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With today’s job cuts, will women ever reach the boardroom?

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Jane Osmond
WVoN co-editor

Despite widespread reports (here and here) about the impact of UK public sector job cuts on women, John Philpott, the chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), is dismissive.

Speaking about the most recent unemployment figures published by the Office for National Statistics, Philpott commented in hrmagazine:

Reports in much of today’s media that women are at present faring less well than men in the labour market, primarily because of the disproportionate impact of public sector job cuts, are misleading.

He justifies this viewpoint by pointing out that the rise in unemployment figures is more or less equal for men and women at 89,000 and 90,000 respectively.

Mary-Ann Stevenson of Coventry Women’s Voices agrees, but points out that unemployment for women is about to increase at a faster rate:

“We are only now looking at the beginning of the problem, so when you are looking at Coventry for example, planned job losses from public sector employers such as the Council will disproportionally affect women, as they make up 70% of the Council workforce. The worst is yet to come”.

To be fair, Philpott accepts that the rise in the unemployment rate for women may change in view of future public sector downsizing in the ‘coming months and years’.

However, for Stevenson, the real problem is the adverse affect of public sector job cuts on women’s chances of carving out professional careers:

“It is important to point out that the disproportional number of women working in the public sector often do so because they have access to flexible employment opportunities and career breaks, underpinned by anti-discrimination policies.  These choices enable women to return to work – for example, after a maternity break – and continue to progress up the career ladder”.

So not only will the forthcoming public sector job cuts directly affect the female workforce as a whole, but will also indirectly impact on the future career prospects of women trying to carve out careers within workplaces that recognise and support women through a robust equality and diversity ethos.

This is evidenced by recent proposals from the government to reduce the so-called burden (as they see it) on private sector employers in terms of employment law.

For example, micro-companies may well become exempt from employment regulations in order to encourage them to employ staff, such as no-fault dismissal for organisations with 10 or fewer employees.

If this becomes law, then pregnant women or those with caring responsibilities, for example, may well find themselves firstly pushed out of public sector employment because of the cuts, and then also out of the private sector because of the reduction in employment protection.

Given the British Prime Minister’s recent comment that ‘the case is overwhelming that companies and countries run better if you have men and women working together at the top’, removing the protection of employment legislation seems to be a counter-intuitive step.

Therefore, if women cannot keep their place on the career ladder because they are, well, women, then the chance of addressing the very real inequalities that have resulted in one in ten of Britain’s biggest firms still having all-male boards seems as far away as ever.

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