SSC sets example for SET

Posted on 5 Apr 2011 by The Manufacturer

Sector skills council, Cogent has responded to heightened discussion around gender diversity in industry with a formal commitment to the UKRC’s CEO Charter.

Cogent, the sector skills council responsible for representing science based industries including; the chemical, pharmaceutical, bioscience, nuclear, oil and gas, petroleum and polymer sectors, is the latest organisation to formalise it commitment to tackling the under-representation of women in science, engineering and technology (SET) professions.

Cogents move to act on gender diversity responds to increased awareness of the importance of addressing this issue within SET as UK manufacturing aims to draw in more skilled employees. Skills shortfalls in advanced manufacturing and high value add manufacturing will require a widening of the current intake pool for SET careers.

A further influence on Cogent, and other industry representatives, to act on gender inequality is the release of the Lord Davies’ report into female presence in UK board rooms. This report recommended that company’s across sectors should consider hopw they might increase famale representaion at board level by at least 25% by 2015.

The UKRC is the UK’s leading body for advancing gender equality in SET and its CEO Charter aims to encourage employers and industry representatives to take leadership on gender diversity. It acts as a signal to employees and external partners that the participating organisation supports diversity best practice. Following Cogent’s decision to participate in the CEO Charter Jane Butcher, assistant director of the UKRC said: “Cogent has a healthy ratio of men to women at the organisation, with a near 50:50 split, which makes it a great example of gender equality in the workplace. The UKRC believes that only a concerted effort by the SET industry will break down the gender barriers that exist in these traditionally male dominated environments.”

This “healthy ratio” cannot be said to be reflected in all of the sectors Cogent represents. In the oil and gas industry, for instance, just 18% of employees are female. In Polymers and Chemicals the percentages are 21% and 26% respectively. Cogent hopes that through its joining the UKRC CEO Charter it can act as an example to the employers it represents.

Joanna Woolf, chief executive of Cogent SSC explains further the reasons why the organisation has signed the Charter: “Gender equality is enshrined in our operation with around half the workforce comprising women. This reflects the belief that diversity is not only fair, but good for business, ensuring that different views are represented and that everyone is appointed and promoted on merit and talent.

“The sector that we operate in is a traditionally male-dominated sector – with men making up around 72% of employees. The glass ceiling still exists for women and only 33% of managers and senior officials are women across the UK workforce. The case for increasing female leadership is powerful – and we want to be at the forefront of that.”

In addition to the symbolic gesture of signing the Charter Cogent is also taking practical action to back the progression of women within its sectors. From April 2010 to March 2011 Cogent received UKCES funding for its Women and Work initiative which enabled 119 women, already employed in SET industries, to undertake the training and education they needed to go further in their careers.

The Women and Work initiative offered training at three levels:

•Pre apprenticeship and technical
•21st century managers

Initial feedback from Cogent’s work in this area indicates that, for the women who participated:

•28% have experienced some career progression
•37% have increased responsibilities
•13% have had a pay rise

Cogent is currently applying for Employer Investment Funds so that it can continue, and expand, the Women and Work initiative.