of candidates to these important roles. The proportion of new female appointments stood at 39% last year, but there is clearly more to do.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Does the Minister agree that as well as board appointments, it is vital that we have more women chief executives in public sector roles? Will she pay tribute to Ros Tolcher, who has become the chief executive of Harrogate hospital, which serves part of my constituency, taking to 100% the female leadership of NHS hospitals supporting Skipton and Ripon?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I certainly support the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the excellent senior women delivering public services in his local health care system. It is important that we have women on boards but also in executive roles. We have been making progress on this in the private sector, although there is clearly a lot more to be done there as well. The executive challenge has perhaps been a slightly more difficult nut to crack at the same speed at which we have been able to improve the numbers of women on boards more generally. The work we are doing to improve the pipeline support for women in the workplace is absolutely vital.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

Yesterday Google and Facebook announced that instead of pursuing family-friendly practices, they were offering women a chance to freeze their eggs for 10 years, in essence saying, “If you want to get to board level, you should have frozen your eggs.” Is not this the worst case of institutional sexism, intimidating women into not having babies at the time of their own choosing? Will the Minister unequivocally condemn those companies?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

It is up to individual companies to decide which policies they want to offer and, indeed, up to women employees whether they provide any kind of incentive or otherwise. What is important is making sure that there are genuine choices that women in the workplace can make so that they do not feel under any kind of pressure to delay starting a family, if that is what they want to do at a particular point in their career. The Government’s changes to make the procedures for maternity leave and shared parental leave much more modern are essential in making sure that women and men can make the parenting choices that work for them.