Skills and education minister Ruth Kelly has challenged employers to take a more active role in tackling gender stereotypes at work.
Speaking at the launch of the Equal Opportunities Commission’s (EOC) report into gender segregation in UK workplaces, Kelly said increasing skills shortages meant business needed to re-evaluate its recruitment practices.
The EOC’s survey of 1,100 adults and 90,000 young people found that the UK was failing to provide real opportunities and choice for young people entering the workplace or starting training courses.
Only 15% of young people received any advice or information on work experience in sectors where the workforce is currently dominated by men.
It blamed poor careers advice at school, heavily gender-segregated apprenticeships, a lack of joined-up government strategy, and a lack of action by employers.
The report found that 80% of employers thought a more balanced gender mix would create a better range of skills and talents, but not enough was being done to translate this into positive action.
Kelly said: “If employers are going to fill skills shortages, they are going to have to look further than they are at the moment.”
Paul McCrae, community liaison officer at construction company Durkan Group, said an active policy of recruiting women made good commercial sense.
Women only make up 1% of workers in the construction industry and the sector requires 86,150 more recruits each year, according to the Construction Industry Training Board.
“We are not a charity, we are a commercial business,” said McCrae. “There are huge incentives to employing women… [they] are determined, dedicated and conscientious… just the kind of personnel the industry is crying out for.”
McCrae said a zero-tolerance approach to sexism and ensuring that women have access to proper training saw Durkan’s female contingent of the workforce increase from 5% in 2000, to 30% in 2004.