I am pleased to open the debate—the first that I have opened as the Minister for Employability and Training—on a subject as important as gender equality and the workplace is. I think that I am right in saying that, to a great extent, the subject unifies—as it should—rather than divides our Scottish Parliament.
Progress has been made and continues to be made, but women in Scotland continue to face a multitude of barriers and inequalities in relation to the labour market. Challenging those inequalities will be a priority for the Government.
Scotland’s economy rests on the talents of our people. I am sure that we all agree, as an Administration and collectively as a Parliament, that we can have a fully participative economy only by harnessing our collective strengths so that we can be more productive, more innovative and more successful.
To truly maximise our country’s potential, we must break down the barriers to work that women experience. Women are the focus of the debate, but it applies to other groups, too, including people from ethnic minority communities, disabled people and people who have experienced economic deprivation. Many individuals fall into more than one of those groups, which opens them up to multiple barriers.
On Monday, the Scottish Government published a research paper called “New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap: Trends and Drivers”. One of the key findings of the research is that the pay gap differs greatly by age group and is a particular problem for older workers. The paper reinforces much of what we know about the causes of the gender pay gap, including occupational segregation, discrimination and the inequality in unpaid care responsibilities between men and women.
I know that the parliamentary session has been going for a while, but this is my first opportunity to welcome Ms McNeill back to Parliament. I do that now, if it is not already somewhat late in the day to do so.
I will always be open minded about suggestions on where we could do additional work to fill gaps in the data that we collect. I am happy to reflect further on Pauline McNeill’s point. If she wants to contact me directly, I will be happy to respond to her.
The research paper also provides us with reflections on the prevailing attitudes to the roles of men and women in relation to work and the home. The first point, which is something for us to welcome, is the substantial reduction in the full-time and overall pay gaps in Scotland over the long term. The overall pay gap, which relates to all full-time and part-time workers, stands at 16.8 per cent. That is still too high, but it is down from 26.6 per cent in 1997. The full-time pay gap in 2015 was 7.3 per cent, which is 2.1 percentage points lower than the United Kingdom figure for the same year, and is down significantly from 18.4 per cent in 1997. There has been considerable positive progress.
However, if there is one word that is used to describe the gender pay gap time and again, it is “persistent”, so although we welcome the progress, we are not complacent. We are clear that achieving gender equality in the workplace will require action on lots of fronts. One such area, which I mentioned a few moments ago, is occupational segregation—the concentration of men in higher-paying employment and of women in lower-paying job sectors and industries. It is arguably one of the biggest drivers of the pay gap, and that is reflected in Alex Rowley’s amendment. I say at this early stage that we will be very happy to support that amendment this evening. I hope that the rest of Parliament will join us in that.
Occupational segregation is not easy to address. The process whereby men and women are channelled into different jobs starts early—perhaps from birth, when gender stereotypes start to be imbued. That happens not maliciously or nefariously, but perhaps unconsciously, so rooted are traditional ideas about what is gender-appropriate in our society. If we are honest with ourselves, it is something that probably all of us are guilty of perpetuating in that unconscious manner, in small ways—for example, the language that we use and the toys that we buy for our children.
Gender constructs start very early and are easily carried into and through a child’s education and into adulthood. That is why challenging the gender stereotypes that lead girls and boys to feel that they cannot study some subjects or do some particular forms of employment is vital. It is essential that we challenge such stereotypes, so we are seeking to do that on a number of fronts, with the help of our partners. It is a top priority for the Government’s developing the young workforce programme, and we have set ambitious targets to increase the gender minority share in the most imbalanced college subject groups and modern apprentice frameworks by 2021. We are investing £1.5 million over the next three academic years, through the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, in a programme of equality projects across Scottish colleges and universities.
We will continue to support third sector partners, including Equate Scotland and Close the Gap, to support recruitment, retention and return of women in sectors where they are underrepresented; to encourage workplace cultures and practices that support gender equality; and to help young people to challenge gender stereotypes in subject choices and careers.
We are also taking decisive action to combat pregnancy and maternity discrimination. That follows a report that was published last year by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which revealed that every year one in nine new mothers is forced out of her job as a result of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. We would do well to reflect on the fact that that is not only totally and utterly unacceptable but is against the law.
I am therefore happy to announce to Parliament that I will personally chair a working group to identify action to tackle that unacceptable discrimination, including by developing guidelines for employers to ensure that they meet their obligations. The group will work with NHS Health Scotland to ensure that work environments are safe and healthy for pregnant women and new mothers, and to provide employment rights information for pregnant women at first contact. I will be very happy to speak with any member of this Parliament who has a particular interest in the area, if they want further details, and to keep Parliament informed of that working group’s work, as it moves forward.
Inequality in the context of unpaid care is another underlying driver of the pay gap between men and women. Women are more likely to work part time, juggling responsibilities for caring for children or grandchildren, or for disabled or elderly family members, friends or neighbours. The impact of the disproportionate shouldering of caring responsibilities by women is highlighted in the report, “An Investigation of Pensioner Employment”, which was published on Monday. The researchers considered the experience of working pensioners and found that female pensioners tend to work in lower-skilled jobs than their male counterparts, which is likely to be the result of their balancing of work and caring commitments.
That is not necessarily a new finding, but what is interesting in the context of the gender pay gap is how ingrained in society traditional attitudes about the roles of women and men are. According to social attitudes surveys, there remains a persistent general view that women, rather than men, should make the compromises that are necessary to balance family and work—and that view is shared by women and men.
I am very interested in the minister’s comments about unpaid carers. Given the legacy from the previous parliamentary session and the new powers that are coming to this Parliament from the Department for Work and Pensions, will the Government or the Social Security Committee consider the unpaid-care aspect of proposals? For example, an unpaid carer could be looked on more favourably if they had been late for an appointment and sanctions were being considered.
We need to remember that not all this area will become the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament; I do not want to give unpaid carers out there the impression that we will be able to do absolutely everything. However, having been the minister with responsibility for Scottish Government policy on carers, I can say that we have a good track record of doing what we can to support unpaid carers. Parliament passed the Carers (Scotland) Bill earlier this year; it will be for my colleague Aileen Campbell to implement the legislation. Where we have control and responsibility, we will do what we can to support Scotland’s unpaid carers better.
The prevailing view among men and women—that women should make the compromises that are necessary to balance family and work—has interesting consequences for how improvements in family-friendly working policies and flexible working opportunities might impact on the pay gap. If it is predominantly women who take advantage of such opportunities, it is conceivable that the overall pay gap will widen, rather than narrow. Of course, that does not mean that we will stop promoting family-friendly practices and flexible working opportunities. Far from it—it will continue to be a priority, because it is incredibly important if we are to address the pay gap that is experienced by older female workers and female pensioners who want to continue to work. However, we should also support men in accessing such opportunities. We should encourage both women and men to return to work after a break, if that is their choice. The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 should make a difference in that regard.
We have announced that we will trial a new women returners project to help women to get back to work after a career break. The project aims to address the issue by working with employers to put in place the right training and processes to support women to make the transition back into the workplace, if that is their choice.
Ms White asked how we will use the new powers. We are using the new powers that have been transferred through the Scotland Act 2016 to remove fees for employment tribunals because a strong legal framework protects women—and, indeed, all workers—only if they can access justice.
I thank Jamie Hepburn for his largesse. Is the minister aware that Unison has so far made two applications for judicial review of tribunal fees, both of which the High Court has dismissed because there was insufficient evidence that the drop in claims since the introduction of fees was due to inability to pay?
I am sure that the member thought that that was a tremendously clever question. No, is the answer; I was not aware of that fact, but through my work with the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth unemployed workers centre—which is an important organisation that is based in my constituency—I am aware of the tremendously negative impact that the introduction of the fees has had on the ability of low-paid workers to access justice. We will stand by the move that we have taken.
We will continue to champion the living wage, which helps women, who account for 65 per cent of employees who earn less than the living wage. Right now, working with the Poverty Alliance, we have more than 550 accredited living-wage employers in Scotland, and we aim to reach 1,000 by the autumn of 2017. The Scottish Government, of course, pays the living wage to everyone who is covered by its pay policy. This is probably an appropriate juncture to set out that that is the reason why we will not support the amendment in the name of Ms Wells, which says that we should welcome
“the UK Government’s introduction of the national living wage”.
We know that it is anything but the living wage. It is a con trick; it is not the living wage that has been set by the Living Wage Foundation, which is the living wage that we will stand by and continue to pay so that low-paid workers—especially low-paid women—can benefit from it.
We will continue to do all that we can, make every effort and take every stride to reduce the gender pay gap and ensure that women have the same opportunities as men in the Scottish workplace.
That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Government publication,
New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap
, which shows that the gender pay gap is lower than in the UK and has reduced substantially over the long term, recognises that a significant gap persists for some age groups, sectors and occupations and explores key drivers such as inequality of unpaid care, traditional social or employment attitudes and culture; notes the wide range of Scottish Government policies designed to help close the gap and benefit women in the workplace, including encouraging payment of the living wage, increasing free childcare, challenging pregnancy and maternity discrimination, addressing occupational segregation, working towards gender balance on boards and promoting family-friendly and flexible working; agrees with the establishment of an advisory council for women and girls; welcomes the addition to the National Performance Framework of the new national indicator tracking the gender pay gap over time, and commends the work of the Strategic Group on Women and Work for helping bring this agenda forward across the various sectors of the Scottish economy.
I welcome, as I am sure many people do, Scottish politics’ strong engagement with the issues of gender equality. Scotland’s largest three parties are now led by women—Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale—and, as Ruth Davidson showed last week in the televised debate, women can be as formidable as any man.
However, I am not so naive as to think that everything is hunky-dory. There is much more to do to promote gender equality in public life. Female employment figures in Scotland are at a record high of 71 per cent—second only to Sweden—but I will discuss more complex forms of inequality in the workplace. To address such inequality, we need to look at the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, at the gender pay gap and at inflexible and unaffordable childcare.
As it stands, women are still underrepresented in a variety of spheres. Although female employment recently hit record highs in Scotland, women make up only 36 per cent of public boards, less than 35 per cent of MSPs and 24 per cent of councillors. As Equate Scotland does much to publicise and address, women continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and maths. For example, in 2014, only 3 per cent of engineering modern apprentices were female, and a recent Education Scotland report found that girls represented a mere 20 per cent of entries for higher computing. That is why I am pleased to see the Scottish Conservatives’ support for the Royal Society of Chemistry’s endeavour to get STEM specialists in primary schools.
There is still a sizeable pay gap between men and women. Women managers earn on average 22 per cent less than their male equivalents and, across the UK, a woman earns on average 80p for every £1 earned by a man. That is why I welcome the UK Government’s proposal to push businesses with more than 250 employees to publish the difference in earnings between average male and female employees. We are lucky as MSPs to work in an environment where pay is transparent and fair. Unfortunately, that does not apply everywhere.
The likes of Norway, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have all introduced mandatory gender quotas; supporters claim that they speed up women’s representation where it is developing too slowly and provide a positive counterbalance to existing discrimination. So, what is not to like? I believe that gender quotas are not the best tool to achieve equality and diversity, for a number of reasons. First, positive discrimination of that sort runs the risk of alienating women who have achieved their positions on merit. Quotas may foster attitudes that women have been successful only because of quotas, rather than because they have been recognised for their achievements. Quotas tend to drive the wrong behaviour, fulfilling targets but masking and ignoring underlying problems in organisational attitudes and infrastructure.
Gender quotas can have unintentional negative effects that entrench gender inequality. That is most clearly seen in Norway, where a small number of women sit on multiple public boards in order to fulfil the gender quota commitment of 40 per cent. That has led to a small group being nicknamed “golden skirts”. A recent study showed that, over a period of four years, eight women had more than 16 directorship appointments, compared with only two men. That only serves to aid a very narrow group of women rather than securing wider benefits. It has also been shown that stock prices and asset values dropped following the introduction of quotas in Norway, and that it led to younger, less experienced and less capable boards.
Nor are gender quotas supported by British businesses. A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 60 per cent thought that mandatory quotas should not be introduced. Several respondents felt that mandatory quotas could result in a numbers game rather than addressing the real issues concerning female progression to senior roles. I share the view that quotas lead to the glossing over of structural problems once the box has been ticked and targets have been met.
The factor against quotas that I find most convincing is that they undermine women’s confidence in their own abilities, as colleagues presume that they have reached their positions only because of gender, rather than on merit. Studies by the psychologist Heilman between the mid-80s and mid-2000s found that women who were explicitly identified as being hired under quotas were generally seen to be less competent and deserving of their positions. That applied even where it could be demonstrated that they were as competent and qualified as their male colleagues.
The work of the UK’s Davies commission has shown that a voluntary, business-led approach can be successful instead of using mandatory quotas. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and there has been no shortage of experienced, capable women to fill those seats. Women on Boards UK now counts nearly 10,000 aspiring women in its network. Executive search companies have adopted a second voluntary code to promote transparent and fair recruitment practices. All those have been achieved without the need to rely on mandatory quotas.
There are clear alternatives to mandatory quotas in order to boost female representation. Promoting good work-life balance is crucial to ensuring that both women and men can thrive in organisations. Accessible and affordable childcare arrangements are a critical part of that, as I have referenced in my amendment. The Scottish Government’s plans to double childcare for three and four-year-olds—to 30 hours a week—is fantastic in theory, but hours are split into blocks of three hours and ten minutes. For the majority who live hectic lives, and for anyone working nine-to-five or shift patterns like I did in retail, the numbers—although high—are unworkable. The Glasgow-based campaign group fair funding for our kids has worked tirelessly to highlight that issue. The group began its focus in Glasgow and now champions reform countrywide; it argues that families are not able to make the most of their entitlements because of the unsuitable hours that are offered by most council nurseries.
We need innovation such as that in Sweden, which uses a childcare credit or voucher system. Parents should be able to use their hours how they wish, using a mixture of private, local authority and partnership care. That is the only way in which we will be able to accommodate any increase. Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, doubling childcare eradicates the one-day model made up of one morning and one afternoon session. A new 9-to-3 model will require huge investment in childcare—that is not accounted for by the Scottish Government. We estimate that 650 new nurseries will need to be built and 3,250 new nursery staff will need to be trained. The move to 30 hours a week will result in a 40 per cent reduction in available council places, with 72,000 places needing to be found.
I am in my final minute; I am sorry.
In Glasgow alone, it is estimated that there will be a shortfall of nearly 3,500 nursery places for children aged two to five. That is echoed elsewhere in the country.
The Scottish Conservatives champion establishing unbiased human resources policies that are regularly monitored and reviewed. That is a step in the right direction, and it includes establishing a transparent recruitment process that is free of bias. Organisations must also do all they can to retain talented women. That can be achieved through dynamic career planning, so that employees have a clear sense of direction; solid promotional opportunities for women; and high levels of support, training, coaching and mentoring for all staff, regardless of gender. Closing the pay gap between men and women would also make for a fairer system and providing positive female role models in an organisation sends the message that women can get on.
This all boils down to the need to have an open and supportive culture in an organisation that values merit and allows women to rise through the ranks.
Rather than rigid quotas, I would like to see women’s progression supported by open and supportive working cultures, transparent and unbiased recruitment processes, clear career paths, and good work-life balance achieved through flexible working and appropriate childcare provision.
I move amendment S5M-00607.1, to leave out from “including” and insert:
“; welcomes the UK Government’s introduction of the national living wage; calls on the Scottish Government to increase free childcare to include a higher proportion of disadvantaged one and two-year-olds and to implement this in a way that is flexible with modern working patterns; notes Scottish Government measures to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination, address occupational segregation, work toward gender balance on boards and promote family-friendly and flexible working; agrees with the establishment of an advisory council for women and girls; welcomes the addition to the National Performance Framework of the new national indicator tracking the gender pay gap over time and commends the work of the Strategic Group on Women and Work for helping bring this agenda forward across the various sectors of the Scottish economy, and also notes that work must be done to encourage appropriate male and female representation across all professions.”
I welcome the debate. The level of interest in the debate and the number of briefings that have come in from different organisations shows how important the issue is seen to be across Scotland. It also shows that there is a lot of expertise out there and many organisations that want to see Scotland making good progress.
In the discussions that we have had on the communities brief, we have said that we need to create a joined-up, inclusive strategy across Scotland. That is the only way that we will make real progress on many of the issues. Added to that, we need joined-up government. The minister said that there are many actions to take on many fronts and, as members can see from the briefings that we have received, there are many issues to consider. If we are to achieve some of those actions, we need joined-up government in which the Scottish Government works with local government and Scotland’s dynamic third sector. That has to be our aim if we are to move beyond just having debates in the chamber and make really good progress.
Although I am supportive of the motion and we accept that progress has been made, we need to make more progress. I am pleased that the minister has said that he will accept Labour’s amendment. On the Conservative Party’s amendment, we need to stop confusing the increase that George Osborne made to the minimum wage with a real living wage. That creates confusion; the two are not the same thing.
In its briefing for the debate, close the gap talks about the education and skills pipeline. It says:
“Gender segregation is evident along the skills pipeline with assumptions made about the capabilities and interests of girls and boys from pre-school onwards. From a very early age, fixed ideas based on gender norms and stereotyping influence the decisions that children and young people make around subject and career choice.”
That is absolutely correct. This morning, I was thinking about my visit to the aircraft carrier project at Rosyth. We went on to the aircraft carrier and then came off to have a meeting. Somebody asked me whether I had I noticed many young women or girls working on the ship as apprentices or engineers, and I said no. They said that if I had gone to any other major engineering project across Europe I would not have found the same situation. There seems to be a British or Scottish thing going on here. We can maybe learn some lessons from the rest of Europe about encouraging people from a young age, because that does not seem to happen here. Most of the engineers on that carrier project would be earning fantastic salaries and would have a real bright future in front of them.
When thinking about that, I reflected on my visit a couple of weeks ago to the Kelty community centre for the STEM family morning for primary schools in the Beath high school catchment area—a headteacher had asked me to come along. There were children, parents and guardians and in some cases grandparents all carrying out different exercises to do with STEM subjects. One of the points that was made to me by teachers there was that we have to involve families and encourage them to encourage children to get involved in those subjects.
It is right for me to flag up to the former education secretary that many local authorities have difficulty recruiting specialist teachers in the STEM subjects. That demonstrates the need for joined-up thinking. As was evidenced to me in Kelty that day, we need local strategies to be put in place that match a national strategy. I can never say enough about the need to ensure that we have a joined-up strategy.
The briefing from Engender describes exactly where we are. It states:
“The gender pay gap persists at 14.8%, with women who work part-time earning 33.5% less than men working full-time ... Women are 75% of the part-time workforce ... Women have less access to occupational pensions than men ... Women are 66% of the paid workforce living in poverty in Scotland ... On average women earn £175.30 less per week than men ... 64% of these workers paid below the living wage are women ... 40% of low-paid workers are women working part-time ... 55% of workers on zero hours contracts are women.”
Those statistics are quite stunning and should galvanise all members to say that, although we should debate the issue, we should also start to look at what action we will take as we move forward.
The minister spoke earlier about social security and the powers that are coming to the Parliament on that. On social security, Engender says:
“The Scottish Government ... has the opportunity to design replacement programmes with gender equality as a central aim. New powers over employment support offer the potential to design programmes that take account of the particular barriers faced by women in the labour market. Failure to do so will ensure that women are further entrenched into low-paid, low-valued, and often less secure work.”
So, using the new social security powers that are coming to the Parliament, that is something specific that we would be able to do if we so wished.
I was struck by another point that Engender makes on workers’ rights. It states:
There is a lot of detail there, but work is going on between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress and trade unions. In that work, we should ensure that we address the issues that we are discussing today.
In a recent report on the women and work partnership project, the STUC said:
“A lack of accessible, flexible and affordable childcare emerged as one of the main barriers to women fully participating in the labour market.”
As a granddad, I certainly know how difficult it was, when my granddaughter was younger, for my daughter to find childcare and indeed afford it.
We have been given some statistics in the chamber on the cost of childcare. I have one very brief point, if I could just—
The Poverty Alliance highlights some of the key issues in childcare that we should tackle.
Let us bring together all those different people. We should not only debate the subject in the Parliament, but look at the strategy for tackling those issues.
I move amendment S5M-00607.2, to insert at end:
“; recognises that employment and industrial barriers faced by women have a negative impact on Scotland’s economy with, for example, the Royal Society of Edinburgh explaining that the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs is a loss of a potential £170 million per annum to the Scottish economy, and believes that the Scottish Government must prioritise supporting women into senior management positions and industries where they are currently overlooked”.
I am pleased that the minister concentrated on the pay gap in his speech. I will cover the same area. I agree, too, with Alex Rowley’s assessment of the confusion that has been caused by George Osborne’s use of the term “living wage”, which does not match our understanding of the term “living wage” in Scotland.
The minister may want to respond to or think about this, but it occurs to me that, just as we have living wage accreditation in Scotland, we might consider equal pay accreditation with the same benefits for Government contracts and how we do business in this country.
In my office, I have a poster from the close the gap project of a smiling young boy and a frowny young girl. The slogan is: “Prepare your daughter for working life. Give her less pocket money than your son.” I am always amazed at the controversy that it causes among schoolchildren of whatever age who visit my office. They often say, “Do you really believe that?”—the irony is lost on them at that age. Young people—male and female alike—say, “That is just so unfair.” It amazes me that what is unfair to our young people quickly becomes normalised, institutionalised and condoned in our working environments.
The Equal Pay Act came into being in 1970, and yet we have made such limited progress in that area. A
Guardian article entitled, “Mind the gap: when will women finally be able to celebrate equal pay?” highlighted the work that must be done and noted that there is still a 20 per cent pay gap in the UK. I commend Jo Swinson MP for the work that she did on issues such as the mandatory publication of gender pay differences and league tables.
The big question for us all is why the pay gap is taking so long to tackle and why we are having to revisit the issues time and time again in the chamber. In September last year,
The Guardian published an article on a report by the accountancy firm Grant Thornton entitled, “Women in business: the value of diversity”. The report, which was based on a study across the UK, the US and India, stated clearly that companies that have at least one female executive on the board perform better. According to the article, the report noted that
“Publicly traded companies with male-only executive directors missed out on £430bn of investment returns last year” and highlighted that, given the value of women to the workplace, the lack of diversity was damaging the economy in this country.
What do we have to do? Do we simply appoint women to boards, and after that performance will increase, everything will be solved and there will be no other problems? As we know, life is not that simple. It is probably much more likely that the companies that value diversity at all levels in the workplace, as evidenced by a woman achieving board status, perform better, because diversity really matters in decision making and innovation in all areas of business.
I turn to my previous employment in the information technology industry. In a blog post in 2014, Fiona Woods, the former head of human resources at Cognizant Technology Solutions, highlighted the difference in women’s decision making using the left and right brain and what that means for the IT business, with gender differences encouraging various perspectives and ideas from individuals that foster innovation. Different voices and views lead to new ideas and the creation of new services, and provide valued insight into customers.
Interestingly, in 2014, the British Computer Society recommended diversity training and the embedding of diversity in our HR departments to achieve that. In April 2016, the BCS decided that it would recommend a fresh look at quotas. Its research shows all the things that have been mentioned by members today about the importance of role models, the need to tackle the pay gap, part-time working, childcare and recruitment processes. However, it has moved away from diversity training because it says that the three perceived barriers to women achieving senior executive positions are senior male executives recruiting in their own image, unconscious bias issues and women returning to work after a career break.
We all suffer from unconscious bias. Marketers and advertisers will tell us about it, but we seem to miss it in the business context. People cannot feel a sense of belonging to an organisation if they cannot see themselves in the people working around them. I thank Sandra Pickering of Opento for a blog piece in which she says:
“The psychology of non-conscious influence tells us that how the most powerful people look and act becomes desirable and normal. Until Diversity is clearly the responsibility of the CEO and Board and the Board itself is diverse and chooses diversity, this will not change.”
That is one of the most important areas for us to tackle if we are to achieve gender equality in all aspects of what we do. The work that has been done in the area by Agenda is very important, and Equate Scotland does much in the STEM subjects, but we have a lot to think about in considering how we will tackle the issue in the future.
It is great to observe that female members outnumber male members by 16 to 12 in today’s debate, but that is not normally the case. The motion recognises our cross-party determination to bring about gender parity, and the Scottish Conservatives understand that it is vital that we tackle the root causes to help to close the gender gap in the workplace. We have proposed commonsense policies relating to childcare, apprenticeships and the participation of female pupils in STEM subjects to help redress the balance.
Reading the motion reminded me of a number of points in my life. First, it reminded me of my education at school, where competition was fierce but good-natured and did not necessarily prepare me for the wider world. Observing the outcomes for my two eldest daughters, one at university and the other in sixth form, made me think about what the Scottish Government has done to support women from school and into the workplace—and, indeed, whether we have made any progress at all.
Although 60 per cent of new university graduates are female, women are outnumbered by men in leadership positions in the corporate sector in the UK. Perhaps that reflects the current failings of the curriculum for excellence to promote STEM subjects to females or the much-needed collaboration between the business sector and schools to create an understanding of what qualifications and skills are really needed.
Research by the Scottish Conservatives has highlighted that the Scottish Government is failing to increase the number of female pupils who are studying subjects in science, technology, engineering and maths. In 2015, just 47 per cent of maths exams were sat by girls compared with 49 per cent eight years ago. Over the same period, the number of girls studying computing fell from 24 per cent to just 17 per cent. Physics and technology numbers remain much the same, with only 28 per cent of girls sitting a higher physics exam in 2015.
Sectors that depend on STEM graduates have long complained about a shortage of applicants—particularly females—from Scotland’s schools and colleges. Recent figures have also shown that the number of teachers in STEM subjects has dropped. For example, we have 300 fewer maths teachers. The loss of 152,000 college places under the SNP Government does not help, as it has been shown to particularly affect women. Let us also not forget that the single mother, the woman returning to work and the woman caring for her family deserve opportunities, too, and benefit greatly from vocational learning opportunities.
The Scottish Conservatives want to expand prospects for women and have consistently made the case for more vocational and educational skills training to be aligned with business demand. Per head of population, Scotland has only half the number of apprenticeships that England has, and we believe that that must change. We want to see an additional 10,000 apprenticeship starts every year by the end of this session of Parliament.
We recognise that many women count themselves out before they ever even get to a selection or recruitment process, and my experience mirrors that. Collectively, the Scottish Government needs to address why that is and what obstacles we must overcome. Like those of many women, my career path was peppered with difficulties created not by a dearth of ambition or a lacklustre attitude but by a recruitment process dominated by men in suits. In 1992, girls had to be as tough as ever. I remember “manning up” and shifting my acquiescent manner to an attitude that allowed me to be treated as an equal—or “one of the boys”, as they say.
My own experiences have shown me the need to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Understandably, my natural instinct was to be with my first-born daughter. Many members may remember Nicola Horlick, who juggled a multimillion-pound fund manager’s job and five children, setting an almost unachievable target for many women. After getting to grips with looking after a very new baby, and guided by maternity laws at the time, I headed back to work after just 12 weeks—grappling with a full-time job ill suited for motherhood. A request to my boss for flexible or part-time hours was greeted with the answer that if he allowed me to have special working hours, all the men in the organisation would have to be treated the same. My options were to shut up or get out.
The underrepresentation of women in the workplace has been a persistent issue in both the public and private sectors, particularly in senior positions. However, it is worth pointing out that the latest Office for National Statistics labour market figures show that the UK-wide employment rate for women is 69.2 per cent—the highest since comparable records began in 1971.
It is clear that when we get gender balance right, corporate success improves dramatically. Women being in boardrooms brings the benefits of a new way of thinking and of other elements that men are not predisposed to. In Scotland, we are fortunate to have a number of noteworthy women working in our significant public sector roles. Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland; Alison Di Rollo, the recently appointed Solicitor General for Scotland; Dr Catherine Calderwood, the chief medical officer for Scotland; and Elaine Lorimer, the chief executive of Revenue Scotland, are all key role models.
There is much more work to be done—particularly on the retention of women in the workplace and their progression up the career ladder—but those women set an example, proving that senior board-level positions are achievable. They have earned their place on merit, just like their male colleagues. I would argue that recruitment and selection processes play a more significant part in achieving board and senior-level representation; they are an area that we should be tackling.
It is true that promotion prospects come at just the time when women start to have families. With expensive childcare, and few meaningfully family-friendly workplaces—[
I seem to have come to the end of my time, so I am going to close there by saying that it is disappointing that we have lost college places, created more barriers and not extended provision to childcare. I am sure that, through the Parliament, we can work together to overcome those challenges.
I hope that, one day, we will not have to have this debate, as gender in the workplace will be irrelevant. However, for me, it was not until I worked in the private sector that my gender became something that I felt was an issue. I was brought up in a household where I was never made to feel that I could not achieve anything because I was female, and then went on to university where, as members will know, people exist in a forward-thinking, liberal, egalitarian bubble. Therefore it came as quite a shock to me when I encountered discrimination in the workplace. That was not because of my gender per se but because I did what, thankfully, a lot of women do: I decided to have a baby.
I had recently been in charge of some major projects, after being with the company for only a couple of years, and there was talk of management training programmes coming my way. When I asked for a meeting with the managing director, to let him know my baby news, I got the first indication that all would not be well: “I thought you were interested in your career,” he said.
I took only three and a half months off for maternity leave—maternity leave and pay were not as good then as they are now. When I came back, there was no further talk of management training, my maternity cover replacement was kept on, large projects seemed to go to them instead of me and I never dared to ask for any flexibility in any working day, for fear of further discrimination or disadvantage—much as Rachael Hamilton has just described.
I lasted two more years in that environment before I went into teaching and moved into the public sector, where, on having my second baby five years later, I found out that attitudes to returning mothers were completely different: they were supportive, flexible and non-discriminatory. As a consequence of that and so many other things, I stayed in that job for 15 years. Which organisation got the best bang for its buck out of me as a worker—the flexible, supportive one or the one that could not get over the few months of maternity cover that I had cost it?
I am 18 years on from that negative experience. The Government’s motion cites a great range of drivers to help women to make a substantial contribution to Scotland’s economy, and I welcome every one of them. If there is a theme to my contribution to the debate, it is that those drivers do not cost companies money; they make them money—they are an investment. Recruiting and keeping good-quality workers is key to a company’s success and profitability. Annie Wells—who is not in the chamber at the moment—talked about the cost of childcare. I will talk about the cost benefit of childcare, albeit that I am not really going to talk about childcare.
Those measures are there not just to help parents—largely women—to access the world of work. They are measures that will grow our economy. I stress that such drivers also help fathers to play an equal part in their children’s care. I remember reading a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research a couple of years ago, which concluded that one of the main provisions that contributed to an increased female work rate was women being given more control over their working schedule. If work was flexible, women tended to be able to work more hours and to stay longer with an organisation. Allowing flexible working unlocks employee potential and improves productivity. As we know, in many cases the Nordic countries—particularly Sweden—lead the way in this area.
When we talk of flexible working, there is a tendency to assume that that means part-time work, and that is largely the case at the moment. The difficulty that we face is the nature of most part-time work in Scotland’s private sector. Part-time work opportunities are disproportionately allocated to more elementary occupations relative to—and at the expense of—professional occupations. The professional institutions are missing a trick. That is not to say that there are not part-time workers in the professions, but the same IPPR study found that most of those positions came about as a result of negotiation once a full-time worker was in post. For women who are re-entering the workforce following a period of no employment, the fact that the availability of part-time flexible work at the recruitment stage is so skewed towards low-skilled, low-paid work is a real problem. That means that professions are missing those skilled women who are looking for work within their skill set but who want flexibility to fit in with their family commitments. By not advertising that part-time and flexible work is available, companies are limiting the pool of talent on which they can draw.
If a woman re-enters the workforce after a break to care for her children and has to take a lower-paid job that is underneath her skill set just because it is more flexible and fits in better with her family life, it is not just the woman who loses out—our economy loses out, too. It is a missed opportunity for a business to recruit and retain talent.
Yes, but I make the point that those countries are also in control of their entire fiscal area. In another debate, I commented on the fact that the Norwegian Prime Minister has cited women working and paying tax as the number 1 source of Norway’s wealth. If we had such a fiscal arrangement, whereby we were able to look after all our money, I am sure that we would be in a situation in which we could generate a lot more money.
Women taking lower-paid, lower-skilled jobs results in less tax being paid and skills being underused. It is a sheer and utter waste of education and expertise, and it is a major contributor to the gender pay gap. I heartily welcome Clare Adamson’s suggestion on pay equality accreditation—she nearly got a standing ovation from me. The driving of professional women into work below their skill set as a result of a lack of flexibility costs Scotland money, and flexible working for dads, too, might mean that we have a future in which debates of this nature are not needed.
Today, children and young people have unprecedented access to technology, but having an iPad at her fingertips will not necessarily lead a young girl to aspire to a career in software production or application design. As we have heard, if she does, she will already know that because of her gender it is likely that she will achieve more but earn less.
On the day of the Scottish Parliament elections last month, I was standing outside Whitehill neighbourhood centre, which, as well as acting as a polling station, was serving its usual purpose as a community hub. Two primary 7 girls from nearby Beckford primary school struck up a conversation with me. They began with some political advice that parties should work together more and politicians, in general, should stop shouting at each other. With current events in mind, I wonder whether they are available over the school holidays to offer further counsel.
What struck me most about the conversation was the girls’ excitement about coding and learning how to code in class. However, they were also very aware that if they went on to work in the technology industry, they would be paid less than their male counterparts and would be less likely to reach senior positions. That was their expectation. Here were two 11-year-old girls in Scotland in 2016, standing outside their youth club and telling me that, even if they had the same or higher qualifications or abilities, they expected to earn less than boys and not have the same opportunities. They understood the gender pay gap. Both girls were articulate, confident, funny and very smart. Instinctively, I could tell that they had much to offer our community, our economy and our wider society. I have thought of them dozens of times since our conversation, and I feel guilty that we are letting them down.
We have talked a lot today about the leaky pipeline in STEM subjects, with girls either choosing not to pursue science and technical subjects at school and university or, if they do, not continuing into STEM careers or not reaching the same senior levels as their male counterparts. We have heard a lot of the statistics and I will not repeat them, but the evidence is stark: 73 per cent of women who graduate in STEM subjects do not stay in the sector. That is an enormous waste of potential.
The Herald covered national women in engineering day, which was launched by the Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland. The article highlighted that although Scotland needs an extra 440 new civil engineers this year to meet its needs, the number of engineering students in further education has fallen by a third since 2010. Moreover, seven out of eight ICE members are men. I welcome the Scottish Government report on addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM subjects and recognise that that work will be done in partnership with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and our colleges and universities. In that respect, I also welcome the additional £1.5 million that is being invested in equality projects.
However, more must be done, and Scotland needs to catch up. Sara Thiam, director of ICE Scotland, has pointed out that Scotland lags behind much of Europe with regard to having a gender-balanced workforce and she has warned:
“Employers who ignore the benefits of attracting more women into the profession risk becoming increasingly marginalised.”
Moreover, Belinda Oldfield, a Scottish Water executive, has said:
“It is quite shocking that less than seven per cent of parents with girls would recommend engineering as a good career route for” their children. As Jamie Hepburn suggested, old-fashioned attitudes persist in our homes, our schools and our workplaces.
Today, though, we should recognise some of the good practice that is out there. Close the Gap has already been mentioned, and its “be what you want” work in schools is enabling young people to make informed subject and career choices and encouraging them to take or pursue non-traditional jobs. Importantly, the initiative also provides resources for teachers and career advisers on occupational segregation and gender stereotyping.
I also note that, according to an Institute of Physics study, career materials are not gender neutral. As a result, there is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that the good practice that I have mentioned can be rolled out further. As we know, if children are conditioned at a young age, they conform to gender roles and the barriers reinforce the structural inequalities in our labour market.
I have been sitting here thinking about my daughter, who on numerous occasions has come home from school or her activities, complaining that the teacher or coach “isn’t a feminist, mum”, because they asked “strong boys to volunteer to lift some chairs” or assumed that girls do not want to play football. To echo Clare Adamson’s comments, I am heartened that many young women are growing increasingly impatient and are not willing to put up with attitudes that are holding them back.
Much of what I was going to say has been said, but I want to pick up on the issue of gender quotas because, quite simply, a lot of rubbish has been talked about them today. We in the chamber know that equality does not just trickle down. It is not enough to have a few women in positions of political leadership; that simply does not do.
I note that Annie Wells is speaking at the Parliament event tonight to try to encourage more women to stand for office. I hope that we will have a genuine conversation at that event. There are some excellent speakers in the programme, not least Nan Sloane, who has done terrific work across the field.
We have to challenge the misconceptions out there that gender quotas somehow produce women who do not have the same merits as men. We have not seen progress sustained in the chamber. It is a fact that women’s representation in the Parliament has stagnated simply as a result of the Tories’ success at the polls. They did not have enough women candidates.
It is with the same pride and the exact same passion that I continue to address the societal and structural imbalance that affects women. That imbalance is particularly relevant to women in the workplace. All my life—whether as an MSP, a trade union official or an activist—I have always championed the fight for women’s equality and I will continue to do so, because that just seems to be in my DNA.
It is a great privilege to support the motion. I welcome the release of the Scottish Government’s report, which ultimately shows that its priorities lie in reducing the mass discrimination that is felt by women in work and thus giving those women the rare privilege that is often enjoyed solely by men; in giving women the opportunity to carve out a successful and thriving career that is not based on anything other than their talent and fortitude; and in giving women the opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty and unleash their full potential on the world of work.
The report shows that the pay gap in Scotland has reduced substantially, from 18.4 per cent in 1997 to 7.3 per cent in 2015. We still have a way to go, but that means that a whole generation of girls and young women who are taking their first tentative steps into the workplace can do so without having the same fear and gender restrictions that once controlled them, their mothers or their grandmothers. The Government should be congratulated on that, but we will not rest on our laurels. As I have said, there is still a way to go. We will not be confined to the small-time kitchen mentality that once defined a generation of women.
We have sought to address the societal imbalance that I talked about through specific Government policies. The approach can range from the transformative funding for quality, affordable childcare that we have implemented and continue to implement, to the initiatives that we have taken to tackle maternity and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. I am sure that we will take up that topic in the equality and human rights committee at some point.
If the Presiding Officer will forgive me, I will return to what has been a well-worn debate over the past week: the European Union. The European Union provided extra safeguards against maternity and pregnancy discrimination. For example, the EU pregnant workers directive, which guaranteed the right to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments and benefited more than 430,000 women workers a year, now faces an uncertain future—although not, I suspect, in this place.
Those rights are now coming under severe threat that was brought on by the pure complacency of a Westminster Conservative Government so preoccupied by appeasing its right-wing factions that it forgot what it left behind. What did it leave behind? It left behind the hard-fought-for workplace rights of social progressives throughout Europe. Undoubtedly, that uncertainty will impact on the precarious woman worker much more than on any other cohort.
The Government seeks to address that theme of precarious work and gender-specific work in the future. Indeed, the report calls for more to be done to tackle the occupational segregation that still exists between genders.
I will highlight that, after all these years, South Lanarkshire Council has still to sort out its gender pay gap.
Why should women conform to the atypical, maternal carer role that society often expects of them? Why should women not seize the reins of prosperity and occupy what the report deems to be the highest earning roles: the managers, directors, senior officials, doctors, consultants and lawyers?
That is the point on which the Government will make its voice heard. I suspect that many members across the chamber will raise their voices on the issue, too. The ambition to have diversity in the boardroom—to have 50:50 by 2020—is challenging, but certainly worth while. Things that are worth while are rarely easy. May I say, Presiding Officer, that well-behaved women seldom make history.
Many of us can take that personally, Presiding Officer, and I welcome the fact that we do.
It is my determination that when the next generation of women reach the world of work, their ambition will have no glass ceiling—or sticky floor—and there will be no restrictions on their ability to dream. It will be an individual’s talent, skill and hard work that matters, rather than their sex or gender. That is what we must focus on.
From the plurality of modern apprenticeships available, to the living wage for social care workers—by that I mean the real living wage—to the family friendly working Scotland partnership, the Government has set out bold and transformative policies that can accelerate the decline of disparity and help to transform women’s lives in the workplace.
I am sure that many of my colleagues from across the chamber, both women and men, are committed to ensuring that we create the best environment for our women and girls to work and grow in. If we can do that, we will make the world a better place for our men and boys too.
I am delighted to have the chance to take part in today’s debate on such a vitally important subject. It is important for a variety of reasons, but, above all, it is crucial that we ensure that women face no extra barriers in their chosen careers because of their gender. It goes without saying that women contribute a huge amount to our businesses and public services and it is essential that they continue to do so and that they have the opportunity to do so.
A quick glance at the latest labour market figures from the ONS shows that, across the UK, the employment rate for men was 79.3 per cent between January and April 2015, compared with 69.2 per cent for women. I understand that the latter figure is the highest since comparable records began in 1971.
The Scottish Government’s annual population survey reports that, in Scotland, the employment rate for women between April 2015 and March 2016 increased over the course of the year by 0.2 percentage points, from 69.5 per cent to 69.7 per cent. That compares to an increase of 1.1 percentage points for the rest of the UK, from 67.5 per cent to 68.6 per cent, over the same period. Clearly progress has been made both nationally and in Scotland, but there is still a great deal that needs to be done to achieve greater parity.
I turn briefly to occupational segregation, which is one of the barriers that prevent women from fulfilling their potential in the labour market. Fundamentally, women should have the opportunity to work in traditionally male-dominated industries. In science, research, engineering and technology occupations, the breakdown between men and women is 78 per cent and 22 per cent. In the skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades, women represent only 2 per cent of the workforce.
If women do not want to work in those sectors and occupations, that is fine—but what if they do? We need to overcome the stereotypes that often underpin occupational segregation and to give women the opportunity to enter traditionally male-dominated sectors. To that end, we need to look at skills training and apprenticeships, and to encourage more women and girls to study STEM subjects—an area where the Scottish National Party’s record is woefully poor.
There is a huge gender imbalance in apprenticeships. Skills Development Scotland figures for 2014-15 show that, although the figures are broadly equal at modern apprenticeship level 2, at level 3, around twice as many males start an apprenticeship and, at level 5, 10 times as many males start an apprenticeship. That is clearly disappointing, and the reasons for it must be understood and addressed.
There have been some equally disappointing figures relating to the number of females studying STEM subjects. Skills Development Scotland emphasises that those subjects are “dominated by men”. It is extremely worrying that
“73 per cent of female STEM graduates are lost from STEM occupations, compared to 48 per cent of males.”
Furthermore, although some STEM subjects have seen improvements, there are still worrying signs. As has been alluded to today, the statistics show that, in 2007, 20 per cent of students who took higher computing were female, but in 2015, only 17 per cent of those studying higher computing were female. The figures highlight that the trend is going in the wrong direction.
It is abundantly clear that only by giving women the opportunity to learn skills and undertake training in the STEM sectors can we hope to make any meaningful progress in addressing the gender imbalance. That has to be kept in mind through all stages of life and education. Girls must be encouraged, starting at home and continuing through primary and secondary school to apprenticeships and university.
Although females must be given opportunities and encouragement to study STEM subjects and enter male-dominated workplaces, I do not believe that we should impose gender targets across the workplace. Women deserve to be chosen on their own merits: they should be chosen for their talents and because they are the best person to do the job, not because they happen to be female. Across the political landscape, private industry and our public services, women have reached the top not because of a quota imposed by the powers that be, but because of what they have to offer. Artificial quotas are not the answer. The solution lies in education and in providing sensible policies that knock down existing barriers.
Like colleagues across the chamber, I strongly welcome the recent publication of “New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap”, particularly its conclusions that the gender pay gap, both for full-time employees and overall, continues to reduce, and that it is lower in Scotland than in the UK.
Of course, we still have a long way to go. I equally welcome the report highlighting where work is most needed and our Government’s clear commitment to work with partners to continue tackling the gender pay gap and other gender-related inequalities in the workplace, to ensure that nobody faces barriers to subject or career choice due to their gender.
As we have heard, many gender-based inequalities disadvantage women, whether exclusively or predominantly. The gender pay gap is a clear example, as are pregnancy and maternity discrimination and affordable childcare.
Occupational segregation, however, is a workplace inequality of detriment to both men and women, and to the overall social and economic wellbeing of society. Women are disproportionately affected by occupational segregation in financial terms—they are clustered in undervalued, low-paid and unpaid work, and unfortunately the situation is familiar in other industries. However, in terms of the fulfilment of individual potential, both men and women lose out. If we look at the impact on wider society, we can see that we all lose. As much as we need more female scientists, we also need more male nursery teachers and social care workers.
I am sure that some colleagues will share my concern that a series of recent reports have shown that, despite higher numbers of women studying STEM subjects than ever before, successfully building a career in science remains difficult for women.
First, strong unconscious and subtle bias against women remains in the publications and research grant applications process. It has been shown that both men and women rate identical scientific papers more highly when they are submitted under a male name, that female-authored submissions are reviewed more harshly, and that men have higher success rates than women when applying for research grants.
A recent study by
The BMJ has also shown that the number of women listed as lead author in high-impact journals
“has plateaued or declined since 2009 at a level below women’s representation in the medical community”.
That is all crucial because securing academic funding and getting published are central to pursuing a career in science.
A recent House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report highlighted how, in addition to women’s voices not being taken as seriously, women have to compete against structural bias. Initial scientific careers are dominated by short-term contracts and poor job security, often exactly at the time when women who wish to are looking to start a family. That can leave women faced with a choice between career and family.
Not only does the glass ceiling in science stop women fulfilling their individual potential but, in economic terms, the late Professor Ailsa McKay estimated that the lack of women in science and engineering occupations represents a loss of £170 million a year to the Scottish economy. In policy terms, we lack female voices—the input of more than 50 per cent of the population—when it comes to research and the provision of evidence that will drive future healthcare policies and standards of care.
As such, it gives me great pleasure to note the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of £79,000 of funding to continue the careerwise programme, which was set up in 2013 to offer female undergraduates paid employment with STEM employers. I also welcome the continued Government funding of the partnership project close the gap, which is dedicated to addressing women’s inequality at work, as well as the establishment of an advisory council on women and girls to advise on tackling workplace and occupational segregation.
Women often have the required scientific qualifications but face difficulties in pursuing a scientific career, whereas we have yet to overcome the first hurdle of encouraging men to study the relevant subjects to enter traditionally female domains such as childcare. College courses that focus on care are strongly dominated by women. That gender bias not only hinders men from fulfilling their potential but limits the experience and development of our young children. It is crucial for children from an early age to have positive male and female role models, to experience different perspectives, interaction and play in the nursery setting and—crucially—to see that caring, nurturing and empathy are healthy and positive for men and women.
I have mentioned this before, but I take the opportunity again to commend the work that Ayrshire College is doing in my constituency through its on-going efforts to challenge gender stereotypes, promote the role of men in care work and inspire more men to join the profession. The college recently held a successful recruitment event to encourage men into programmes such as its higher national certificate in social care and its early education and childcare courses. The event featured the testimony of men who work in care and was advertised by the evocative and powerful hashtag #ThisManCares.
Tackling occupational segregation and addressing all matters of inequality are about not just fairness but Scotland’s overall economic and social wellbeing. I look forward to supporting the Scottish Government and working with other members and partners locally and nationally to make sure that the skills that are available to employers are not limited by gender stereotypes and that men and women have an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential.
On behalf of the Scottish Green Party,
I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s report “New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap” and the news that the pay gap in Scotland is in long-term decline. However, as others have made clear, the report makes it clear that the pay gap is a complex phenomenon so, although the overall trend is encouraging, progress has been less impressive among groups such as older workers and among senior positions.
As we have heard, of the many factors that are at work in producing the gender pay gap, horizontal occupational segregation is a significant one. Having raised the issue during the Holyrood election campaign this year, we particularly welcome the report’s focus on the severe underrepresentation of women in particular sectors of our economy and their overrepresentation in others—for example, women are more likely to find themselves in insecure, undervalued and poorly paid work, such as that in retail.
We will continue to argue for a real living wage and better working conditions for everyone, regardless of their gender or employment status, but it is clear that that alone will not be enough to eliminate the gender pay gap.
As we have heard, underemployment of women in the science, technology, engineering and maths sectors is particularly acute. According to labour force survey figures, women represented only 13 per cent of the UK STEM workforce in 2013. Segregation within education and training is a serious and on-going problem. For example, between 2010 and 2015 there was an increase of only 1.5 per cent in the proportion of female modern apprentices in engineering, and a dramatic fall of around 35 per cent in the proportion of those in information technology. The apprenticeships that women dominate, such as hairdressing and early years care and education, are shorter in duration and less generously funded, and have lower rates of pay, higher drop-out rates and poorer labour market outcomes.
That problem is all the more pressing given the major skills shortages in STEM sectors of our economy. Scottish Power has warned of a major skills shortage in the energy sector. Eighty per cent of its engineers are due to retire within the next 20 years and at present only 16 per cent of the energy workforce is female.
The Scottish Green Party manifesto called for an occupational segregation commission, so we welcome the Government’s similar plan to establish an advisory council on women and girls, to advise on action to tackle workplace and occupational segregation. Although there has been laudable ministerial focus on occupational segregation for some years, not enough progress has been made to open up sectors of the economy that are closed to women. I hope that the advisory council will help ministers to redouble their efforts.
I will move on to the role of employability support in helping to address the pay gaps. As Alex Rowley observed, a recent report by Engender argues that current employability programmes, particularly those that are delivered by the UK Government, do not consider sufficiently the employment challenges that women face. An individual’s readiness to work is influenced by their education and skills, their caring responsibilities, their safety at home and in the workplace, and the types of work that they are able to access. Women have different experiences from men in all those areas. Employability programmes need to, but currently do not, take account of those differences. Indeed, after the closure last year of the Edinburgh employment charity Women Onto Work, there are no employment programmes that specifically target female jobseekers.
As the gender and labour market experts at Close the Gap note, the generic skills support that is offered by current employment programmes, especially those that are offered by the UK Government, is likely to replicate gendered patterns of skills acquisition and employment, which is likely to entrench occupational segregation and widen the gender pay gap. As we prepare for the devolution of UK employment programmes next year, I urge the Scottish ministers to consider how the Scottish replacements for the work programme and work choice schemes can be made gender sensitive. The promotion of women’s economic equality should be a cross-cutting theme of employability programmes and be included as part of funding and evaluation criteria.
I commend Clare Adamson’s proposal for equal pay accreditation and I suggest that the Government explores all possible options for encouraging businesses and employers to step up to the plate on equal pay, including options on how we deliver things such as the non-domestic rating regime to businesses.
I will mention briefly the UK Government’s introduction of employment tribunal fees. Official statistics show an 81 per cent drop in the number of claims lodged between April and June 2014 compared with the same period in 2013; the number of sex discrimination cases reduced by 91 per cent. That is why, in the election campaign, we called for an end to tribunal fees. We welcome the Scottish Government’s pledge to remove tribunal fees when the power is devolved, because people who feel that they have been discriminated against must have access to justice.
“New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap” was very clear that inflexible working practices are a major barrier to women’s access to employment and a cause of the gender pay gap. There is a wealth of evidence in that report and many others to suggest that women bear the brunt of employers’ unwillingness or inability to offer flexible working. We require great cultural and attitudinal changes among employers. The Scottish Greens offer all support to the Government to reduce the gender pay gap. It accords very much with our fundamental principles of equality, peace, environmental sustainability and radical democracy, and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government to further those aims.
I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to speak in this important debate.
I welcome the substantial difference that the Scottish Government has made in relation to the gender pay gap. The advances in recent years are incredibly encouraging, and I think that the improvement is due in no small part to the Government’s progressive policies on, for example, the living wage and childcare, as other members have said.
The plans to increase free childcare provision to 30 hours per week will bring more benefits for families, particularly mothers, throughout our country. In this day and age, it is disgraceful that some women are treated unfavourably just because they are pregnant or a mother. In many cases, such treatment results in the woman feeling that she has no alternative to leaving the employment—something that can continue to impact on her in future. The increase in childcare provision will help to counter that effect, but we also need a more understanding, compassionate and inclusive approach, across all sectors, to supporting parents, particularly mothers.
Female employment is on the rise and the pay gap continues to narrow, but there is more that we can do. I welcome the plans that the minister set out today. Although great steps have been taken in relation to the gender pay gap, I think that all members recognise that there is still some way to go. We must continue to put pressure on organisations throughout the country to put an end to gender pay inequality as quickly as possible.
On that note, I intend to use the remainder of my speech to highlight the problems that face many serving and retired employees of North Lanarkshire Council in relation to the equal pay claims that have been going on for many years. I declare an interest: I was a councillor at North Lanarkshire Council until earlier today—that is unrelated to this debate.
Although the equal pay issue has affected male employees, the overwhelming majority of affected people are female. What worries me is the way in which North Lanarkshire Council has fought its workers’ equal pay claims for more than a decade—although that council is not alone in doing so. Members might know—I am sure that Clare Adamson does—that there have been two claim periods. First-wave claims relate to the period prior to the introduction of new job evaluation-based pay arrangements in 2007, and second-wave claims relate to the period after the introduction of those arrangements.
I am deeply concerned at reports that some employees have been told to sign confidentiality agreements and that some offers of compensation have been withdrawn after people discussed their settlement with peers or published it online.
There is a dispute about whether claims are pensionable. North Lanarkshire Council has not ruled out a legal challenge to the Scottish Public Pensions Agency, which ruled that arrears of pay should be pensionable. That relates only to second-wave claims, because the council has accepted that first-wave claims should be pensionable, although Mark Irvine, from Action 4 Equality Scotland, told me yesterday:
“The 1st Wave claims have been adjudicated by a formal decision of the Glasgow Employment Tribunal in May 2015—North Lanarkshire Council accepts that these claims can and should be made pensionable if the claimants wish so, but over a year after the ET decision the Council has still not actioned people’s requests”.
That is unacceptable. North Lanarkshire Labour must recognise that the money that has been awarded is not compensation or some sort of bonus but back pay of wages that were short paid. The sad fact is that, in some cases, people have died without their claim being completed. The workers of North Lanarkshire should not have to keep fighting for what is rightfully theirs. It is time for the council to own up, step up and make the payments.
The Labour Party in North Lanarkshire regularly highlights the authority’s financial position. I think that all members accept that all levels of government in Scotland face budget constraints, which have been caused by continued unnecessary austerity from the Tory UK Government. I suggest that North Lanarkshire’s problems are largely down to the council’s overreliance on private finance initiative projects, which left the people of North Lanarkshire with crippling repayments. In addition, if the council had settled equal pay claims and sorted out the issue at the first opportunity, it would not now feel that it must fight legitimate claims from staff.
A new leader is in place at North Lanarkshire Council. I welcome the fact that he has said that he is keen to resolve the matter. I hope that he delivers for the workers who have waited for so long. However, if the Scottish National Party takes control of the council next May there will be changes to how the council conducts itself on such matters. I can assure people who are involved in equal pay claims that if the SNP emerges as the majority party in North Lanarkshire next year, the aim will be to settle claims at the earliest opportunity.
We should not have to engage lawyers to achieve equality in the workplace. Equality should be provided in all walks of life, without question.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate about gender and the workplace. We should challenge discrimination and loss of opportunity wherever we see it and there is no bigger impact than that of gender discrimination, because 50 per cent of the population are affected by the issues, as raised by Engender in its briefing for the debate. I thank it and the many other organisations that have contacted MSPs with briefings, which shows how important the issue is to people inside and outside the chamber.
“occupational segregation, ungendered employability programmes, unpaid caring roles, violence against women and different forms of discrimination all contribute to the gender pay gap, which is a key indicator of women’s inequality in the workplace”.
I have a seven-month-old daughter called Eva. My wife and I will do the best that we can to give her the confidence and the skills that she needs to succeed. I can already see how bright she is and I have visions of her growing up to be a successful engineer or scientist—there is certainly no danger of gender segregation in the Griffin household. The point is that she should not have to work harder or need more encouragement to pursue a career in science or technology than our neighbour’s baby boy who was born just a few weeks later.
We have lodged an amendment that highlights the point that the employment and industrial barriers that women face have a negative impact on Scotland’s economy. The Royal Society of Edinburgh explained in its recent report that the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs is a loss of a potential £170 million a year to the Scottish economy—a point that Ruth Maguire made. I appreciate the Government support for our amendment, but I have said before and still believe that the Scottish Government must prioritise supporting women into STEM industries, where they are currently grossly underrepresented.
We need to take a look at the jobs and industries that will give people the best opportunities to succeed. Those will be the highly skilled, highly paid jobs in science, engineering and technology. There is no future for Scotland as a low-skill, low-wage economy; there is no future competing with developing countries for those jobs. How we give all our young people, or people who want to retrain, the chance to get a job in a high-tech industry will play a massive part in how we take our country forward. To do that, we need to break down the barriers that women face. There is a massive prize to aim for in that. According to research, more than 7 million jobs in the UK will depend on science skills by 2030. Those STEM jobs are exactly the kind of jobs we need—high-quality, highly skilled and highly paid jobs, which emerging economies cannot compete with us for.
I studied mechanical engineering at university. It is a key source of skills and graduates for the STEM sector. The course provided fantastic opportunities for highly skilled, highly paid work. There were 120 students on my course, just four of whom were women. How the Government opens up careers in science and technology to half of our population will determine how successful it is at tackling issues of gender in the workplace.
It is clear from the Engender briefing that curriculum segregation is still evident at school and college even before we get to university. In colleges, women are clustered in art and design, where they make up 72 per cent of the total; care, where the figure is 73 per cent; hairdressing and beauty, where it is 97 per cent; and languages, where it is 64 per cent. Men are more likely to be found studying construction, where they make up 92 per cent of the total; engineering, where the figure is 87 per cent; nautical studies, where it is 93 per cent; and land-based industries, where it is 68 per cent.
Those are figures that you see repeated again and again. At universities, there are more women than men studying subjects relating to medicine, social studies and languages, while men dominate in mathematical and computing science, engineering and technology, and architecture. As far back as high school classrooms, subjects are gender divided. Young men make up 93 per cent of those studying technological studies; 71 per cent of those studying graphic communication; and 72 per cent of those studying physics. More young women study home economics, where they make up 92 per cent of the total; administration, where the figure is 77 per cent; biology, where it is 64 per cent; and art and design, where it is 82 per cent.
The figures in that gender briefing make stark reading and they probably just confirm what most of us already know. As I said before, there is a big prize to aim for—the 7 million jobs in the UK that are going to depend on science skills by 2030, which are the jobs that we need for the future. It is a challenge to give people the skills and training that they need to apply and succeed in that area, but if we simply accept the barriers to half the population advancing in that key area, we have already lost out.
For Eva, and for the other women who are battling to succeed, we all have to do more.
I, too, welcome the publication of the Scottish Government’s report “New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap”, which illustrates that the gender pay gap is lower in Scotland than it is in the UK, and that it has reduced substantially over the long term. I also welcome the minister’s opening remarks and the content of the motion.
The title of today’s debate is “Gender and the Workplace”; however, as has been evidenced, the overarching issue for discussion is, of course, the wider matter of gender inequality and its importance to us all. Let us be clear: as is detailed in the Labour amendment and as was passionately articulated by Gillian Martin, gender inequality not only undermines the integrity of our society, but significantly undermines our productivity, our competitiveness and the fulfilment of our economic potential.
I welcome the wide range of Scottish Government policies that are designed to help to close the gender pay gap and the progress that has been made by the Scottish Government, which ranges from encouraging payment of the living wage to increasing free childcare; from challenging pregnancy and maternity discrimination to addressing occupational segregation; and from working towards gender balance on boards to promoting family-friendly and flexible working. Those policies are making and will make a difference, and we should support them.
I congratulate employers in my constituency and across Scotland who are paying the living wage at the moment, and the local and national initiatives that are promoting payment of the real living wage. It is extremely important for creating equality and also for enhancing demand and productivity in our economy. Furthermore, I congratulate proactive national organisations such as Family Friendly Working Scotland, which is working directly on gender in the workplace. I look forward to meeting such organisations in the coming weeks to learn more about the progress that Scotland is making and the challenges that we still face.
As well as highlighting progress, the report recognises that a significant gender pay gap persists for certain age groups, sectors and occupations, and it explores key drivers, including traditional social or employment attitudes and culture. In that light, I would like to comment on the corporate private sector of our economy—in particular, the corporate legal sector. Prior to being elected, I worked as a commercial lawyer with one of Scotland’s many outstanding firms. With a female chairperson, a high proportion of female partners and increasing opportunities for flexible working, the business that I worked for was impressively sensitive and aware of gender equality matters and had a forward-looking human resources strategy.
However, the legal sector as whole is an interesting industry to examine when it comes to gender in the workplace. As was reported in December 2015, Scotland now has more female than male solicitors for the first time, after a sharp increase in the number of women qualifying as lawyers. Figures from the Law Society of Scotland reveal that now 51 per cent of Scottish solicitors are women, and that the amount increases to two-thirds for solicitors under the age of 40 and to 64 per cent for those who were admitted in 2015.
However, women are still underrepresented when it comes to senior roles with private firms as well as at the bar and in the judiciary. More striking, and unjustly, according to data from July last year, the gender pay gap for solicitors in Scotland is currently a staggering 42 per cent. That is totally unacceptable. I highlight that fact to raise awareness of such deep inequity and to emphasise the wider point that significant gender pay gaps persist in some sectors and occupations, and that that is because of traditional social or employment attitudes and culture.
For example, in the corporate world, the norm is the expectation of long working hours and often unnecessary presenteeism, which are prohibitive to people who have young families or ambitions for a reasonable work-life balance. Although shifts in social attitudes are occurring, and the Scottish Government is taking action to encourage that shift when it can, as outlined by the minister earlier, for clarity it is important to acknowledge that much of the policy agenda relating to gender equality in the workplace and many of the potential solutions orient around employment law and company law: the Scottish Parliament has power over neither.
To echo what Christina McKelvie said, in these times, it is important to acknowledge the valuable contribution that European law and EU membership has made to strengthening employment rights, including in areas that are directly related to gender equality in the workplace. Therefore, as well as endorsing the motion that is before us today, and the Scottish Government’s proposals in it, let us also bear in mind that securing Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union matters—especially when it comes to building more equal workplaces in our country for our fellow citizens and for generations to come.
Christina McKelvie talked about cheeky women. I would not call myself cheeky, but one of the reasons why I became involved in politics was that, when my kids were young, there were absolutely no playgroups, nurseries or anything at all. I took that on board and started up summer play schemes. Through that, I was elected as a councillor because it was the only way that I could continue.
I did not see myself as being cheeky; I just thought that there was an injustice and that women and children were being hard done by. I know that other people in the council saw me as being cheeky because I am a woman. I thought that I would throw that in to show that being a cheeky woman and injustice set me on the road to politics.
I welcome the contribution that the minister and others have made today. It has been a good debate, but I am talking particularly about the minister’s contribution and his recognition of unpaid carers, of whom more are women than are men. Indeed, women provide about 70 per cent of unpaid care and are twice as likely to give up paid work—a hard choice—to care for someone. That means that 74 per cent—a huge amount—of claimants for carers allowance are women.
I take on board what the minister said about the welfare powers being devolved and I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to equalising the carers allowance with jobseekers allowance once carers benefits have been devolved. That will mean a big improvement and I thank him for that explanation.
Alex Rowley raised an issue that I wanted to raise, which is the other programmes that are being devolved under the Scotland Act 2016 from the DWP to the Scottish Parliament, including the employability programme, the works programme and choice, which the minister had already mentioned.
I believe that that devolution gives the Parliament and the Government the opportunity to introduce work programmes that have gender equality as a central aim. I look forward to exploring that concept in the Social Security Committee and to exploring the new powers on employment support. We need to take into account the barriers that are faced by women who are in work and returning to work. It is a huge barrier that people who are on some form of carers allowance can earn only a certain amount. I am sure that all members have heard from constituents who are allowed to work for only a couple of hours a week simply because they will, if they earn just above a certain amount, completely lose their carers allowance, even if they care for a disabled child. That is no way to encourage people into work. As the largest number of carers are women, that is also discriminatory. I look forward to considering that in the Social Security Committee.
Clare Adamson raised unconscious bias. We are all very aware that unconscious bias exists. Monica Lennon took the issue further when she said that she had spoken to a couple of girls at a polling station who were familiar with the issues but did not seem to mind—they expected to get less money even if they did exactly the same job as a man. In this day and age, it is really quite shocking and worrying that young girls expect that. There is an unconscious bias, not just in girls but in what is out there: I will come on to talk about the media in my last couple of minutes.
We need to tackle unconscious bias. Mark Griffin picked up on that with regard to careers, in which there is a huge discrepancy. We have to support people in their homes and at school and we have to look at careers advice. We need to look at what is happening in schools and ask why young girls are sent down a certain road or are not encouraged to take up some forms of employment. When I was a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee in a previous session, we looked at that issue and found evidence that people were not getting the best careers advice.
I want to return to the media. We all pay attention to the issue, but the media are never called to account for the way that they portray females—young and old. We need only look at how women are portrayed in newspapers and on TV. I am not talking just about page 3 or whatever—certainly, I do not think that they would like me on page 3, but never mind. I am talking about the fact that the media are very flippant about women and girls in relation to careers. Young girls are very susceptible to peer pressure, but in newspapers and what they see on trains and buses every other day, women are not given their proper place in society. That filters through to the level of jobs that they think they can get and to the perception that men have of them. We need to tackle that.
I have only two seconds left, so I will finish. The debate has been good and has looked at various aspects. We really need to look at the media. If the media would put forward positive images of young girls and women, we might get a bit further in dealing with unconscious bias.
I most sincerely welcome the Scottish Government’s report “New Perspectives on the Gender Pay Gap”. There are also new solutions, perhaps. From listening to the debate, it seems that perspectives might not have not changed as much as we would have liked. Inequalities remain deep. We have received wonderful briefings from organisations such as Engender pointing out that the grotesque disproportionate impact on women still exists. As members have said, occupational segregation is a real challenge. I whole-heartedly welcome the fact that Jamie Hepburn will chair the advisory council for women and girls, which I think has the potential to make a generational difference.
Given the bias that Ruth Maguire talked about in her excellent speech, we know that women have always had to fight for their rights in society—whether they were cheeky or otherwise, as Sandra White said. I hope that the next generation of women, who will continue to fight for those rights, will recognise that we have made progress, but they will know that we still have far to travel.
Women are the front-line victims of austerity. They have fewer assets and they are less likely to be part of an occupational pension scheme. Staggeringly, they make up 92 per cent of lone parents and 75 per cent of part-time workers. According to Oxfam, women form the majority of those in the world who are living in poverty. They are exposed to violence and forced marriage and, across the world, provision of basic education for girls is still staggeringly low.
Again according to Oxfam, gender inequality is the most serious and pervasive form of discrimination. Women make up half the world’s population, but they generate only 37 per cent of gross domestic product. As many members said this afternoon, many women are seriously held back by structural bias. I think that it was Gillian Martin who said that the importance of women’s contribution to the economy is missed.
Research shows that women value in their employment things such as support from line management, including support for their return to work following illness or maternity leave. It seems that women value such things more than men. The STUC report “Women’s Voices: Women and Work Scotland 2016”, which is an excellent report that I recommend to members who have not read it, states positively that there is an
“unprecedented interest in a collaborative and engaged approach” to women in the workplace.
Issues such as long-term job security and financial reward remain problematic, as do the unequal promotion opportunities for women and the lack of research on and understanding of the barriers for women in employment. I am pleased that the minister has acknowledged the work that needs to be done to research that further, particularly in relation to older women.
Like many women, I believe that a women’s place is in a union. Perhaps trade unions are an unexplored source for research into barriers to work. If the minister has not already thought about talking to the trade unions, I commend to him the idea of their being involved in the advisory panel. As a former full-time trade union official, I can testify to the fact that many women would face employment discrimination alone if it was not for their unions.
Unions themselves remain male dominated— organisationally, women are not represented at the top. The fact that some 55 per cent of men and women are not in a trade union is a matter for another day, but more women need to be in trade unions.
On the question of older women in the workplace, there are issues such as the health deficit for older workers in general. We need to address that because that demographic is going to increase for the next two decades.
I want to say a few words about childcare. We have to ask ourselves what flexible childcare actually looks like. It is a policy area that requires a national all-party focus, because I do not think that we have got it quite right up to now. Scottish Labour supports free childcare. We introduced that policy when we were in government, and I support it, but the approach has sometimes been at the expense of working out how to create a more flexible childcare policy and workplace nurseries in particular. In talking about the importance of childcare, Gillian Martin said that women could work a lot smarter and for longer if they were given flexible childcare.
Many members talked about the pay gap, and we all agree that occupational segregation and the way that society is structured are among the main causes of that. Mark Griffin, Monica Lennon and others talked about how early on in a girl’s life the impact sets in if she does not have parents who promote the fact that she has equal opportunity. The role that women play in caring is vital in that regard.
I am glad that the Scottish Government will accept Labour’s amendment. I have said why we think that it is important. We will not support the Tory amendment, as Daniel Johnson and others have said, because we support the real living wage and not the one that was manufactured by George Osborne to undermine working family tax credits. In my union career, I never met a Tory who supported either the minimum wage or the living wage, but the Tories are conveniently supporting them now. I therefore cannot support the Tory amendment. I support the motion as amended by Scottish Labour.
We are grateful to Jamie Hepburn for bringing the debate to the chamber. As is shown by the fact that we lodged only a small amendment, there is much in the motion with which we agree. Jamie Hepburn is right to say that many stereotypes start early and feed through to adulthood via course choices, and we agree that it is essential to challenge such stereotypes. Monica Lennon is right to highlight the role played by gendered materials, and I was particularly glad to hear Gillian Martin bring up the issue of flexible working for dads, which I am passionate about. Above all, we do not argue with Alex Rowley’s call for a joined-up strategy, and we heed his call for action from the Scottish Government, not more debate.
Nevertheless, much work is being done. Indeed, in my experience as an employment lawyer principally advising the oil and gas industry, it was notable that the generalised statistics and blunt conclusions that some people rely on mask many subtleties. As Ben Macpherson says, 51 per cent of the 11,000 practising solicitors in Scotland are female, and 64 per cent of those are aged under 40. The percentage of female executives at a major oil company that I dealt with more than doubled between 2000 and 2014. As a side note, I reassure Christina McKelvie that the UK legislation on maternity and pregnancy goes well beyond the European de minimis.
The positive change to more gender-balanced industries is hugely encouraging, although we accept that it is a long way from being the general position across all sectors. All that progress has been made without mandatory quotas and top-down diktats. The legal profession is attracting more women because it realised that a more balanced workforce makes for a better workforce and adapted accordingly. It is also increasingly receptive to flexible working to accommodate family commitments. More women have been attracted to the oil and gas industry because universities, technical colleges, schools and the industry have worked together in a joined-up approach to make the industry more attractive.
The three largest parties here are currently led by women, not one of whom got to that position because of quotas or positive discrimination. Those women—and, before them, Annabel Goldie, Wendy Alexander and Johann Lamont—got there because of ability and on merit. As Annie Wells said at the outset of the debate, imposing equal numbers of women and men on boards rather than selecting on merit leads to deterioration in operating performance, negative attitudes and responses to the promoted women, a masking of underlying problems with attitudes and infrastructure and, ultimately, the devaluing of women in relation to both their own self-esteem and the perception of them by those with whom they work. Gender quotas and positive discrimination are not just anti-meritocratic in principle but counterproductive in practice.
On the contrary—we simply need the Scottish electorate to continue to do what it started to do a month ago and vote for more Scottish Conservatives. That is the way in which to increase representation on our benches.
The reason why there are fewer women on boards is not a function of institutional sexism, although I accept that there may be a residual element of that. As many members have said, there are myriad social and economic factors at play, including—as Clare Adamson rightly says—unconscious bias. We should achieve equality by winning the argument, not by bludgeoning businesses into compliance without addressing the fundamentals that underpin the current differences.
I would be surprised if the chamber did not support our amendment on encouraging men into careers that are female dominated, although, as Rachael Hamilton says, that cannot be done in the context of cutting 152,000 college places.
We need more men in teaching, for example. Far too often, we read reports that say that young men turn to crime or bad behaviour because of a lack of male role models in the school environment. Only 9 per cent of primary school teachers today are male, and in education overall, the number hovers around 23 per cent. I think that that is appalling, so I fully support Annie Wells’s amendment highlighting that
“work must be done to encourage appropriate male and female representation across all professions.”
I thought that Ruth Maguire spoke very well on that. I simply cannot imagine that the chamber will refuse to support our amendment on that basis.
I cannot conclude my speech without briefly turning to the contribution of the Liberal Democrats. Members who have come in late or who popped out during the debate might not be aware that the Liberal Democrats have made no contribution to it—mainly because not a single one has attended it. Perhaps that is only to be expected from a party that has no female MSPs or MPs; has never had a female leader, either here or in Westminster; and this year, in the most recent election, saw a well-respected, hard-working female MSP toppled from the top of the North East Scotland regional list, to be replaced by a man. I mean no offence to the member personally but that hardly screams equality. I do not want to kick a party that is down—much—but, given the motion, I find that unacceptable. I also find it unacceptable that, given what is a cross-party, collaborative approach, they have not shown up at all throughout the debate.
We must do more—and we can do more—to break down the barriers that still exist in all workplaces and for all genders. Education is key. Fostering an enthusiasm in girls for engineering, science and maths is key. Encouraging the private sector is key. Getting more male teachers to foster and encourage the next generation is key. Making childcare more affordable is key. Positive discrimination and quotas are not, however, and a semantic point on the national living wage is not a reason not to support the Conservative amendment, as Jamie Hepburn and Alex Rowley suggest. The Scottish Government might not feel that the national living wage is enough but I am sure that it welcomes the increase, as craved by the motion—particularly because when it was introduced by the chancellor it was higher than what the SNP was proposing at the time. The chamber is calling for collaboration, so let us have a bit more of that and a bit less opportunism. Accordingly, I commend the Conservative amendment to the chamber.
You may live to regret that, Presiding Officer.
Thank you very much,
Presiding Officer, and thank you to everybody who has contributed to this afternoon’s debate. There have been some thoughtful and very worthy contributions, although I am somewhat perplexed that some of our colleagues and members on the Tory benches seem never to have heard of the glass ceiling. They fail to recognise that the underrepresentation of women in every aspect of our economy—and, indeed, civic life—is oppressive; it is an exclusion; and it is, quite simply, wrong.
Yes, we have our first woman First Minister—and I am absolutely positive that she will do far more for women than the first woman Prime Minister ever did. Yes, three of our party leaders are women. Yes, we have the first-ever 50:50 gender-balanced Scottish Government Cabinet. However, what we in this Parliament have to guard against, at all costs, is complacency, because having a few women at the top—particularly in this place—does not replace the women who are absent from our benches.
I was very proud to be one of the MSPs who signed up to the 50:50 campaign. As we progress through this session of Parliament, I look forward to introducing legislation that will provide for a 50:50 gender balance in public appointments to public sector boards. We will return to that issue.
The women who are here must guard against saying that, just because we have managed to get elected or to get into positions of power, surely other women can manage to do so, too. There are very visible and invisible barriers that exist for women the length and breadth of the country, and it is beholden on those who have the privilege of holding an elected position—especially those of us who are ministers—to do everything that we can to knock down the glass ceiling.
We have had some thoughtful speeches. Gillian Martin and Rachael Hamilton reflected on their personal experience of maternity and pregnancy discrimination. I recall having to come into the Parliament when my son was only days old. That is most certainly not a boast—it was a matter of necessity, but it is also a matter of regret. The Parliament should always seek to lead and to set an example. That is why the Government, whether through me or Mr Hepburn, is absolutely determined to work hand in glove with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, bearing in mind the plight of the 54,000 women in Scotland who, despite living in the 21st century, continue to experience discrimination related to being pregnant and giving birth, which should be the happiest time in a woman’s life.
Our achievements as a Parliament and as a country have been reflected fairly in the debate, but there has also been an honest acknowledgement of what remains to be done. It is true that the gender pay gap for full-time work has decreased and is lower in Scotland than it is in the UK. The same is true of the overall gender pay gap figure. However, our comparisons should go further afield than our nearest friend and neighbour. The pay gap for the over-50s is particularly stubborn and persistent, and that perhaps relates to the premium that is attached to caring by women in particular. Pauline McNeill was quite right to say that we should look at that issue in more depth. When, in a former post, I chaired the strategic group on women and work, the trade unionists who were represented on that group were already deeply engaged in that area. We should remember that 40 per cent of families rely on help from grandparents to care for their children.
It is heartening that we have a high employment rate and low rates of unemployment and inactivity. Indeed, we have the second-highest employment rate for women in Europe. However, we must acknowledge that, over the year, female employment has decreased by 35,000 and that female economic inactivity has increased by 43,000. Therefore, when it comes to the economy, we are certainly not out of the woods yet. We should always scratch beneath the surface of the headline statistics. Research by the Scottish Government shows that countries that have pioneered the sort of policies that we are pursuing do not necessarily have the lowest pay gaps, so we must work even harder and ensure that all the arrows are flying in the right direction and that we have a joined-up approach, joined-up government and joined-up civic Scotland.
It would be remiss of me not to reiterate the calls for those local authorities that have not settled their equal pay claims to do so. It would also be remiss of me, particularly in the aftermath of Thursday’s referendum result, not to acknowledge the EU’s pivotal role in advancing women’s equality. Equal pay, maternity leave, shared parental leave and anti-discrimination laws are just some of the rights and protections that are enshrined in EU law. Whatever happens in the coming months and years, I want people to be assured that this Scottish Government will always seek to uphold rights and protections that have done so much to progress women’s equality.
As has been mentioned, the Government will accept the Labour Party amendment, which rightly recognises the negative impact on our economy of occupational segregation and indeed the underrepresentation of women in our economy, particularly with regard to STEM. As we all know, not many guarantees come with predicting the economic future, but the focus on STEM has to be—and is—a sure bet.
We also know that occupational segregation is a particularly wicked issue. No country in the world has solved it; however, some have done better in particular sectors, and we should cast our eyes far and wide to learn from the best international practice. Perhaps, though, we should unite tonight in being determined to make Scotland the first country to finally crack occupational segregation.
Solving, challenging and tackling inequality in the workplace is not only the right thing, but the smart thing to do for the future of our country and our economy. The Bank of Scotland has said:
“Being able to attract, develop, fully utilise and retain top female talent is highly important to us, and we recognise that companies with gender diverse senior management teams perform better.”
Gender diversity is therefore good for business. It also chimes with our inclusive growth agenda, which is very much at the heart of this Government’s economic strategy. We want an economy that works for the common good.
We know that promoting economic growth and tackling inequality must be two sides of the same coin. As a result, we will continue to support and promote the real living wage—and we will therefore not support the Tory amendment, which for some is essentially a tinkering around with the national minimum wage. There is very strong evidence that the living wage is good for business, increases productivity and—most important—makes people feel valued in the workplace. For example, a nursery worker from West Lothian has said:
“The Living Wage also makes me feel more confident and valued whilst I’m working. I recognise that I’m appreciated for doing my job, and that even rubs off on the children I’m looking after.”
The real living wage is a societal good that we should all be campaigning for, supporting and advancing at every opportunity.
Many people have focused on the importance of STEM subjects. Briefly, I would suggest that we recognise that the number of Scottish Qualifications Authority exam passes by girls in STEM subjects has risen between 2007 and 2015 and that 48 per cent of passes in STEM subjects are by young women. There is, of course, more to do. We know that young women are well represented in biology but less so in physics, and we face a startling challenge in and around information and communications technology. We need to attract and encourage more women and indeed more young people into these productive sectors. They are the sectors of the future, and we and our economy will miss a trick if we cannot get more women into sectors that are crying out for them.
As I have said, we must ensure that all the arrows are flying in the right direction. We need a comprehensive response. In essence, my job is to join up the strategy and the dots between the early years and developing Scotland’s young workforce, and to ensure that the gendered action plans that the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland are pursuing are having an impact on the ground. We are, of course, advancing early years and free childcare. That is the biggest infrastructure project that the Government has undertaken. Flexible working, which many members have mentioned, is absolutely crucial, as are the reporting of the pay gap and occupational segregation.
I will end by touching on the new powers that will come to the Parliament. It is important that we do not confuse social security powers that relate to disability and carers and benefits that exist to assist people with the additional cost of living with a disability with the limited employment programmes that are being devolved to the Parliament. Nonetheless, with the devolution of the work choice programme and the work programme, we will make different choices. There are indeed opportunities of having more gender-sensitive employability programmes, which Andy Wightman spoke of.
I am very proud of the fact that the Government has funded Scottish Women’s Aid, which works in partnership with various local services, with an employment programme that supports women who have been financially dependent on an abusive partner and who have additional barriers into the workplace.
There are already examples of employability programmes that are targeted at the specific needs of women, but we will have to pursue that issue further. I know that Mr Hepburn will relish that task as he takes it forward.