The UK faces unprecedented challenges in the current financial climate, and it has never been more important to harness the huge additional contribution that women can make. We are at a turning point in recognising women’s economic value, and a major report released by the Women’s Business Council focuses on how women’s contribution to growth can be optimised. Today’s workforce is changing and is becoming more diverse, however further change is required to create a national skills base that can meet the demands of a global market and help the UK remain competitive.
There is an overwhelming business case, supported by strong evidence, for maximising women’s contribution to the UK’s economic growth agenda. By equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women, the UK could increase its GDP per capita by 0.5% per year, with potential gains of 10% by 2030. There are also 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.
Enterprise is also 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. Women are currently only half as likely as men to do this, and they and the economy pay the price.
The report by the Women’s Business Council has made a number of practical recommendations which cover women’s opportunities at all stages of their working lives. The 30% Club wholly supports the Women’s Business Council’s emphasis on the impact that women can make to our economy, on the importance of collaboration to accelerate change and on the need to see this as everyone’s issue.
The impact of concerted effort is already clear from the progress around women on boards seen over the past three years. The leadership shown by the 65 Chairmen supporters of the 30% Club has helped reshape this as a business issue, rather than a women’s issue. This has driven positive momentum and accelerated change. This approach, where men and women work together, is critical to success as the efforts broaden from the boardroom to the classroom.
The time to act is now. The recovery from the financial crisis 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 men and women. Businesses – and society as a whole – needs more women to develop their careers and women need businesses – and society – to help them do that.