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A major action plan to tackle barriers to women's achievement in the workplace and transform the culture in Britain...
A major action plan to tackle barriers to women's achievement in the workplace and transform the culture in Britain 'from the playground to the boardroom' was launched today by communities secretary Ruth Kelly.

The government's action plan includes a raft of practical new measures addressing almost forty recommendations made by the Women and Work Commission in their 'Shaping a Fairer Future' report. It will improve opportunities for women to get on at work and encourage a culture change within those companies and organisations still failing to see the huge economic potential of their female workforce.

Measures include:

* A major new 'Exemplar Employer Initiative' - the government will work with employers to develop programmes such as helping women returning from work access quality part-time work, flexible working for women and setting up job share registers. More than 80 organisations have already signed up for the scheme, ranging from high street names to small business to public sector organisations.

* The roll-out of new 'Equality Reps' across England. The scheme will step up awareness among workers of flexible working rights and discrimination issues by working alongside statutory union representatives.

* A new 'Equality Check' that will help companies spot any emerging problems with equal treatment of staff such as determining the level of gender pay gap.

* A national education standard in schools, to step up cultural change by making girls aware of non-traditional career opportunities.

This will come into force from April 2007 to ensure all young people receive careers information, advice and guidance which is free from gender stereotyping.

* A new half a million pound fund to support companies and organisations in increasing the number of senior and quality roles available part time.

Minister for women Ruth Kelly announced on Sunday that all jobs in her own department will now be advertised as available on a flexible or part time basis. Launching this action plan, she said:

'Today's parents find it difficult to balance professional and family commitments - the role of government should be to help them make the decisions that suit them and their families. The proposals we are setting out today aim to establish a change in culture from the playground to the boardroom. Just because a woman decides to trade down her hours, doesn't mean she should trade down her status. There have been huge improvements across the workplace but we want all employers to reach the standards of the best.

'The best of business already understands the benefits that flexible working delivers but it's time the rest jumped on board. There is a hard-headed business reason for this - the Women and Work Commission suggests helping women harness their full potential is worth up to£23billion a year to the UK economy. So my message to business is clear, this is not about political correctness, this is about improving your profit margins.'

Chair of the Women and Work Commission, Margaret Prosser


'I am extremely pleased that the Women and Work Commission recommendations are being taken forward by so many government departments. If government, trade unions and business continue to work together, I believe that we can make a real difference to the lives of millions of working women in this country.

'I expect that this action plan will be vigorously followed through and look forward to hearing about progress next year.'


1. The Women and Work Commission Report Shaping a Fairer Future was presented to the Prime Minister by Baroness Prosser on 27 February 2006.

2. The commission propose a wealth of practical ideas on how to close the gender pay and opportunities gap. These are founded on a thorough analysis of all the available evidence. The commission has described a complex problem which requires progress on a number of fronts.

3. The action plan builds on an extensive programme of work underway both before and after the Women and Work Commission reported in February 2006.

4. This is on-top of the raft of new rights already introduced by the government including:

* Extending the period of paid maternity leave from 18 to 26 weeks.

* Giving all new fathers the right to two weeks paid paternity leave.

* All parents with children under six the right to require employers to seriously consider their requests to work flexibly.

* All parents the right to 13 weeks of additional unpaid leave during the first five years of their child's life.

5. It is estimated that increasing women's participation and enabling them to participate in better jobs could be worth between£15bn and£23bn a year to the UK economy.

6. Women working part-time also earn on average 38 per cent less than men working full-time.

7. The pdf version of 'The Government Plane - Implementing the Women and Work Commission Recommendations' is available at:

8. For Exemplar Employer case studies see below:

Exemplar Employer Initiative case studies

20 of the exemplar employers are based in London with the rest spread across the UK including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The broad range of organisations include small and medium sized enterprises, universities, local authorities and emergency services.

Examples of their schemes include;

National Grid has a programme to improve the recruitment of women into the operational and engineering side of the business. This includes female graduate engineers talking to groups of school girls interested in a career in engineering and a behind the scenes day for girls at National Grid House.

65% of Tesco's workforce in stores is women. Each year they run academies for women identified as having the potential to progress into senior roles within the organisation. All managers in store (over 20,000) will receive diversity training in October. This training includes looking at barriers that women may face in developing into managerial positions at Tesco. Ruth Kelly today met the manager of Tesco Leystonstone - her first job for the company was as a part time check out worker at 17.

Other examples include Microsoft's work on women's networks, Co-Op on equal pay, Mitie on woman and construction and Accenture on women returning to work.

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