The ambitious target was announced at the launch of a new programme Developing Women Leaders in the House of Lords this week to mark IWD. It was hosted by Baroness Margaret Prosser, Deputy Chair of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
Director Tina Fahm told a group of 50 guests from top and middle management that 5,600 women were missing from high ranking positions in the civil service, the judiciary, in FTSE 100 companies and in Parliament.
“These figures were highlighted in a report by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights called Sex and Power which concluded that there seemed to be a trend of reversal, a stagnation of women’s progress into leadership roles.
“I would like to ask what has got to happen for this reversal to be addressed. Is it about government solely taking responsibility here? Or is it about organisations making room for women, and women having the courage to take up the challenge? Study after study has affirmed that people associate women and men with different traits and link men more with the traits that promote leadership.
“As 2011 will mark the centenary of International Women’s Day, we have set a target to support 1,000 women into leadership by 8th March 2011. What are you going to do to make the vision of more women in leadership positions a reality? Join us again here in the House of Lords two years from now, and support us in making that vision a reality.”
Baroness Prosser highlighted the shortage of highly skilled part-time jobs for women, and cited the education sector and National Health Service. She said some highly trained professional women ended up taking unskilled work after having a family because of lack of opportunities in this organisation, some having trained as radiographers or physiotherapists.
Baroness Prosser chaired the Women and Work Commission to investigate reasons for the gender pay and opportunities gap and one of the major causes she discovered was that women lacked opportunities for decent quality part-time employment.
She said: “After having children, women take part-time employment and almost all of the part-time employment on offer is at the bottom of the scale. Once they go into those jobs, they don’t come out of them.”
Anne Begg MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Equalities Group, urged women not to narrow their horizons, and described the personal challenges she had overcome, particularly regarding her disability as she is confided to a wheelchair.
“I would like to recruit you perhaps to thinking of other fields, maybe like politics, because I suspect most of you have not got a touch for that, because that very often is the reaction of many women.
“I would like you to think of how you can make a difference, not just for your own organisation, not just for the people you work with, but for the whole country.”
Dr Emma Parry, a Senior Research Fellow from the Cranfield School of Management, said many organisations instinctively cut back on their training budget during a recession. But she explained why this was not a good idea.
“We know that people are now cutting recruitment budgets and freezing recruitment, so if you want to have the skills for your organisation to be competitive, it is important that you develop the people you have already got. A good example of this is South West Airlines in the States. Back in 2001 in the US recession, they actually increased their training budget and what they ended up with was a skilled, but also a very well motivated workforce. That allowed them to survive the recession while other airlines struggled then.
“In a climate where many organisations are freezing recruitment, the development of existing staff is particularly important. An excellent example of achieving this is an organisation called Mines Rescue, which not surprisingly do exactly what you might expect, they are a health and safety consultancy that were originally formed to manage the rescue of mine workers.
“In the 1990s, their only one customer was the British Coal Industry, and that went into a pretty rapid decline about that time. So what they needed to do to survive was change their main business. They upskilled everyone and their brigadesmen (these are what Mines Rescue called their rescuers) were upskilled to instructors, assessors and teachers. The organisation has now changed so that 80% of their business is in training as opposed to 20%.
“They have now totally turned around their business and now have 1,400 customers rather than one. That is a pretty impressive expansion. They have a turnover of about £8 million a year and present quite a convincing argument as to why training is important in the current recession.”