International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:54 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Redfern Baroness Redfern Conservative 4:54 pm, 7th March 2019

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for moving the Motion to mark International Women’s Day. I am proud to take part.

Tackling injustices such as the gender pay gap is part of building a country that works for everyone. It is simply good business sense to recognise the enormous potential of women and to take action to support and help progress female talent.

The target for women to make up 33% of FTSE 100 boards by 2020 is ambitious, but it is part of a commitment to drive forward workplace equality and to look for opportunities to demolish barriers. Many of the UK’s top companies are already leading the way in making sure that everyone’s contributions to the workplace are valued equally.

However, the gender pay gap is not going to close on its own. BAME women, disabled women and younger women are still woefully underrepresented and have experienced significant discrimination over the past years. Sciences and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. In many cases, long-standing bias and gender stereotypes are still steering girls and women away from science-related fields.

Women’s employment continues to be on the rise in traditionally male-dominated STEM fields. In 2018, the head engineers at Google, Adobe, Lockheed Martin, Apple, SpaceX and General Motors were breaking barriers not only as women in STEM but as women from diverse racial backgrounds. However, women are still deeply underrepresented.

Last year saw women breaking the Nobel prize barriers, with Professor Donna Strickland becoming the first woman in 55 years to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, joining a very small group which includes Marie Curie. Professor Frances Arnold shared joint honours in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the fifth woman ever to win the award. What role models they are to aspire to. Studies continue to confirm that girls and women have just as much natural aptitude as men when it comes to STEM subjects.

The message is getting clearer. Girls and women are getting the message that they belong as much as boys and men in computer science, where no one should be told that they cannot. The number of computer science jobs is projected to grow by 15% to 20% through to 2020, but it is thought that the majority of these positions will be filled by men.

As STEM-related industries on the whole add more than 1.7 million jobs in the coming years, we do not want a notable absence of women in the field. At a time when technology continues rapidly to transform the way we live, we can and should work to empower more young women to take an active role in that transformation, to encourage young women to be challenging and confident and to look past everything when entering a male-dominated field, with aspirations of making their own individual mark.

The lack of visible female role models continues to be a major problem, so we have to raise the interest in STEM subjects at every stage of the STEM skills pipeline. To do so earlier and earlier, even at primary school, would intrigue young, inquiring minds and help them think about futures in the tech industry, for the tech industry stands ready to turn pink.

It is not only about the enticement of pay; it is also about what female talent can bring to STEM and the impact on STEM itself. The UK and the world are ready for women, and will change. It is about stating the fact: “You can be what you want to be”. The race is on.