Women in the U.K. get to work

A package of programs and incentives helps British women make progress in the workplace.


Page Rockwell
September 11, 2006 11:00PM (UTC)

Here's some good news from across the pond -- today's Guardian reports that the British government is announcing "a package of measures designed to tear down barriers to women succeeding in the workplace." According to Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, the package will include incentives for companies to offer flexible hours, time sharing and part-time work; government-funded training for low-skilled women; pilot programs for recruiting women into the workplace; and new education standards that provide girls with career information that's "free from gender stereotyping." Some programs will focus on job training for women in Muslim and Asian communities.

The package comes in response to a study by the country's Women and Work Commission, which released findings in February indicating that "women's participation in work and enabling them to get better jobs could be worth up to #23 billion a year to the UK economy," according to the Guardian. The paper also reports that a forthcoming speech by Kelly will feature some savvy marketing: "My message to business is clear: This is not about political correctness; this is about improving your profit margins," Kelly is expected to say.

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All of which sounds pretty tremendous. Still, in selling the plan, the government is falling back on some loaded language; Kelly's speech includes a sound bite about using the workplace plan to "transform the culture in Britain from the playground to the boardroom." Whether intentionally or not, this introduces a sticky set of issues; the language here is muddled and seems to give family life short shrift. Contrasting the playground with the boardroom implies that women are currently kept from the workplace only by child care responsibilities, and that caring for children creates a "playground culture" that is juvenile compared to professional work. That bias may be alienating to women who choose to care for their children themselves. Plus, the suggestion that women are currently on the playground doesn't reflect the fact that the proposed initiative will address issues of work/family balance as well as other, not necessarily child-related barriers to women's employment, like lack of skills and biased or inadequate career information.

Linguistic quibbles aside, though, this development is great for women's empowerment in Britain, and I'm hoping Tony Blair mentions the scheme to his friends in the White House before he leaves office next year.


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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