Inspiring Women in the Financial Sector

Labour Party

The Bank of England opened its doors yesterday to 120 young women between the ages of 14-17 yesterday in an effort to inspire and encourage girls to consider a career in the financial sector.

Events like yesterday’s ‘career speed networking event’- part of the Inspiring Women Campaign-which London based school girls attended, help to breakdown the glass ceiling at a crucial point in their lives i.e. even before their careers have begun.

It is well known that girls and boys perform just as well in the early part of their careers but something happens after this and the likely reason is that for many women who have had flourishing careers to this point hit a glass ceiling, often following child birth or the presumption that they will take maternity leave at some point in the near future.

Introducing girls to inspiring women who pursue a wide range of careers, many of whom volunteered and attended yesterday’s event, shows that many talented women already have had interesting careers in the financial sector.

I hope events like these show that industries such as the financial sector are not the preserve of men, but are industries where everyone can aspire to join the career ladder regardless of gender or anything else.

The Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) published some startling figures earlier this year in a report that found 41% of British girls believe they are not good at maths; this compares with just 24% of boys. This crisis of confidence at this stage can drag girls overall performance down and stunts their career choices- something highlighted in the OECD report from earlier this year.

I believe tackling issues like gender disparity in the financial sector must start at school. We must give young women and girls the confidence to pursue subjects like maths, for example and encourage them to believe they can pursue careers in industries like the financial sector.

The Inspiring Women campaign is an excellent way to breakdown the glass ceiling and to encourage girls to consider careers they may well have discounted previously.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A paper by Labour in London this week drew attention to the capital’s childcare crisis. The document revealed that there were 35,000 fewer nursery places since the Conservatives took office, and that childcare costs have increased by 30%. Labour have announced they will increase childcare for 3-4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week, and will increase funding through a levy on banks. This would create an extra 72,000 places in London alone, where the struggle to keep up with costs is beginning to spiral out of control for many parents.

A report last month by the think tank IPPR drew attention to the present childcare crisis. The study showed the inextricable link between maternal employment levels – on which the UK performs worse than many OECD countries – and the poor childcare provisions Britain has to offer. IPPR said childcare of under-fives was essential to bring about better rates of work and pay for women, and that the ideal proportion of a family’s disposable income spent on childcare should be no more than 10%.

With Sure Start nurseries coming under threat from the government during this parliament – not to mention the TUC’s revelation last year that Britain has Europe’s worst maternity provisions – much more needs to be done. The alternative will be another generation of 50-65 year old women stuck in long-term unemployment or forced to deskill to find work.

I’m therefore delighted to see Labour in London spelling out such a clear direction of travel on this issue. The Tories produce a lot of hot air when it comes to getting women in the boardroom or the debating chamber, but to find sustainable solutions to these problems we need to address the systemic factors that drive women out of the workplace during their early thirties.

Also this week, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon made headlines when he referred to some UKIP members as “literally akin to the Nazis”. Halfon, a comparatively moderate Conservative, said Nigel Farage’s party could be split into two tribes: Godfrey Bloom-style buffoons and more “sinister” nationalists in the mould of Gerard Battern. He ironically thanked UKIP for “cleansing” his party of its lunatic fringe.

Halfon’s words draw attention to a sharp conflict within the Conservative Party, between those who want to remain borderline sane, and a larger faction who see the current state of British politics as an opportunity to drag the centre ground ever further to the right. For the latter group the existence of UKIP provides a convenient excuse; a political imperative to propel their party towards bigotry and knee-jerk populism. As I wrote in my round up last week, the end point in this journey is a type of Tea Party fanaticism which blocks all forms of progress.

So far David Cameron has made a host of concessions, essentially allowing the ultras within his party to dictate policy. One can only hope, for the sake both of British national interests and of democracy per se, that senior Conservative figures start to look beyond the ‘path of least resistance’ solutions they currently seem so keen on.

Experts pan the Coalition’s Plans to cut Sure Start

Labour Party

As rapporteur in the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee on early years learning across Europe, I am totally against the Coalition’s plan to cut the Sure Start programme.

My worst fears were confirmed last week when I was privileged to chair the morning session of an important conference in Brussels on early years education and care (ECEC). Organised by Working for Inclusion, the conference was supported by Children in Scotland and the Scottish Government and attended by a number of prominent children’s organisations including Eurochild and the Comenius Foundation for Child Development.

Among the impressive list of contributors were Bronwen Cohen , Head of Children in Scotland, John Bennett and Peter Moss. John Bennett works for the OECD as a senior consultant to the Early Childhood Policy Review and Peter Moss is Professor of Early Childhood Provision at the Institute of Education, University of London. He was the Coordinator of the European Commission Childcare Network from 1986-96, and also edited Children in Europe from 2002-09. We were also pleased to have two representatives present from the European Commission, Margarida Gameiro from DG Education and Culture, and Marie-Anne Paraskevas from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Stig Lund, from the European Trade Union Committee for Education, also said a few words.

All the speakers highlighted the vital contribution that high quality ECEC services can make to the public good. Families with children under five are at a higher risk of poverty than any other group. While ECEC services are not a ‘cure all’ solution to the problem of unequal and unjust societies, the contribution they can make to helping kids get the best start in life can’t be overlooked.

They stressed, however, that services should be universal, rather than targeted. This is why the Coalition’s planned cuts to Sure Start are so worrying. If, under their new scheme, Sure Start centres only target the poorest families, then it will lead to stigmatisation, which in turn will reduce take up. The Coalition must start listening to experts, rather than simply cutting education funding with impunity.