Introduce national targets to close gender skills gap, says YWT

Thursday 21 June 2018

pos action pressYoung Women’s Trust, a charity that supports young women on low or no pay, is calling for national targets to help women into male-dominated apprenticeships and boost the economy in a major report released today. 

Women are shut out of sectors that face a shortage of workers, such as construction and engineering. Employers, however, are unclear about how to legally improve women’s representation, according to the ‘Equality at Work? Positive action in gender segregated apprenticeships’ report written by Professor Chantal Davies of the University of Chester, which sets out solutions ahead of ‘International Women in Engineering Day’ on Saturday. 

There are 50 men for every woman starting a construction apprenticeship in England and 25 men for every woman embarking on an engineering course. 

A YouGov poll for Young Women’s Trust found that three in five employers think that positive action – steps like encouraging more women to apply and actively choosing women over men where they are equally qualified – is needed to achieve workplace gender equality but just a quarter have taken steps to improve women’s representation. 

Young Women’s Trust is calling on the Government to set time-limited national targets to boost the number of women apprentices in sectors where they are underrepresented and says organisations should set their own targets, too – incentivised by linking chief executives’ bonuses to results. If targets are not met, Young Women’s Trust says the Government should consider imposing quotas. 

The charity is also calling for employers in sectors where women are under-represented to take positive action by: 

  • making use of the ‘tiebreak’ provision in law that allows them to shortlist and appoint a woman over a man where they are equally qualified;
  • providing women-only work experience, taster events, training days and mentoring to encourage more women to apply; and
  • targeting job adverts at women. 

These measures are designed to redress disadvantage to put women on a more equal footing with men in the recruitment process – thereby helping to tackle women’s under-representation in many sectors. Many employers are unaware that they can legally use these measures. 

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said: 

“The growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering will not be plugged unless employers help more young women into relevant apprenticeships. But Young Women’s Trust has found that young women across the country are shut out of these sectors due to gender stereotypes and a lack of support. 

"For every woman apprentice entering the construction sector in England there are 50 men and there are 25 men for every woman starting an engineering apprenticeship. 

“Employers can take far more action within current legislation to create a more level playing field for women.” 

Professor Chantal Davies, Director of the University of Chester’s Forum for Research into Equality and Diversity and author of the report, said:

“Positive action in theory is an effective measure to address underrepresentation, but our research found that there is confusion about whether and how it can be used – which also means that it is being under-utilised. The majority of employers who took part in our research were committed to measures to bring about gender equality. However, our participants felt that there was a lack of consistent adequate guidance and a code of practice, which meant that employers lack awareness and/ or confidence to implement effective positive action measures. This can be down to a fear of legal liability. 

“Through this report, and the work I’m carrying out with the Young Women’s Trust, we are seeking to address this knowledge (and confidence) deficit, in our aim to tackle the under-representation of women in this key skills area.” 

Young Women’s Trust and the University of Chester will hold a parliamentary event on Thursday 21 June to launch the new report. 


Notes to editor: 

  1. Young Women’s Trust supports and represents women aged 16-30 trapped by low or no pay and facing a life of poverty. The charity provides services and runs campaigns to make sure that the talents of young women don't go to waste.
  2. Young Women’s Trust commissioned Professor Chantal Davies, director of the University of Chester’s Forum for Research into Equality and Diversity and a specialist in law, equality and diversity, to research how employers and trade bodies can use positive action to help more women into male-dominated apprenticeships such as construction and engineering. The research, which will be published on 21 June, consisted of:
    1. a survey of over 4,000 young people aged 18-30 carried out by Populus Data Solutions;
    2. a survey by YouGov of 800 HR decision makers to understand attitudes towards use of positive action in apprenticeships;
    3. a series of focus groups and semi-structured interviews with sector bodies, apprentices and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) representatives; and
    4. data triangulation with literature and data from a roundtable discussion in March 2018 hosted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC Roundtable) looking at the use of positive action in relation to underrepresentation on the grounds of disability, race and gender in apprenticeships across England, Scotland and Wales.
  3. The Government’s apprenticeship data shows that there are 50 men for every woman starting an apprenticeship in construction and 25 for every woman entering engineering.
  4. Young Women’s Trust  has set out the barriers to young women entering male-dominated apprenticeships in its recent report ‘Young women and apprenticeships: still not working?’.
  5. ‘Positive action’ is the term for the steps an employer can take to help ensure there is equality of opportunity among groups with protected characteristics when it comes to accessing work or training, in order to redress disadvantage. It differs from ‘positive discrimination’, which aims to achieve equality of outcomes for disadvantaged groups.
  6. Young Women’s Trust is calling for employers, trade bodies and the Government to make use of and encourage positive action in apprenticeships to boost women’s representation and plug the skills gap.
  7. For more information or to speak to a case study, please contact Bex Bailey on or on 07963018281.