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Women: Businesses

Volume 768: debated on Thursday 21 January 2016

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the contribution women are making to businesses, the economy and the future economic growth of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this timely debate, for it is a chance to celebrate—to celebrate the huge success both of the country and of individuals.

Women have come a long way in a short time. Let us not forget that it was only in 1928 that women gained equal voting rights with men, but it is less than 100 years ago that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act enabled the first women to become barristers and solicitors and only in 1997 that a woman became chief executive of a FTSE 100 company. Such was the amazed reaction to Marjorie Scardino getting the top job at Pearson that many appear to regard the event as akin to Dr Johnson’s response to a woman being a preacher:

“a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all”.

Well, to find women succeeding in business is no longer any surprise. There are many examples of that success in this Chamber, and I am delighted that we will be hearing from so many of them today, and that the Minister who is to respond had herself a highly successful career in business before turning her hand to politics.

In particular, I am delighted that we will be listening to two maiden speeches, both from women who are making a serious contribution to the business world. My noble friend Lady Rock is a director of a FTSE 250 company, and my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith, runs the mighty Mitie company and chairs the Women’s Business Council, which aims massively to increase the contribution of women to the economy. I have no doubt that they will both have some very interesting things to say.

For too long, women were a wasted resource in the economy. There is now a clear understanding that we cannot afford to squander the talent of half the population. If we could equalise women’s productivity and employment with that of men, it could add £600 billion to the economy. I applaud the moves that the Government are making to encourage this change: the right to request flexible working, shared parental leave, and now 30 hours of free childcare for the parents of three and four year-olds.

But it takes time to change attitudes. When I was a working mother, I was somewhat taken aback at a school parents evening to be shown the work of the eldest son, who was then aged five. “My daddy is tall and thin. He is a publisher”, he had written. That was largely accurate, if perhaps slightly flattering on the size front, but never the less he was indeed a publisher. He went on, “My mummy is short and fat. She is a typist”. It was true because I was pregnant and I typed, but I did so as a journalist on the business pages of a national newspaper. Prejudices are formed early and they can be absorbed from seemingly innocent sources such as children’s books.

The remarkable Dame Stephanie Shirley built a fantastic business in the tech field. At the time she started it, in the 1960s, a married woman needed her husband’s permission to open a bank account. So she decided to work as Steve rather than Stephanie, because she was sure that someone with a man’s name would have a better chance of persuading customers to join the business than a woman would. She built the business up to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds, making 70 of her staff, largely women, millionaires in the process. She has since become one of our leading philanthropists. Her experience, however, led her to remark that, “You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads. They’re flat on top from being patted patronisingly”.

Things have improved since then. Led by the dynamic and determined noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, the drive to get more women on to corporate boards has been very successful. In 2011, just 12.5% of FTSE 100 directors were women. Last year that proportion overtook the 25% mark. Now the drive is to increase the number of women directors among the FTSE 350 companies. Astonishingly, in 2011 there were 152 all-male boards in the 350 index. In four years, that number has been cut by 90% and the Government target now is to bolster the proportion of women on those boards to a third.

I was so relieved that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and the Government set targets and not quotas. I do not believe that quotas would have been for the long-term benefit of the country or of women. It would inevitably have led to women being put on boards because of their gender and not their ability. Promoting token women is not to anyone’s benefit. What boards need is a diversity of experience, skills, talent and outlook.

I believe that women are as diverse as men. I hope that I will not be seen as being disloyal to the sisterhood if I say that, just as women can be thoughtful, caring, kind and ambitious, so can men, but not all women are paragons. Some can be as scheming, ruthless and mean as any man. Both men and women can fall victim to the groupthink that is so damaging to a business. Various studies purport to show that having women on the board has a positive effect on performance. That may be, but might the positive factor be having a board that is not so blinkered, old-fashioned and prejudiced as to close its doors to anyone who does not fit the stereotypical male, pale director image? Diversity is what is required.

I should probably take this opportunity to say that I currently sit on two company boards, one of which is a FTSE 100 company and is, I am delighted to say, chaired by a woman. My experience of being on boards is that generalisations are dangerous. Getting the right mix of people is what is important, irrespective of gender, so it makes sense to choose from the biggest possible talent pool. That means looking at men and women and, equally important, looking at people from diverse backgrounds and, in this global business world, diverse countries.

Although we are making progress at board level, it is among non-executive directors rather than executives that the biggest changes have come. When it comes to executives, we now have six female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies, but the ratio of male to female senior execs is pitiful. I think it is more likely that a man called John will be a senior or chief exec than a woman of any name.

Is this because of a glass ceiling, or is it because many able women choose not to take on those roles? Here, we should not—cannot—ignore the realities of family life. The issue of childcare and, increasingly, the need to look after older parents, undoubtedly impacts on careers. It is true that families are moving towards more shared care between parents, but it still tends to be the mother who carries the bulk of domestic responsibilities.

There is more that companies could do to make it easier for people to balance work and life. For all the talk of flexible working—some companies pay much more than lip-service to it—we still have a long-hours culture in this country and presenteeism is rife. It is interesting to note that this does not in any way equate to world-beating productivity—on the contrary.

One thing I find remarkable is that for many executives, a huge amount of travelling seems to be required. Why should this be the case in an age when videoconferencing is highly sophisticated and Skype is readily available? It may be that people still believe that it is imperative to do business face-to-face and, on some occasions, it certainly is, but if companies could make better use of technology instead of business class seats and comfortable hotels, more mothers might be encouraged to take on senior executive roles.

I have to say that, in my career, I have never felt discriminated against for being a woman. Indeed, I often found it something of an advantage. As a journalist, when I was younger, older captains of industry seemed quite responsive to being interviewed by a younger woman. Later on, I suspect that younger captains of industry felt comfortable talking to someone who reminded them of their mother.

However, it saddens me to admit that women are still discriminated against when it comes to the matter of pay. There are explanations for why there should be the apparent gender pay gap, but it is so glaring, so consistent, that it is hard to avoid concluding that there is an element of discrimination at work. It would be charitable to think that it was always unintentional. Fifty years ago, it was still largely taken for granted that women would be paid less than men. But the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1970, so it is remarkable that the gap between average earnings of men and women remains so wide—a staggering 19.2% in this country, which is nearly 3% higher than the average for Europe.

Work by the Fawcett Society shows an even bigger gap at the top: the highest-earning 2% of men earn an average of £117,352 while the average for the highest-earning 2% of women is just £75,745—an extraordinary gap of 55%. Now, of course, there are factors to explain the gap, not least the fact that women are slow to climb into those top jobs that pay more. The good news is that among younger people—those under 40—the gap has been narrowed almost into non-existence. But the evidence points firmly towards the fact that older women are not being paid what they deserve.

The Government have pledged to close the gap within a generation and last year announced plans to force companies to publish the figures showing their pay by gender, including bonuses. It is important to keep the bonuses in there because of the belief that men get bigger bonuses than women, either because they demand them or because those handing out the bonuses just think they are more deserving. The figures point to there being some truth in that.

The hope is that, by forcing companies to publish their numbers, it will encourage them to examine their pay structures more carefully. It might, but I suspect that, unless they are forced into disclosing pay by tiers rather than just overall, they will cling to the belief that they are being asked to compare apples and pears. I hope that the Minister today may be able to give us some thoughts on how real change is to be brought about on this front.

Getting more women into top jobs is clearly part of the solution, but it may not be enough. The actress Sienna Miller is clearly at the top of her profession. When she learnt that a film offer made to her would pay her significantly less than her male co-star, she walked away. That option is not available to many women.

However, I do not want to finish on a down-beat note. As I have said, the increased proportion of women in the economy is a cause for celebration. We have girls being enthused about business at school, more women setting up their own businesses than ever before and women running some of our biggest companies. We have a woman chairing the Institute of Directors and a woman directing the CBI. We are not a monstrous regiment, but we are a formidable force. I beg to move.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft for initiating this debate and I, too, very much look forward to the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lady Rock and Lady McGregor-Smith, both of whom come to this House with considerable business experience and expertise.

Noble Lords may be aware that I spend a lot of time banging on about women’s equality in Parliament. As a result of the work I have done in this space, I have been lucky enough to meet and talk to many successful businesswomen and female entrepreneurs who support this. Due to efforts by women themselves, the introduction of voluntary targets, as the noble Baroness said, and government support, progress continues to be made in all areas to increase women’s representation in the workplace. The news that 69% of women aged between 16 and 64 are now in employment, the highest number since records began in 1971, is to be welcomed. Here in Parliament, women now make up a record 29% of the House of Commons—not good enough, obviously—and 26% of the Lords.

In the business world, however, the UK still languishes in the bottom 10 of the league table of senior management roles around the world, with women in the UK holding only 19% of these positions. Interestingly, the number one spot is occupied by China, with 51% of senior management positions held by women. I have not studied the correlation but I would be surprised if the success of women in business there is not a significant factor in powering China’s economic success.

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute has analysed gender equality in 95 countries around the world, and estimated that closing the gender gap in the workplace would increase annual GDP by between $12 trillion and $28 trillion in 2025, depending on how quickly change could be implemented. That is a very big number, equivalent to the economies of China and the US combined. We could create economic value equivalent to two world superpowers in less than 10 years if women’s participation in the workplace were equal to men’s across 95 countries. The opportunities are mind-boggling.

Some noble Lords will be aware that I speak regularly in debates about international development, encouraging the Government to do even more to empower women in developing countries and making the economic case for doing so. I am delighted that Justine Greening has just been appointed to the UN’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, designed to put the issue on the global agenda, and I am sure we all wish her and the panel every success. However, I am struck that we seldom focus to the same extent here at home, where we are still far from reaching our full potential.

It is great news that proportionally more women than men are now involved in business start-ups. In 2014, the proportion of working-age people involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity was 11%. By gender, the entrepreneurial activity in the UK was 14% among women and 8% among men. From listening to many women who have been involved in starting their own businesses, I know that flexibility in working hours is often a key to balancing work and family life. I personally identify with that, as in 2007 I set up my own business with a partner. That business continues to thrive today and employs 19 people, although I do not think I would be in this Chamber today if I had stuck with the business rather than focusing on other areas of women’s empowerment.

I recently asked a number of successful women entrepreneur friends what they thought should be done to support more women to maximise their potential in the workplace. In their view, women tend to nurture their business growth, are financially prudent, and seldom look for a quick exit but focus more on developing a sustainable business. People management and team development skills are paramount, as start-ups are highly dependent on a few scarce people. They told me that it is lonely if they start on their own. An inclusive style, working as a team together with natural mentoring and coaching skills, are strengths often found in women. Of course, that is not to say that successful male entrepreneurs do not display some or all of the same characteristics, but entrepreneurship should be encouraged as an area of growth for women in the economy. The recent paper from the Centre for Entrepreneurs, Shattering Stereotypes: Women in Entrepreneurship, is well worth a read for further insight.

More entrepreneurial education, support and encouragement are needed for the next generation of female entrepreneurs—interestingly, they do not like to be called entrepreneurs but want to be called business founders; the word somehow turns them off—with the establishment of high-quality mentoring schemes and networks. I welcome the Government’s work in that space, including the new mentoring campaign to be led by Christine Hodgson, chair of Capgemini UK and the Careers & Enterprise Company, but is the Minister confident that all those various initiatives are promoted widely enough? Preparing for the debate made me aware of how much support was available, but I am not convinced that it is easy to find. Might all that activity benefit from being joined up under a single strategy, leading to an entrepreneurial revolution in our schools, further education colleges, universities and beyond? That kind of bold initiative could lead to a considerable economic prize to ensure that the UK continues to be one of the fastest-growing global economies for the next decade and beyond.

My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for introducing this debate on women’s contribution to business and economic growth, not least because it gives a context for two much-anticipated maiden speeches, from my noble friend Lady Rock—I am pleased to say that she began her career in book publishing—and the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, who has done such amazing work as chair of the Women’s Business Council, is an important role model for young women, and is a long-serving CEO.

I have been a woman in business since I entered the workforce in the mid-1970s, launching a publishing start-up in 1982 and becoming CEO of one of the largest publishing groups in the UK in 1991—a position I held for 22 years until I became chair.

I join the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Jenkin, in applauding women’s achievements, with 69% of women in work—the highest number since I joined the workforce, but still behind 79% of men. I have seen women’s attitudes and aspirations towards fulfilling work transform with each generation and I enjoy my millennial daughters’ utter intolerance of many of the compromises that I have made in my life. For them, the notion of equalising women’s productivity and employment to men’s is a real possibility—potentially adding, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, told us, some £600 billion to our economy. But it would depend on a different culture in organisations and, at home, a truly shared responsibility for child-rearing.

But as well as our successes, we also have to acknowledge that there is much more to achieve. There are currently 2.4 million women who want to work but cannot and 1.5 million who are failing to increase their working hours. In the 21st century is it not shocking, as we have heard and will clearly agree on, that in the UK we have a gender pay gap of 19.2%, which is well above the European average? Why is it that 42% of women who work part-time—often involuntarily, many on zero-hours contracts—are three times more likely than men to earn far less than a living wage? These depressing statistics do not fit with the fact that around half of our young women hold a university degree, with significant numbers achieving first-class honours. Why is it that so many are in low-or middle-skilled jobs, well below their qualifications? Depressingly, for these women, little has changed since the 1970s.

Going right back to school, girls outperform boys, but very few are on a pathway towards high-growth STEM subjects, where many high-profile jobs would await them. The CBI reports that girls suffer from pigeonholing in their careers and that 93% of all young people are not getting the careers advice that they deserve. So I suggest that we need to improve career preparation for women, whether in the humanities or STEM subjects, even as early as primary school, because by the time women are exposed to inspiring role models—if they ever are at all—they tend to have already decided on their exam choices and their ambitions are potentially curtailed.

When I speak to girls’ schools I encounter such enthusiasm and curiosity, but I often feel like I am a visitor from Mars. There is little continuity or training and few consistent role models for the majority of the 3.7 million young women who are not being prepared to aspire to a career and fulfil their potential in the workforce. I hope that Christine Hodgson’s new independent careers advice company will address these gender issues specifically.

At the same time, millennials—women between the ages of 18 and 34—are more likely to want self-determination and to start their own businesses rather than follow a regimented career. A third of start-ups in Britain are by women aged under 35; 37% of them self-fund and operate their business from home, covering service sectors, probably with limited upsides. They do not tend to move into the tech and science environments that men monopolise—a fact championed by my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox. I look forward to hearing her views on this. Women are also less likely to seek VC funding than the majority of start-ups by men. Could it be because generally, and not always through choice, they take on the family responsibilities and therefore fear debt and failure more acutely?

Similar dynamics operate in the traditional workforce, where 75% of CEOs and 69% of full-time managers are men. This has pretty much been the case all my working life, as I witness women’s career trajectories change once they become mothers, with one-third of managers going on a downward trajectory. It is also at this point—as we have heard, when they are roughly in their 40s—that women’s pay begins to deviate from men’s in what has been called the “motherhood penalty”.

The argument has been made time and time again that if you add 10% of gender diversity at the top of companies, you add a potential 3.5% EBIT increase, yet the number of senior women leaders remains stubbornly low. There are only 8.6% women executive directors on our top companies’ boards. There are 26% women non-executive directors on our top boards—a great achievement of my noble friend Lord Davies and others—but we now need radical action on women’s executive careers. Is it a question of unconscious bias in companies and benevolent stereotyping? Or, as Sheryl Sandberg argues, are women failing to “lean in”? Perhaps the Government themselves, a big national employer, could set targets for their executive women’s pipeline? I certainly find increased anxiety in the brilliant young career women I mentor, especially when they start a family, as if they have subscribed to some ideal notion of perfect motherhood, blended with perfect work performance—both impossible goals.

Millennial women, for the most part, take a different attitude from my generation. They reject the compromise of working motherhood where all the responsibility rests with women and demand a more equal approach with a partner and much more time flexibility from the companies they work for. Work/life balance is firmly on their agenda. I was lucky enough to be able to afford childcare when I had children, but today the cost of nursery provision is up 33% since 2010, well ahead of any salary inflation. And, unfortunately for anyone working in today’s 24/7 environment, how adjusted is childcare provision generally to the majority of working families or, indeed, lone parents, 93% of whom are women working outside the nine to six, nine to five—or whatever—norm?

If women are going to make their full contribution to the workforce, we need a different culture of shared parental responsibility and universal, affordable and flexible childcare. We need to stop demonising working mothers or colluding in setting up impossible ideals. We need trust and flexibility within companies to allow women—and men—to juggle their lives, and we need finite measures to increase aspiration in schools and universities, followed by focused training and sponsorship in executive pipelines for women. Mentorship and active sponsorship of women in all companies are essential.

These issues are many and complex and, yes, I think it is right that we applaud the contribution of women to business and their current and future potential impact on the growth of our economy, but let us also be aware of the warning signs of lack of progress and stagnation and of unequal access to opportunity, and honestly debate any barriers—practical, psychological and cultural—to women’s full contribution to our future.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft on securing this debate, and particularly the way it has been framed. We are finally talking about the contribution that women can and do make to growth and economic prosperity, instead of being trapped in a debate on equality for equality’s sake. There are reasons why we need to empower women in the workplace and they are for the benefit not just of women but of the whole country. Our businesses can do better, innovate more and grow faster if we leverage the talent of the whole country.

Today I want to focus my remarks on opportunity—opportunities for women in business and opportunities for our economic growth as a country, now and in the future. The opportunities for women are simple. They are the same as the opportunities for anyone building a career in business—an access-all-areas pass to any skill set, any profession and any industry, and, in those areas, the chance to go as high as anyone wants to go, from middle management to senior leadership to FTSE 100 CEO. On that note, I pay tribute to and welcome my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith to this House. Her success in business, as well as her work at the Women’s Business Council, is an inspiration to us all.

How do we unlock these opportunities? Our generation is more fortunate than previous ones in that we at least can point to equality before the law. We therefore need to make sure that, first, we empower women with the skills they need to get on in whatever career they choose and, secondly, change culture and attitudes where we need to so that women with the right skills get to the top and do not get sidelined by gender issues.

Take my own industry, football. In 1993, when records began, just 10,000 women and girls played in affiliated league and cup competitions. That number is now 147,000, which is of course progress, but we still have a long way to go. It will not surprise many in this House that there are no female managers in the professional ranks of men’s football. But it may surprise noble Lords that just eight of the 24 teams at the recent Women’s World Cup were managed by women, and in global professional women’s football women manage just 7% of teams. If we can encourage more girls into the sport, this may yet filter through into management and leadership roles as well, and I commend the FA’s targeted outreach programme to recruit more female players and coaches.

Some of the remaining barriers are cultural. Noble Lords may have seen the “This Girl Can” campaign—a celebration of women in sport, designed to challenge the idea that certain activities are not for girls. There is a football example of a woman doing keepy-uppy, with the caption, “I also know the offside rule”. I commend such initiatives for helping to show that no part of our society or economy should be closed to half the population. There are lessons here for the wider business community.

Culturally, perhaps the most important thing we need to do is address flexible working and raising a family, as many speakers have said, and end the stereotypes that may still exist in this area. I am pleased, therefore, that the Government have introduced the right to request flexible working as well as shared parental leave. It is important that this is seen as an opportunity for men as much as for women. I think Sheryl Sandberg said it best when she said:

“I look forward to the day when half our homes are run by men and half our companies and institutions are run by women. When that happens, it won’t just mean happier women and families; it will mean more successful businesses and better lives for us all”.

Of course, for men and women, raising a family does not mean being less committed to building a career.

Then we have to consider the gender pay gap and continue to get more women into senior leadership positions—and pay them. The gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been but it still exists. We now have no all-male FTSE 100 boards but we still need more female representation. This is the opportunity for women. Of profound importance is the opportunity for our economy, competiveness and growth prospects if we can empower more women in business and unlock the talents of British people. The Women’s Business Council has calculated that if we equalise women’s employment to that of men by 2030, we can add at least 10% to GDP. Closing the pay gap does not benefit just women, it benefits the whole economy. Until women earn the same as men, the economy will continue to lose money, currently around £40 billion a year. As the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has said,

“gender equality doesn’t require trade-offs; it only has benefits. And the benefits accrue to everyone”.

We have heard today of the outstanding contributions that women are making to the UK economy, and their potential to do more. Women deserve these opportunities but, more importantly, Britain deserves them. In a fiercely competitive global economy, we need to lever every advantage we can to stay ahead. We still have a lot to do but Britain is ahead of many other countries in maximising women’s economic footprint. Let us lock in that first-mover advantage and reap the benefits it can bring for our girls, our women and our country as a whole.

My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for securing this debate. She may not remember that we first met in 1999, when she wrote about me—I quote directly—“She is overhyped”. She wrote with characteristic vim and absolute accuracy, I hasten to add. I was personally overhyped by the excitement of the dotcom boom, which I thought would lead to an incredible redistribution and democratising of the world. In many ways it has, and in many ways unexpected things have happened, for good and for slightly less good.

I would like to talk this afternoon about the potential to unlock even more for women using the power of the internet. There is much to be positive about. To give your Lordships two examples, there is a company that you may not be aware of called Samasource, which was started by a brilliant female entrepreneur in the US. It employs women in developing countries to do outsourcing and data collection and to work for companies all over the world. I was amused to read on its website that one of its key employees—she is also called Martha—said of working for Samasource:

“It’s been a dream, me having my own place, paying my own rent, buying my own food. Being independent”.

I feel much the same about the internet, I should add.

On the one hand, we have brilliant companies such as Samasource being built and giving opportunities to women all over the world in new ways. At the other extreme, I met a woman this morning at the launch of the Lloyds consumer digital index, which is benchmarking how we are progressing towards being a digital nation. She is called Lisa and used to be a bus driver. Now she makes her own financial products online and has been quite astonishing in building her own business. It is smaller scale but I am sure it will be as big as Samasource soon enough.

I would be telling a terrible untruth, however, if I described any situation other than an internet that is controlled, run, funded, made and used predominantly by men. It is an extremely serious situation. If we look through any cut of the numbers, it is profoundly upsetting. About 4% of the world’s software developers, the people controlling and building the internet, are women. About 9% of businesses founded on the internet are run by women. About 10% of venture capitalists in the internet space are women. In the total technology sector here in the UK, 13% are women and there are 17% of women in management positions. On every metric, it is fewer than the number of women in your Lordships’ House. This is in an industry that did not exist 30 years ago, and that has grown in parallel with the general acceptance that men and women should be treated equally. We have effectively replaced the establishments and hierarchies of the Industrial Revolution of the last century with hierarchies that look exactly the same. It takes my breath away.

However, I am an optimist and I believe that there is much that can be done. I was so delighted when the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, referred to Dame Stephanie Shirley, who was in this House this morning having a cup of tea with me but unfortunately could not stay for the debate. There are three big areas we should grab as a country because if we do not, we will not be able to compete economically and for the better.

The first is to address the enormous skills crisis that we have in our tech sector, using creative and new ways. There are 600,000 empty jobs right now in the UK and there are forecast to be 1 million by 2020. Dame Stephanie gives us an example of how we could fill them differently. What the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, did not mention in her anecdote about her was that at one point she hired 2,000 women, who were all working from home and all doing coding and software design on hard-core government contracts, such as the black box for Concorde or the Polaris submarine. That was hardly a walk in the park or about flaky projects.

We have lost that capacity to engage women in the incredible design and use of software. Why can we not take some of the 800,000 women who are currently unemployed in this country and train them to fill our skills gap? How much more imaginative could we be by matching some of the challenges that we have? I recently worked on projects that took women who had no understanding of computer science, just basic maths, and in six months they became Java-ready and able to go into work. We should be much bolder in addressing these challenges. We will not have a shot at competing globally if we do not fill these jobs. Let us use the widest possible talent pool that we have.

Secondly, we will design much better products and services if we engage women in their original conception and creation. I am sorry if noble Lords have heard me talk about this before, but there is a well-known example from Apple, which released a health kit that it was touting globally 18 months ago. Apple said, “This will track every single thing you can possibly need to know about your health”. That was true—as long as you did not have a baby, had never had a period and were not planning on going through the menopause. There was not one single woman on that development team.

How much better products are when co-created with women at their heart. The former CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, said as much when he talked about how Twitter had mucked up completely when it had not considered the issues of trolling, bullying and online abuse. Again, you can bet your life that if there had been one woman on that development team, Twitter might have foreseen that.

This is not just about economic empowerment for the individual but about economic empowerment for the country. I feel so strongly that there is so much more that we can do to address these challenges. No country in the world has put gender balance in the technology sector at the heart of how it builds that sector, and I believe there will be huge economic gains if we do so. The internet is growing—it is not going away, despite many of your Lordships perhaps wishing that it would—and becoming a more, not less, important part of our global economy and the way we work with each other. It is already bigger than our manufacturing industries and is growing to be as big as our services industry. It is very important that we take action right now to make sure that the widest pool of talent is involved in the world that I love and have been so lucky to be part of.

My Lords, I am incredibly honoured to stand here today as a Member of this House and make my maiden speech. From the moment of my arrival, I have been humbled by and thankful for the generous, kind and welcoming support I have received from the staff, officers and Members of the House.

In fact, the kindness of noble Lords almost got me into trouble from the first occasion I arrived in this building. I was waiting for my first meeting with my charming noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach when the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, came across me and suggested afternoon tea. I, however, was unaware that meeting him was not a part of my schedule. I later learned that my assigned minder sent out a search party hunting for me across the Parliamentary Estate, and 40 minutes later, I was found in the Peers’ Guest Room having tea. I was very late for the Chief Whip, but left with a strong impression of how kind and welcoming noble Lords are on all sides of the House.

I am hugely grateful to my two supporters, my noble friends Lady Verma and Lord Livingston of Parkhead, for doing me the great honour of introducing me to the House. I also thank my mentor, my noble friend Lady Noakes. This is the first time I have had a female mentor, and her wisdom, guidance and support have been invaluable. She also encouraged me to make my maiden speech today, knowing how passionate I am about this topic.

I am delighted to speak in this debate on the contribution of women to business, the economy and the future of economic growth in the UK, and I congratulate my noble friend, Lady Wheatcroft on securing this important debate. I am also pleased that my noble friend Lady Rock, who I know has a wealth of experience in this area, will be making her maiden speech later in the debate.

On the day of my introduction, surrounded by noble Lords and my family, my only regret was that my father did not live to see the occasion. My unlikely journey to this House took its greatest turn at the age of two. My parents were part of a minority, Muslim community in northern India, and felt our opportunities were limited. My father was also determined to ensure that education and financial independence would be a part of my future as a female. Believing they could build a better life, they made a brave choice to begin again in the United Kingdom. They arrived with nothing but their education and some very big aspirations. My father trained as an accountant, and he and my mother built a successful life here.

However, it was not all easy, particularly financially. I also found the differences between the two cultures very challenging and difficult. Experiencing first-hand the conflicts around race and religion shaped my passion to help make it easier for the next generations. It also cemented my belief that business must play its own role in supporting aspirational Britain by being far more diverse.

In 2007, I was appointed as chief executive of Mitie, and became the first Asian female to run a FTSE 350 business. I never thought I could be a role model, and suddenly I realised I was. We have seen great progress in recent decades but, as a business leader, I still find myself surprised at the lack of other women and mothers I meet at a senior level in business. We also know that women are still more likely than men to be in low-paying jobs.

Achieving gender equality is critical to the growth and productivity of British business and our economy. That is why, in 2012, it was my honour to be invited to serve as the chair of the Women’s Business Council, established by the Government to advise on how women’s contribution to economic growth could be improved. Our research found that, if men and women’s economic participation was equal, this could add 10% to GDP by 2030. If women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, we would have 1 million extra female entrepreneurs.

As a council, we made recommendations to address the barriers encountered at every stage of a woman’s life. We have seen really good progress and really welcome the strong actions that government have taken. These include shared parental leave, the right to flexible working and more support with childcare. But there is still so much more to be done. Childcare in particular is still too expensive in the UK, and continues to prevent women from going back to work. I congratulate the Government on the Childcare Bill, which goes some way to addressing this.

Your Lordships will also be aware of the great strides that have been made in getting more women on boards. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, has made such a huge contribution to this issue. But true workplace equality comes only from having strong representation of women at every level in business. I have set aspirational, self-imposed diversity targets below board level in my own business, and I believe that all organisations, both public and private, should take this approach.

For businesses to be truly diverse, we need to look beyond what we see in people every day and really begin to tackle our unconscious bias. This is about looking for talent and taking more risks on people who do not tick every conventional box—believe in them, back them and help them to achieve their dreams. We must also celebrate more the success stories that we do have in business, and share best practice.

Britain offered unparalleled opportunity to my family and, later, to me. I was really fortunate to have parents and then mentors who believed in me and supported me to realise my dreams of having a career and a family. I genuinely believe that, if I can do it, anyone can do it. We just need to understand what the barriers are for everybody, and how they need to be overcome.

For me, it has never just been about equality, fairness or doing the right thing; it really is about securing our economic future. We should be, and really need to be, a country where every person can aspire to do any job or build any business. We are not there yet, but I know one day we can be.

My Lords, I am honoured to follow my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith. I am sure that Peers from all sides of the House will agree that that was an excellent speech, and that my noble friend will add substantially to the breadth and depth of knowledge in this House.

As noble Lords have heard, my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith has spent a decade at the helm of a FTSE 250 company, and I am sure there are a number of FTSE 100 companies vying to have her as their next chief executive. She raises some important points in her speech, such as having strong business representation at executive level, not just at non-executive level. The mention of her family and the inspiration that came from her parents has clearly been a factor in her journey to the House of Lords, a journey which I have no doubt will in turn inspire others.

Women have long contributed to economic growth. They have done so in every sector of the economy, as employees, self-employed, and employers. But they have often faced a subtle discrimination, which has ultimately been to the cost of economic growth both nationally and internationally. As already mentioned, they face many more obstacles in setting up and growing their business and are less confident in their capacities as entrepreneurs. According to the UN, women in the developing world tend to have less access to formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms, and in developed economies women are less likely to have access to the kinds of investments and networks required to grow their business.

The UN reports that statistical evidence shows that:

“When more women work, economies grow”,

and that:

“Increasing women and girls’ education contributes to higher economic growth”.

In terms of diversity, studies show that more diverse companies perform up to 15% better on average. As Forbes Magazine puts it, diversity,

“reduces the risk of ‘group think’ creating an unhealthy level of unchallenged consensus”.

Yet despite the evidence, a gender gap still exists. McKinsey has identified: that to help women better develop as leaders we must design the conditions in which this can take place; that sponsoring, not just mentoring, is important; that neutralising the effects of maternity leave and ongoing parenting responsibilities are key; and that we must place value on a diverse range of leadership styles. Studies have shown that diversity in opinions in board rooms and other decision-making groups leads to better decisions.

In recent years there has been a concerted effort on the part of the UK Government to address issues of gender in the business environment. The report by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has been mentioned by other noble Lords, so I shall not do so, except to say that despite its success in bringing about significant change there are still areas where it is yet to have an impact. For example, a recent study by Forbes stated that the UK’s financial technology sector is booming but that financial technology companies are still very much a male domain. Very few women are in managerial roles, and only 9% are at board level positions in the top 35 British financial technology companies.

However, cultural change happens gradually and is difficult to impose. In fact, it is long-standing cultural norms which have influenced what we are discussing today. Of course there has been an argument for enforcing legally binding quotas to bring about change. In fact, this issue is being discussed as the Scotland Bill passes through this House, with the suggestion that it becomes a devolved issue, allowing quotas for public sector organisations in Scotland. Some would say that there is a case for positive discrimination, but I must admit that I have a problem with the word discrimination, whether positive or negative. By positively discriminating in favour of one group of people we automatically negatively discriminate against another. It simply creates resentment and ultimately does not solve anything. Equally, I do not think that people from the ethnic minorities or women would want to be token people within an organisation; they want to be there on merit and because they have something to offer. As a former chair of CBI Scotland, I would not like to think that I was there as a token woman, but I certainly dispelled all the stereotypes of male, pale and corporate. Perhaps more crucially, the focus should be on better recruitment techniques. For example, how representative of society are the interview panels? Perhaps that is where we need to start to redress the balance so that the changes automatically filter through.

It is true that women are generally underrepresented in many forums. If we take the World Economic Forum currently under way at Davos, just 17.8% of the participants are women at a forum where heads of state, chief executives and investors are discussing issues which impact on the whole global socioeconomic and geopolitical landscape.

However, this debate is not just about things which need to change but about the great achievements that women have made despite everything, the great strides forward in the corporate world, with their significant presence on boards, and the small and medium-sized enterprises owned and led by women that are providing employment and contributing to the economy.

The key in this is education. Looking at the needs of boards, there is a real requirement for financial acumen in this area. Women should be encouraged to take the initiative and go for courses which will equip them better in this regard. As well as encouraging girls to take STEM subjects at school, we should convey that business and enterprise is a very valid career choice. This upward trajectory has to continue. The talent pipeline has to remain populated and carefully nurtured. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, on securing this debate today.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for securing this debate. Her speech was very much at one with her distinguished career as a journalist and in business, and was elegantly and forcefully presented to this House.

I am going to use my time today to speak about a subject that is not discussed very much but is critical to the long-term health of our economy: the contribution, or the lack of it, from ethnic minority women in the workforce. Those of us who have come from those backgrounds—there have been three of us as yet, with one to follow—know that there is a problem, but actually finding data on it, as I discovered when preparing this speech, is incredibly difficult.

A lot of work has, rightly, been done to highlight gender in business, on boards and in different professions, and to highlight the gender pay gap, the gender penalty and so on. But if you want to disaggregate the data into racial or religious subsets, there is very little material to work with. We are told that, on current trends, by 2050 one in five people in the UK will be from an ethnic minority background. No economy can afford a situation where one-fifth of its population is underemployed, underutilised and under-recognised.

In exploring the topic, I therefore decided to look at employment statistics overall. We know that the UK has been a success story in terms of having weathered the financial crisis and the ensuing recession without a dramatic fall in employment. This week’s figures show that the rate for 16 to 64 year-olds in employment is now 74%, but the rate for those from BAME backgrounds is 62%, reflecting a very clear ethnic penalty.

Different minority groups have different outcomes, however. In terms of professional advancement, Muslims seem to do proportionally worse. Research by the think tank Demos—I should declare that I am on its advisory board—shows that only 16% of Muslims occupy top professions, as opposed to 30% across the general population. Of those 16% in top professions, only 40% are women—or, to put it another way, roughly 6.4% of Muslim women are represented in top jobs. You would not have thought so, looking around this Chamber—but I do not think that we are representative of the population as a whole.

In another extensive study by the University of Manchester, which looked at social mobility based on the father’s profession, researchers found that while 46% of white women moved up to a higher socioeconomic class than their father, just 28% of first-generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi women moved up from their father’s socioeconomic class. Moreover, even in second-generation south Asian groups, men benefited from greater upward mobility than women. I should add that across the board in education, employment and professional advancement, black, Caribbean, Indian and Chinese people did better than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis—although Bangladeshis are catching up now, most notably in education. Looking more closely at this group, another study found that three-quarters of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were economically inactive. Although those in the second generation were more likely to be in employment than those in the first generation, the rates are still far behind those of other minority groups.

This brings me to something more controversial: the reasons why certain religious groups seem to do less well than others. One reason is cultural norms, often driven by a misrepresentation of religious mores. It is not an accident that Muslim women are less economically active than Muslim men. A survey called Understanding Society showed that 44% of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home, as opposed to 6% of males. The national figure for those who gave this reason for not working was 16%. When asked why, 52% of the Muslim respondents said, “The family suffers if the mother works”. This was compared with just 34% of Christians and 23% of non-religious people.

Therefore, a male-dominated culture reflecting the perceived mores of the home country enforces the role of the woman as housebound, often in a multigenerational household where her place can be consigned to being the unpaid home help. I say “perceived mores”, as often the young women, in what might be an arranged marriage, have come here from a country which itself has changed, but the community which they joined here in the UK does not seem to have kept up with those changes.

Disengagement from gainful employment means a lower family income, too. In the Manchester research, 57% of Pakistanis and 46% of Bangladeshis lived in poverty. Anecdotally, speaking to women from these groups, I have seen their desire to improve their lot in life, but the barriers of language, education, culture and the lack of integration are too great for some to surmount.

What can be done? Talking about the first group—those in top jobs—at senior managerial and professional level, surely it is now time to amend the UK Corporate Governance Code. I look forward to the Minister being able to touch on that in her response. This currently says that boards need to pay heed to “diversity, including gender”, but I argue that it is now time to add the word “race” to those characteristics. UK plc can only benefit from becoming more inclusive. It may also be helpful for annual reports to break down the composition of managerial and senior staff into both gender and race categorisations. Where companies provide data, it is all too easy for them to hide behind apparent diversity while women and minorities occupy back-office and admin jobs.

At the more complex level of gender and integration, this will be a long haul, and a more vigorous approach to quantify the economic aspects of the problem is needed. This involves public expenditure on language classes, catch-up and ongoing training—but, above all, it requires shifts in mindset. It is mainly government which can drive change, and it is time it did so.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, as this provides some context to a number of points I wish to make later.

The economic emancipation of women is a critical benchmark on which our social progress must be judged, and it is a fact that in every society women face barriers in achieving their potential as regards education and employment opportunities. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for allowing us to celebrate women’s contribution to the economy; I do agree about flattened hair, so much so that I had to grab on to my hijab to avoid any further hardening. Like the noble Baroness, I, too, salute my good friend and mentor Dame Stephanie Shirley. I have always believed that she is much missed by this House, and I salute her contribution to autism research, which is second to none in this country.

It is a fact that now, in the 21st century, women are entering the workplace in larger numbers than ever before. However, it is also a fact that for the vast majority of women their work experience is one of low and often unequal pay and discrimination. Women often make up the larger proportion of the lowest paid and are grossly underrepresented in senior roles in the workplace.

Women’s economic equality, independence and security are often and tragically hugely reliant on a welfare system that fails to reflect the contribution that women make to our economy and society, where women still make up the vast majority of unpaid carers in our homes, for example. Women’s unpaid labour is estimated to be worth tens of billions of pounds to the economy every year, which is unrecognised. Unpaid carers contribute billions to both economic and social health every year. For these and other reasons, benefits tend to make up a fifth of the average women’s income as opposed to a 10th of men’s, and women are more likely to work in the public sector and use a number of its front-line services. Recent austerity cuts to benefits have ensured that women bear the brunt of the reductions in welfare support.

The Treasury’s own figures show that since 2012, 60% of new jobs for women have come from low-wage industries, compared with 39% of new jobs for men. One in four of all female workers is on low pay. The tragedy here is that the fragile nature of low-wage employment means that women are more likely to end up out of work and subsequently in need of welfare support—a vicious and desperate cycle of disempowerment.

We are into the eighth or ninth year of the worst kind of global financial crisis, impacting all economies and, in particular, low-paid women workers. Added to this, and despite five decades of equality legislation, the gender pay gap remains, and is completely unacceptable. We are failing in our obligations to half the population, and our country is unable to utilise the economic influences of women. According to the Women’s Business Council—I was delighted to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, and I welcome her to the House; I very much enjoyed her contribution and look forward to hearing more from her—2.3 million women are not working but want to work, and 1.3 million who are already in employment want to do more hours.

We need to invest in the future of girls and young women to maximise their economic potential in the global market. I commend the Young Foundation, which is based in my local area and whose initiatives support young entrepreneurs. The Women’s Business Council further recommends comprehensive careers advice in schools—something with which I definitely agree.

Recent decades have seen the celebration of BME women entrepreneurs through the formation of network organisations committed to supporting and developing the skills of women. In this context I draw the attention of the House to the work of a small organisation called British Bangladesh Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs. It is a dynamic not-for-profit organisation, supporting businesses of all sizes run by women. I am proud to declare my interest as its patron.

Black Women Mean Business is another organisation set up to unite black women entrepreneurs, providing support through networking. It was set up in 1992 and is still running successfully today. Numerous private sector programmes encourage minority women to go into business, notable among them being NatWest, which supports numerous projects.

I hope that the House will examine the report British Muslims in Numbers, which was undertaken by the Muslim Council of Britain and focuses on the employment of Muslim women. It states that only 29% of women between the ages of 16 and 74 are in employment compared with half of the overall population, and 43% of the 330,000 Muslims in full-time education in a number of local authorities. It also states that Muslim women exceed men in full-time education, but in reality their educational and employment aspiration often is not matched by the opportunities and support that are available to them. Few young Muslims take up apprenticeships.

Forty-seven per cent of British Muslim women were born in this country and do not have language problems. Despite what has been reported, only 6% of Muslims are struggling with English according to the report conducted by the MCB. However, disparities still remain, and a study conducted by Bristol University found that Muslim women were more likely to be unemployed compared with their white female counterparts, despite equality between the groups in terms of being educated to degree level.

Globally, women also tend to be locked out of leadership positions, where gender seems to matter more than ability. Women make up only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs and account for only 24% of senior management positions around the world—a point that has already been made. These numbers are fairly consistent across Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Gulf countries. Clearly, the global economy is not using its productive resources effectively. It is tossing away economic growth at a time when it cannot afford such wanton waste. This needs to change. Excluding women simply makes no sense in terms of a country’s economy. All that is required is to change economic policy, change laws and institutions, and of course change attitudes and culture. I accept that government cannot change everything and that we need to work together. I also accept that there are limits. However, the solution lies in our grasp for an inclusive society. I hope that we can collectively root out the barriers in the UK that prevent women being recognised as our social capital and open wide the door of opportunity, adding potentially billions to the Treasury.

My Lords, it is a great honour to stand in this place to speak for the first time on a topic close to my heart and reflective of my own personal journey. It is humbling indeed. I do so in the warm and generous welcome that I have received from the doorkeepers, clerks and staff, along with noble Lords on all sides of the House. I would like to thank them for their kind support, advice, guidance and help. I would also like to thank my noble friends Lord Feldman of Elstree and Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, who so graciously supported me at my introduction.

I am emboldened to speak in this debate by the legacy of entrepreneurship and female enterprise in my own family. My great-great-great-great grandfather was John Scott, First Earl of Eldon, who served as Lord Chancellor for over 20 years. While he made his name devising the parliamentary procedures to address the temporary incapacitation of King George III, he was also well known because his wife-to-be, Bessie Surtees, defied the wishes of her father and climbed out of a first-floor window to elope with him to Scotland—surely an early example of female enterprise.

In 1837, Charles and Sarah Eldridge founded our family business, at the Green Dragon Brewery in Dorchester, Dorset. After Charles’s premature death, it continued to grow under Sarah’s entrepreneurial stewardship, eventually joining forces with the Pope family to form Eldridge, Pope. By 1881, Eldridge, Pope was the biggest employer in Dorchester, and eventually floated on the stock exchange. I am immensely proud of my Dorset roots and the strong history that my family has in the county, so I was delighted to be able to use Dorset in the choice of my territorial title.

I wish to focus on the contribution of women to our economy in three areas. The first concerns placing a greater onus on building a pool of talent—a pipeline for the future. We need to improve the amount and quality of financial education to allow young girls to better consider risk and reward. We also need to increase the number of women who take up careers in STEM subjects. I commend the Government’s record on this, with 16,000 more STEM A-level entries for women since 2010, as well as providing a dedicated fund to help women progress as engineers. I declare my interest as a non-executive director of Imagination Technologies, a FTSE 250 tech company and a UK business that is proud to be working with schools and universities to promote technology, engineering and coding. Broadening access to specialist education and training can only help to increase the number of women working in these fields.

Secondly, we need to provide more readily accessible mentoring. We need to make sure that we do not lose out on female talent because of women thinking that business and entrepreneurship are somehow not for them. I am delighted that the Government have launched a new national campaign to recruit high-quality mentors for young teenagers. Inspirational role models will help young people to make big plans for their future. I would particularly like to thank my mentor in this place, my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, who secured today’s debate. It is apt that on a day when we are speaking about the importance of mentors, I have such an inspiring exemplar.

Thirdly, flexible working is perhaps the holy grail of equality in the workplace. Until we reach the stage when flexible working is not seen as being synonymous with “lack of ambition”, we will not get enough women in leadership positions, nor will we reap the full economic benefits of greater female participation in the workforce. As has already been mentioned, this potential contribution is estimated to be worth £600 billion by the Women’s Business Council, which is chaired by my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith, who spoke so passionately earlier in this debate. She is a great role model for the contribution that women can make to the 21st century economy.

My own experience is a mixed one. When I began my career in publishing, my first boss, a woman, provided me with excellent mentorship, demonstrating what it takes to run a business and take risks. It is an industry full of hugely talented women, the noble Baroness, Lady Rebuck, being a noted leader and champion. I have been fortunate to continue my love of publishing and I declare an interest as a non-executive director of a weekly newspaper for children. However, my next experience, working in financial communications, was far less encouraging. There, taking time out to have a family had the potential to be viewed as falling off the ladder entirely. A lot has changed in 20 years, but there is still work to be done.

Ultimately, what is our motivation as an economy and as a country for pursuing these goals? I am of the view that this is not about quotas and equality for equality’s sake. This is about businesses being successful. The UK cannot succeed in a fiercely competitive global economy if it is missing out on a large proportion of the talent pool. It is incumbent on us to lay the foundations and provide the right environment. Whether it is about sustainability, innovation or profitability, women can and must play a part to realise our potential as a country. I am proud of my heritage in this field, and speaking now in this place, I hope to be proud of the role that this Government will continue to play in helping women to make a greater contribution to our businesses and to our economy.

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Rock, a speech which refreshingly followed the conventional format. Yet, as she declared in her interests, she is clearly a lady of imagination too. My noble friend also told us that her great-great-great-great grandparents eloped to Gretna Green, a story which seems to prove her enthusiasm for alliteration. The maiden speech of my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith was similarly excellent, and we look forward to their future contributions.

The late Charlie Hebdo editor, Charb, finished his last work “Open Letter” just two days before he was assassinated in Paris last year. In it, as Amanda Foreman recently reported in the Spectator, Charb writes: “No form of discrimination is better or worse than any other”. Discrimination, where it means choice based on prejudice, is wrong, not only morally but economically, too. While we all know the moral objections, it is the economic objections to discrimination that are not discussed enough.

In Great Britain, we institutionalised discrimination against women. Within the last 100 years, women could not vote or be elected. Indeed, it was only last year that this House saw females join the Bishops’ Bench. Although thousands of entrepreneurial women ran all manner of small businesses in this age of discrimination, they did not really run large businesses. Systems like this gratuitously waste half the brains in the land and ignore half the entrepreneurs, which is the biggest waste of resources that any country can engage in. Wasting resources on this scale means less help for those who cannot work. I am glad that we have changed.

When I ran Manganese Bronze, the company which manufactured London black taxis, I used to have many conversations with drivers about all sorts of issues. As technology developed, these conversations increasingly moved online. Once, I engaged in perhaps six or seven emails with an Australian taxi driver about the unusual regulation of taxis in London and the great advantages for disabled people. It was only at the end of the conversation that I realised that the driver was in fact a woman. Of course, it was wrong of me to presume that a cab driver was a man. It was a timely lesson, which I have not forgotten. Not only did I not know that she was a woman, I did not know whether she was deaf or in a wheelchair.

That made me realise that the internet is the greatest technological force for good and will allow women to drive future economic growth. Indeed, it will allow anybody with a good idea to drive future economic growth. Doing business over the internet can abolish the cause of discrimination. It takes away the excuse that has been used by so many people in the past.

The problem with discrimination is that it is often in the eye of the beholder. There are differences throughout our human race, which is what makes life such fun, but these differences should not be important and should not hold back individuals. Men are statistically more likely to take risks than women. Men are also more likely to commit crime, from murder to drug-taking and fraud. They are also more likely to drink themselves silly on champagne, rendering themselves useless to run a business and leaving the Veuve Cliquot to step in and run things. Thank goodness those entrepreneurial widows saved champagne.

Many countries still practise institutionalised discrimination. That is their idiotic privilege, I suppose, and we must respect the rights of sovereign countries to make complete buffoons of themselves. What worries me is when immigrants from those countries come to Britain with the intention of bringing those discriminatory systems into our society. It is said that the Pilgrim Fathers travelling to America on the “Mayflower” did so not to escape religious oppression but rather to find a vacant land where they could introduce it.

My worry is that some of the recent arrivals to Britain, very welcome as they are, seem to carry on with discriminatory practices in their new communities. They need help to appreciate that this is not the way we do things in Britain. An example is female genital mutilation, which colleagues both here and in the other place have done much to outlaw and, crucially, start to bring prosecutions against those who perpetrate that hideous act.

There should not be a separate society of hidden women in immigrant communities in any town in Great Britain. Everyone should have the chance to make the most of their brains, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. An example of this is sexually segregated audiences for political speeches. That should be offensive to the speakers of whatever parties are addressing them. The great universities which host them, such as the LSE, should be appalled.

I am told that this is not discrimination because the audiences are separate but equal—just the same arguments that were advanced for apartheid. In December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs Rosa Parks got arrested for sitting in a so-called whites-only seat in a bus. This led to the rise of racial equality as a political movement that changed America, but three other black people moved from their seats that day while Rosa Parks sat firm. All it would take is for the politician speaking to a segregated audience to denounce sexual segregation to that audience rather than mutely accepting it. After all, what is the difference between black citizens sitting in one part of a bus and female citizens in one part of a hall? I am not so sure that there is one.

Business has shown the way in eradicating discrimination, and I very much welcome the chance to celebrate this with colleagues on both sides of this House. Lessons from business should be heeded in other areas of society. I repeat the words of Charb: “No form of discrimination is better or worse than any other”.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for securing this debate. She and other speakers have demonstrated much wisdom and expertise, and we have heard two excellent maiden speeches.

I am delighted to be a supporter of a new initiative called Women’s Work Global, which aims to help professional women who need to take time off work to have children or care for other relatives. All too often, these responsibilities can unfairly disrupt and impede the career of women.

When I was still a junior barrister, one of the few female members in our chambers told the senior managing clerk that she would need some time off to go on maternity leave. He rolled his eyes and moaned, “Oh, all right then, if you must. I had hoped you were taking your career seriously. I tell you what, if you can arrange a morning birth, then I can have you booked into court again for a 2pm start”. Now I know he was only joking, but 30 years afterwards the difficulties that women face in juggling careers with domestic life is still an issue.

There are also unfair perceptions that women have to deal with and overcome. Ridiculous phrases such as “the weaker sex” come to mind. When I was in my teens, I was excited to be selected for the Warwickshire County Cricket colts. It was our first day training. The coach walked over and announced, “Right lads, you are going to have the honour and privilege of bowling at the captain of the England cricket team”. There was a gasp among the squad and our chests filled with pride. Then the England captain came out of the dressing room. There was a shocked silence. One of the squad groaned, “But, sir, it’s a woman, sir”. The coach bellowed, “Well done, lad, you are very observant. Now if you want to stay as a member of this county squad, you will do as you are told”. So, for the next 20 minutes, we aspiring professional male cricketers bowled, without success, as she outplayed us each time. The England captain, we later learned, was Rachael Heyhoe Flint—now the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, of Wolverhampton—and a very successful businesswoman.

Women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds have historically faced the double obstacle of racism and issues relating to gender, but there are role models who have triumphed over these. I was privileged to conduct a project recently looking at positive aspects of diversity. This has included me interviewing some successful women from BME communities. For example, Pinky Lilani OBE came to Britain from India more than 40 years ago. She said that when she came to Britain she could not even cook, but in order to get to know her neighbours she started inviting them in to taste this exotic food called curry. She now owns a global food business. She writes cook books and advises restaurants. She is also the founder and chair of a number of awards events, including the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and the Women of the Future Awards.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Ohuruogu MBE, the Olympic and world 400-metres champion and captain of the England athletics team. She is a businesswoman, too, in that her running success has brought her into the world of sports brand marketing. She explained how she has learned never to give up. In the world 400-metres final in 2013, she was fourth coming round the final bend but went on to win. Christine won by 0.004 of a second, by dipping her head at the winning tape. “It’s never over until it’s over”, she said, smiling. I am not suggesting that every woman, or indeed man, can become an Olympic or world champion, but the principle is that it is never over until it is over. That can apply to all of us—black, white, male or female.

These women have shown, by inspiration and, indeed, perspiration, that success can be achieved. Although 20% of small and medium-sized companies are run by women, there is still so much untapped business talent among women, especially in the BME communities. There are ongoing issues, as we have heard from other speakers, such as the pay gap between women’s and men’s earnings, the cost of childcare, the need for more women in science, technology, engineering and as university vice-chancellors. We have heard that more women now are getting on to company boards, but we still need to make more progress there.

If she does not mind me saying so, I hope that the success of the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, at West Ham United, will inspire the appointment of more female chief executives in the sporting business world, for example, at football clubs, which are still very male dominated. Perhaps I can put out a plea to the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, that she might like to take over my club, Aston Villa. It is a very strong club because, like Samson, it manages to lift up the other 19 clubs in the league. In other words, it is at rock bottom of the league table. Baroness Brady, we need you.

Women-led businesses contribute around £82 billion gross value to the UK economy. I acknowledge that the Government support them in a number of ways, such as helping more women to get online with their broadband challenge fund and their Get Mentoring project, but the budgets are modest and I would like to see such projects better resourced and expanded.

Women making a contribution to an economy is not a new thing. There were prominent women business leaders in the Bible, over 2,000 years ago: in the Book of Acts, Lydia ran a fashion company, Priscilla owned an up-market residence franchise and Queen Candace governed her nation’s economy; and Deborah, in the Book of Judges, was the nation’s chief lawyer. There are many more examples. Those biblical heroines—and, indeed, women of today—show that women can be a voice, not just an echo.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate; I am glad to do so. I thank my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft for initiating it. The purpose of our debates is often to decide how we should spend the wealth of this country; it is great to have a debate in which one of the central purposes is to show how we can maximise wealth creation in this country. We have heard in the debate, not least from my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith, about the availability of productive potential. If women were as entrepreneurially active as men in our economy by 2030, something like £60 billion could be added. That is fantastic, dramatic potential.

We have heard two really impressive maiden speeches, each demonstrating the contribution that the respective speaker has made already to business, the economy and public life in this country—and, if I may say so, what a tremendous contribution they will make to this House. We very much look forward to that.

Why should I say something in this debate? I declare an interest: those who look at the register of interests will find that I am cited as an associate of Low Associates, the company founded in 2009 by my wife, Sally Low. I wanted to bring to this debate a number of illustrations from her experience. The first is that, as my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft said, we cannot ignore but have to live with the characteristics of the challenges that women often face. In 2009, my wife was trying to maintain a long-hours job as director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce; at the same time, we had two children reaching school age, we lived in Cambridge in my constituency, and I was shadow Secretary of State for Health. The combination of all these things was frankly unsustainable, especially with the high cost of childcare, which has been cited by a number of contributors. So setting up their own business, using their own expertise and doing so from home is the experience of many women. The question is: can they overcome the obstacles?

One might ask my wife, “What are those obstacles?”. Actually, I have never heard her say that they were the consequence of being a woman; if anything, being a woman was an opportunity, bonus and benefit in trying to establish her business, especially since it was all about creating imaginative, high-quality conferences and events principally in Europe; I was occupying Britain, as it were, so she decided to occupy the rest of Europe. Running those kind of events in other countries is all about teamwork and, as has been cited, women are often excellent at creating that kind of teamwork—and that is what she has done. Seven years later, she has 16 associates and staff and runs major conferences, but the obstacles were ones that Members of this House will recognise face many small businesses—cash-flow management and trying to win tenders. Particularly in the European context as well as in British public procurement, sometimes those who issue tenders unwittingly discriminate against small businesses and very much favour large businesses, because they put arbitrary size criteria or cash-flow requirements on businesses—whereas, in my experience, often they get better service from small businesses than they do from larger businesses. But we shall leave that aside.

One of the conferences that Low Associates was responsible for managing was the Small and Medium Enterprises Assembly in Luxembourg last year. That was the fourth year they did it and they won the contract to do it again this year and in 2017, bringing that assembly—the leading SME assembly in Europe—to this country when we have the presidency of the European Union. I hope that we will then be looking forward to the continuing benefit of EU membership in a reformed Union.

The focus last November was in part on women entrepreneurs. It illustrated, right across Europe, that much of this is cultural. The data show that women are less likely to start up a business, very often because they see obstacles to being able to launch out on their own, for reasons of financial and other security. They are more likely to close a business for personal reasons. The statistics say that more than 25% of the reasons why women say that they close down a business is for personal reasons; it is about only 14% for men. So women are less likely to start up a business and less likely to grow it, seeing the challenges of personal and family life as impeding that. We should not do that. The cost of childcare should be as much an issue for men as for women. The sharing of parental leave should be the starting point of a cultural shift that says that men and women in partnerships who have caring responsibilities for children or for older people should absolutely share them. They should be no more an obstacle to women’s entrepreneurship than to men’s.

Government cannot legislate for changes in culture. As has been said, sometimes attitudes change slowly. But, just as the gender pay gap is so much smaller among young people, we can hope that there is a generational shift we can push forward on entrepreneurship as well. It will need role models. We have seen some fantastic role models for women here this afternoon and there are many others. If you believe the media and look at the statistics, three years ago, 16 to 21 year-olds asked about who their role models were for entrepreneurship talked about the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and, I fear, Donald Trump. We want women role models to be out there in the media. We want women mentors and that mentorship has, quite rightly, been illustrated here.

We want entrepreneurial aspiration. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, that one of the speakers in the assembly last November was Amy Millman from Springboard Enterprises. It is an American organisation, but it is about putting money behind women-run and women-owned businesses—since 2000, 599 such businesses, 11 of which have gone to initial public offering, with investment of $7 billion. It is a rational investment because we know that women-owned businesses, when you adjust for every other factor, perform better. That is the economic potential that this country could realise if we push this agenda forward.

My Lords, I feel immensely privileged to have been in the Chamber this afternoon. Since I have been here—not a huge amount of time—I cannot think of a debate I have listened to that has been better informed, more interesting and more inspiring.

I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, on her excellent maiden speech, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, on another really fascinating and interesting speech. The noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, as chairman of the Women’s Business Council, has already made an incredible contribution to the cause of women in enterprise in this country. I know that both new noble Baronesses will make wonderful additions to this House.

As other speakers have said, the potential for women’s contribution to the economy is phenomenal. We contribute much, but even so we are undervalued and our potential is underutilised. It is to one particular aspect of that underutilisation that I address my remarks today: women in enterprise. In the last coalition Government I was the Women in Enterprise champion and published a report urging the Government to do more to help women entrepreneurs by being much more inclusive in their approach and the way they help businesswomen. Some progress has been made but more needs to be done.

However, I will begin at a much earlier time, before I ever thought about a parliamentary career, when I created several small businesses. Those businesses were much more modest than those of the vast majority of contributors to this debate. Nevertheless, I can speak from experience in describing the life of a woman entrepreneur balancing the needs of family and children with growing a business, and all the challenges and uncertainties that that involves. We still succeed, but we could be even more successful if the Government did a few small things.

Only one business in five is majority-owned by a woman, but there could be many more. We have heard some awesome statistics this afternoon but my favourite is from the Women’s Business Council, which estimates that if women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 1 million more businesses in Britain today.

So what can government do to encourage would-be entrepreneurs and help their businesses to grow? During the last Government, several initiatives, such as tax-free childcare, the employment allowance, shared parental leave, and others which other speakers have mentioned, were introduced. However, more needs to be done, as the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, said.

As the Women in Enterprise champion, I pushed the Government to be more inclusive in the way they communicated with women business owners. There is much improvement since the days when some civil servants believed that to be inclusive it was enough to use “gender neutral” language. The My Business Support tool on the Great Business website is much improved, but practical help on the ground is still lacking. The coalition Government abolished regional development agencies and gave local businesses and local authorities a blank sheet of paper on which to create local enterprise partnerships. I am all for devolution, but the lack of guidance and funding has resulted in a very varied group of LEPs, in terms of not just how they function but how well they function. I believe that some LEPs still have no women on their boards, let alone focus on specific local help for women entrepreneurs. Therefore, the first thing the Government could do is ask all the LEPs what they are doing to support women entrepreneurs. That would raise the matter in their awareness, if nothing else. Before the RDAs were dissolved, they had many support schemes for women entrepreneurs. Most of those disappeared, but the more enterprising of them stayed afloat. However, coverage is patchy, to say the least. Every LEP should give some thought to what resource it has in its area, and what is needed by all the diverse people who generate wealth on its patch.

Finally, government can help enormously through having a diverse and inclusive procurement policy. The case for procuring from companies which look like the people who government serve is not only a moral imperative but an economic one. Diverse businesses bring a greater understanding of customers’ needs, services and products are more appropriate and speed to market is faster. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made that point very strongly.

One of the Liberal Democrat contributions to the coalition agreement was to build an aspiration that 25% of government procurement should be from small businesses. It would be a simple matter for this Government to have a similar aspiration for women-owned businesses.

So I say to the Government: please think inclusively when you are communicating with and planning help for business. Look at the performance of the LEPs and ask them, “What are you doing to encourage female entrepreneurs on your patch?”. Set an aspiration of, say, 20% of government procurement to come from women-owned businesses. The percentage figure is less important than bringing diversity of procurement on to the radar of government purchasers. While you are at it, why not appoint another champion for women in enterprise—there are plenty of excellent people in the Chamber this afternoon who could do that job—who could continue the work of bringing a cross-cutting focus from the woman’s perspective to help create greater self-fulfilment for women entrepreneurs and more wealth for Great Britain?

I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft—herself a notable role model—on this debate and the chance it gave us to hear two such imaginative and high-quality maiden speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady McGregor-Smith and Lady Rock. It is good to welcome the sisters, especially to a debate such as this. We have celebrated some notable examples of women in business, such as Dame Stephanie, and we have been particularly honoured to hear some of the high achievers speaking in today’s debate. We need more of their sort.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, told the FT:

“Gender equality in the tech sector will benefit the global economy”.

So will gender equality in every sector benefit the wider economy. Women’s advancement produces better outcomes and prosperity. Indeed, a trained, productive and better-paid female workforce is a surefire way of boosting economic growth, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Brady. As the President of the World Bank said,

“gender equality doesn’t require trade-offs; it only has benefits. And the benefits accrue to everyone, not just women and girls. Societies benefit and as even men are beginning to understand, economies benefit, too”.

It is the responsibility of all of us—government, business, women and perhaps especially men—to make this happen so that UK plc can benefit from this underused talent, by increasing entry into higher-paid and more productive jobs; by extending opportunities, training and promotion to women; and by removing the barriers to better employment for women.

We start, as has been made clear today, from a poor position: 96% of chairs or CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are men. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, more chairs or CEOs are called “John” than are women. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, reminded the House, the percentage of senior women in the private sector—19%—puts the UK in the bottom 10 countries globally, despite companies in the top quartile of gender diversity being 15% more likely to outperform the industry median, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, said. Given that women are key consumers, making eight out of 10 purchases, having them shape companies is bound to be good for business.

We can help women progress. Young Enterprise’s Women in Business programme encourages women-led creative start-ups, giving all-female teams the opportunity to set up and run their own businesses, gaining advice from mentors and in workshops, and on bringing a product to market. Participants increased their soft skills by 34%, with improvements in work-readiness and financial capability.

But encouraging and training alone will not help. We have to tackle that gender pay gap, which, to use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, again, is glaring. At 19%, it is well above the EU average and, sadly, is larger in the private than in the public sector. Overall, it means that, relative to men’s year-round wages, women stop earning on 4 November. Furthermore, the gender pay gap is highest in London and in financial and insurance services. In particular, and perhaps of note to some of us in this House, women in their 50s earn 18% less than men. They are often the “sandwich” carers, looking after children or grandchildren as well as elderly parents.

Mandating gender pay transparency in large companies will help, but it ignores those millions of women in SMEs and is no substitute for better recruitment, training, promotion, fair pay and the flexible work patterns that were stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Rock. Transparency alone does nothing about low pay in predominantly female labour forces—retail, hospitality, personal services and residential care—which have a poverty rate of 17% after housing costs, twice that of other employees. Training is key but while the majority of apprentices are women, they are underrepresented in construction and ICT while dominating in health, social care and hairdressing—the low-paid sectors. Indeed, on average female apprentices earn £1 an hour less than their male equivalents.

That gender inequality is felt not just by the people concerned but by the whole economy. The loss of women in science, for example, costs the economy about £2 billion a year. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum said:

“Only those economies who have full access to all their talent will remain competitive and … prosper”.

The Government themselves have said:

“Our economy is losing out due to women’s academic achievements, experience and talents not being effectively utilised”.

But what are the Government doing about it? They are making work less attractive to women by allowing maternity discrimination to almost double in 10 years, with 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers—that is, one in nine—forced out of their job. They have created barriers to justice for victims of maternity discrimination by their cuts to legal aid and upfront tribunal fees of up to £1,200, leading to Maternity Action’s helpline getting 42 times more calls than it can answer.

Even the Conservative MP Maria Miller has tweeted:

“We cannot allow up to 54,000 new mothers a year”,


“feel they should leave their job”.

So I am afraid that it is no good the Commons Minister admitting that,

“far too many women … face unacceptable treatment in the workplace”—[Official Report, Commons, 3/11/15; col. 322WH.]

It is her Government who have made things worse. Labour in government did an enormous amount to increase the fair treatment of women in work through the Work and Families Act, which extended maternity leave to a full year for all employed women, and tripling the number of nursery places. This Government must follow our example. They must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

I thank my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft for securing this debate and for kicking it off so persuasively and amusingly. It is a pleasure to have listened today to so many excellent points and examples of good practice, and to speak on such an important topic.

First, I welcome my noble friends Lady McGregor-Smith and Lady Rock, who made their excellent, interesting and very personal maiden speeches. They will contribute strongly to our deliberations over the coming years and it is a real delight to have them on our Benches. As others have done, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, on her work on the Women’s Business Council. I was also glad to hear about the brilliant mentoring of my noble friend Lady Noakes, who helped me to cope with the terrors of the Dispatch Box. She is very strict, for example, about getting titles right for noble Lords and noble Baronesses, which I always struggle with. My noble friend Lady Rock—the lady of imagination, as my noble friend Lord Borwick has christened her—joined other noble Lords in saying that the answer to success in this area is not to impose quotas but to open up the huge potential of women’s future economic contribution.

It might be helpful for a moment if I take a broad view, because like my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, I love history. I am very conscious that 150 years ago, women were excluded from large parts of economic life as well as suffering other legal disadvantages. The transformation since then, for all sorts of reasons, has been amazing. Although it is always right to concentrate on the task in hand, sometimes we need to look back and remind ourselves what has been achieved.

Women did not start to enter the workplace uniformly across all sectors. They probably first entered new areas of work where they thought they were more likely to be treated fairly. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why, when I left university as recently as the early 1970s, I joined the Civil Service. In particular, there were for a long time relatively few women in the business sector—at any rate at the top level to which I aspired.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Lane-Fox and Lady Uddin, and others said that Steve Shirley—as I will always call her—was an inspiration to many people. That includes me. She gave me my early interest in ICT after I heard her at a management course. I have dealt with technology in almost every job that I have done in a long career in government, retail, media, consultancy and politics, and I very much agree with the importance of technology to today’s debate. We need more women entrepreneurs in the tech sector. I had a round table today on an aspect of the digital single market and was delighted to see a good turnout of senior women.

I also feel that technology is a great enabler. I know how my life changed as a senior executive when I had access to top-quality IT including phones, tablets, computers, videoconferencing and other equipment, and I believe that, as my noble friend Lord Borwick said, it helps to reduce discrimination. It helped me to get on and to juggle my domestic duties with my work duties, although a supportive partner is also incredibly helpful and important. It was good to hear from my noble friend Lord Lansley, who is clearly an example of this species.

The situation is now changing rapidly, and for the better, which must be to the advantage of UK plc. Overall, there are now 14.6 million women in work—more than ever before. This is an increase of nearly 1 million since May 2010, and 200,000 higher than a year ago. In part, this reflects developments such as parental leave, flexible working and state help for parents with the cost of childcare and the sort of provisions we have in the Childcare Bill. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, as there have been improvements, although we can always do better.

I am a glass-half-full person. It is encouraging that the gender pay gap, though far too high, as many noble Lords have said today, is at its lowest on record, at 19.2%, and is virtually eliminated among full-time workers under 40. We are already working with businesses to make sure that all large employers publish gender pay gap information, including bonuses. Indeed, we grasped this issue in this House during the passage of BIS legislation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I worked on last year. I believe—this is a personal reflection—that some of the differences may reflect the fact that, in my experience of female executives who used to work for me, they are less prone to demand pay rises than their male counterparts. This is worth reflecting upon.

Of course, everything starts with education, and here success has been startling. Girls’ achievements surpass those of boys at almost every level. I agree about the buzz and enthusiasm of girls when one encounters them while visiting schools. But I also noted recent comments from an authoritative female source—the head of UCAS, Mary Curnock Cook—that helping boys should now be the priority, because there are difficulties there as well.

This bodes well for the longer term success of women in all areas of work. Nevertheless, it is still important to seek to raise the aspirations of girls so that they all have a chance to fulfil their potential, and to ensure that success in school and at university is reflected in the workplace.

Encouraging a modern workplace is one reason why the Government have made a commitment to reach a figure of 3 million new apprenticeships in England between 2015 and 2020. Unlike most countries, women are well represented within English apprenticeships. Last year, 233,000 women, or 53%, started an apprenticeship.

Women entrepreneurs—business founders, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin rightly described them—are important in opening up the kind of opportunities that we seek in today’s debate. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, we need to take advantage of the generational shift. Around 1 million of all SMEs in the UK—more than 20%—were majority-women led in 2014, which was an increase of 170,000 from 2010. In 2015, the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute ranked the UK as the best country in Europe and third best in the world for female entrepreneurs. More mundanely, I was delighted to discover recently that, at the British Library intellectual property centre, 58% of users were women. I felt that that was helpful and important for the pipeline.

My noble friend Lady Mobarik said that diversity was very important to successful entrepreneurship and in successful companies. The noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner of Margravine and Lady Uddin, added fascinating insights into the contribution of ethnic and Muslim women. I assure them that we are doing more to encourage diversity on boards and, indeed, in the public sector. That includes a review by Sir John Parker into BME on boards, working towards having no monocultural FTSE boards at all by 2020.

Finally, I want to talk about one of my own ministerial responsibilities, women on boards. Here, we have benefited, as many have said, from a successful voluntary initiative supported by government and led by the noble Lord, Lord Davies—not only noble but determined and dynamic—who has done a great job. On his watch, female representation on FTSE 100 boards has expanded greatly. There are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 100, and only 16 in the FTSE 250. This was frankly unimaginable not long ago.

We now need to focus on the talent pipeline of capable women, executives and emerging NEDs, to ensure we continue the good work. I hope soon to announce a new chair to lead an independent review, following on from Lord Davies’s work. In addition to maintaining the momentum on FTSE boards, the review will focus on improving representation of women in the executive layer of the FTSE 350.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Rebuck, said, this is critical. The Government have tried to do more in the public sector. In the previous Parliament, we set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should be women by 2015. We are all trying hard to achieve that in the public appointments we make. It was ambitious, but it was right to be ambitious, and we are making real progress: 44% of all recent new public appointments where the gender is known went to women. For many years, that figure was stuck between 32% and 36%. In my department, BIS, the executive board and the BIS board are 44% women. That is a long way of saying that it is important to lead from the front. I have always felt that everywhere I have worked.

The excellent suggestions that have been made today can and should play a part. Noble Lords spoke about mentoring, which I found very useful both ways, and about the need for more women and more work in tech and FinTech. We talked about building on success where it exists, as in publishing, and on the recent initiatives on STEM, which are wide-ranging and good. I also believe in using academia as a pipeline for business appointments on boards. It can be a good way of broadening diversity in the corporate world.

I should briefly comment on sport because that was mentioned by my noble friends Lady Brady and Lord Taylor. It is very important. There is a slightly disturbing statistic—again, this is a personal comment. It is that 40% of CEOs in the US played university-level sport. So involving women in sport, sports management and government, as the Government are trying to do by encouraging good practice in our new sport strategy, can be helpful.

My ever-challenging noble friend Lady Jenkin and my noble friend Lady Brady asked whether we should do more and how we can make sure that the great initiatives we have heard about in this debate are more widely understood and expanded—so that we get a mushroom cloud effect to share best practice. We have a joined-up approach in government. The Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, and the Government Equalities Office try to draw together all that we are doing and go beyond party to bring together the effort on women, but of course we can do more and we will be looking carefully at all the suggestions made in this debate, including those of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I shall not comment in detail on all the specific points, but I think we all agree on the potential for bringing in extra ideas and moving forward, as I have sought to show.

Both male and female talent grace this Chamber and, indeed, nearly everywhere else where human endeavour is displayed. It is a delight to work with so many women on both sides of our House and to find such a relatively strong representation of women with a business background, which is strengthened by new talent today. We must all work to ensure that women continue to play an increasing role in UK business and in our growing economy.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Her determination to increase women’s input into the economy is clear, and I have no doubt that she will succeed. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate today; we have heard some excellent speeches on a wide-ranging band of experience.

We have also heard two brilliant maiden speeches. When I made mine, I took the opportunity to apologise to anyone in this House whom I might have offended by what I had written in a previous incarnation. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, was not a Member at that stage, so I take this opportunity to apologise to her. It was clear from her speech today that such is her passion for getting more women involved in tech, and for spreading the tech gospel, that it would be impossible ever to overhype the noble Baroness.

I know that the clock is against me so I shall wind up there. I thank all noble Lords for taking part.

Motion agreed.