Women are a key source of untapped potential which we need to harness to boost economic growth in the UK.”

Cilla Snowball, CBE (Chair)

Executive summary

The Women’s Business Council was set up in 2012 to advise Government on how women’s contribution to growth can be optimised. Our aim has been to focus on areas with the greatest potential economic benefit and on recommendations with a clear economic case for action. Our full report is set out in the pages that follow. Its key messages are:

Key messages

There is an overwhelming business case, supported by strong evidence, for maximising women’s contribution to the UK’s economic growth agenda

While women need work, work also needs women. By equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women, the UK could further increase GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year, with potential gains of 10% of GDP by 2030. There are over 2.4 million women who are not in work but want to work, and over 1.3 million women who want to increase the number of hours they work. We need to unblock this mismatch and optimise the potential for the UK’s economic growth.

We urgently need to broaden girls’ aspirations and career choices by creating a greater partnership between schools, career development professionals, business and parents

Investment in the futures of girls and young women allows us to maximise their economic potential, provide the greatest return and increase the UK’s competitiveness in a global market. Girls tend to do well at school, but this does not always translate into their ambition. There are several excellent examples of initiatives designed to raise aspirations of girls and boys such as the Speakers 4 Schools Programme, which we would encourage schools to take advantage of.

Girls also tend to end up concentrated in sectors that offer narrower scope for reward, and are under-represented in areas of skills shortages and high potential, such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

We have made several recommendations for action in this area.
The key ones are:

  • A culture change in careers provision for young people and adults is needed. Business, careers professionals and schools should work together to ensure increased access to high quality work experience and job shadowing. As part of this, employers should commit to ensuring their graduates, trainees and apprentices visit schools regularly to act as role models and deliver more accessible, first-hand insights about the range of career opportunities available.
  • The Government should report on how it plans to implement the findings of Ofsted’s report on careers advice and information, including how it will actively engage with industry and business to improve careers guidance and deliver results.
  • A more cohesive approach should be taken by business and Government to encourage girls into STEM subjects and STEM careers.
Go to recommendations for this area
Business culture needs to embrace the benefits of flexible working and support for working parents

Women in the middle phase of their working lives are looking to capitalise on the progress they have made, either by securing their positions or looking to move into senior and managerial roles. This is also a time when many women will have children, and can experience a downward shift in status. Three issues are critical at this point: how business manages talent; the cost and availability of childcare; and a working arrangement and culture which gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where and when they work. This can be in terms of working time, working location and pattern of working.

We have made several recommendations for action in this area.
The key ones are:

  • Business should, wherever possible and practical, offer employment contracts which reflect the needs of the job itself rather than when or where the work is to be done.
  • Business should do more to help mothers when returning to work, including effective return to work procedures, work experience for mothers taking career breaks and talent management schemes.
  • Government should closely monitor the implementation of the Childcare Commission’s welcome recommendations on changing the tax system in order to reduce the financial burden carried by working parents. If the economic climate allows this should be expanded further, as we firmly believe this will aid economic growth.
Go to recommendations for this area
Women in the third phase of their working lives offer tremendous untapped potential and opportunity for economic growth

The UK population is ageing, and the average age at retirement is increasing. This provides a growing resource for economic growth – and for women’s financial independence in later life. Key challenges for many women in the third phase of their working lives are to keep their skills updated and learn new ones in order to take advantage of employment opportunities in growing sectors. For others, the main challenge is the need to reduce their hours to accommodate increased caring responsibilities for children, grandchildren and ageing parents.

We have made several recommendations for action in this area.
The key ones are:

  • Government should appoint a business champion for workers in the third phase of their working lives to promote the business benefits of recruiting and retaining this group. They should work with key business, skills and career development organisations to steer effective change in support services for these staff.
  • Business should review the flexible working opportunities they provide for third phase staff, and should network and share good practice on how to manage a multigenerational workforce.
  • Government should work with local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships to test assistive technology and IT for carers, to increase the support available to carers who want to remain in the workplace.
Go to recommendations for this area
There is enormous potential in women’s untapped entrepreneurialism, and a strong case for providing more support for women who want to set up their own businesses

Enterprise is vital for economic growth, national competitiveness and innovation. If women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, we could have an extra one million female entrepreneurs. They are currently only half as likely to do this, and they and the economy pay the price.

We have made several recommendations for action in this area.
The key ones are:

  • Business should utilise the British Chambers of Commerce women’s business networks and support joint working between schools and organisations like Everywoman, to promote an industry-led approach that will raise girls’ awareness of enterprise as a career opportunity.
  • Financial institutions should ensure they market their services to women who want to set up their own business.
  • Government should broaden its messages on what an enterprise is and ensure inclusive marketing of support services, in recognition of the differences between male and female entrepreneurs.
Go to recommendations for this area

Taken together, these actions represent a road map for clear and achievable gains. Many of them build on current initiatives, or align existing activities. We have been aware throughout of the need to avoid excessive burden on either business or Government – indeed we do not believe that it is necessary for action to be burdensome to be effective. We are at a turning point in women’s economic development: the current economic situation is difficult for us all, but also provides an opportunity for gaining overdue recognition of the vital contribution of women to our country’s national prosperity.

The time to act is now. The recovery from the financial crisis and recession in 2008–09 has been slow and faltering, and businesses across the country (as well as Government departments) are doing all they can to get the economy moving. The UK will not be able to meet its potential unless we use the talents, skills and experience of all.