It’s a real pleasure to be here today to celebrate International Women’s Day, happy International Women’s Day everybody, it is really an important date in the calendar – and I think it is important that we pause and reflect on that.
First and foremost it’s an opportunity to recognise how much progress has been made, let’s not deny women today have opportunities today that our mothers grandmothers could only have dreamed of – so we must celebrate that and this is an important opportunity to do so.
But it’s also an opportunity to recognise how much more progress we need to make until we live in a society where gender equality is something that we take for granted as a reality. Until there can be as many mediocre women in the same positions as men, until it’s not the case, that women as we do today, so often have to work twice as hard just to be considered half as good as our male counterparts.
And I’m as conscious, even in my position, of the progress that we still have to make, as any other woman. I’m the First Minister of Scotland, the most senior politician in the country, yet the world I live and work in is still predominantly male.
It’s a world where male culture still dominates, a world where the treatment that is dished out to women on a daily basis, the criteria that we are judged by, leads to a very different experience for women, than the experience for men.
So this is a day where I think it is important to rededicate ourselves, not just as women, but to encourage our male allies to rededicate themselves for the battle for true gender equality. The day I became First Minister I made a speech in the Scottish Parliament and I talked then about my then, eight year old niece who is now 12 going on 26.
But I spoke about my desire, and this can apply to all of us, that the world I want her to grow up as a woman in is a world which consigns to history the gender pay gap, where systemic under representation of women is a thing of the past, and where the deep-seated misogyny, that, let us be honest still exists in our society, and where you do not have to go very far in to the murky realms of social media to find it, where that is also a thing of the past.
Let’s rededicate ourselves to that here on International Women’s Day. It is great to join all of you today for this very, very special event – an important opportunity to celebrate, to highlight and to promote the role of women generally, but in particular, the role of women in business. And I know that is something that Business Gateway Edinburgh does on a
on a day-today basis and we saw a good example of that this morning – with the launch of Women in Business Growth Programme – a fantastic initiative that I warmly welcome and thoroughly endorse.
That’s a programme targeted at women who have the ambition to grow their businesses. As part of the programme, they will have the opportunity to attend expert workshops, receive tailored support from Business Gateway Edinburgh and the aim is to give female entrepreneurs the knowledge they need – to better understand the business landscape, to develop new contacts and explore new markets.
And that’s just one more way in which Business Gateway Edinburgh is looking to support women-led businesses – and promote entrepreneurship generally.
And that ties in very closely with a whole range of work that the Scottish Government is doing. We have made it a key priority to promote – and encourage – a culture of entrepreneurship in Scotland generally. Scotland is known throughout history for our entrepreneurship, ingenuity and innovation, and that’s what we should aspire to be known for in the years ahead as well.
And we know that our future prosperity depends on successful new ideas and new businesses being created in our country. And we know that entrepreneurs – like all of you – will play the central role – in generating jobs and future economic growth.
That’s why we worked with the private, public and the third sector to develop the Scotland Can-Do framework. And that sets out our shared ambition for Scotland to be a world-leader in enterprise and innovation. And it aims to ensure that people in every part of our country have the confidence, encouragement and support that they need to become entrepreneurs and to succeed as entrepreneurs.
We know that one important aspect of that is to focus on our education system. More than 400 schools across Scotland now benefit from our Enterprising Schools Network.
We support initiatives like the Scottish EDGE Fund – a competition for our most talented and ambitious early-stage entrepreneurs.
And of course, it is important that we encourage and support social entrepreneurs. Over the past couple of years, the Scottish Government has provided £7 million to deliver the aims of our social enterprise strategy.
And of course more specifically, we are taking targeted action to encourage more women into business.
Back in 2014 when we launched our Women in Enterprise framework, it was the very first of its kind anywhere in Europe and it’s been really successful. Since 2014, the proportion of women in Scotland who are starting a business has risen. And in fact, the gender gap, when it comes to business start-ups, has started to fall in Scotland at a time actually when it has been rising elsewhere in the UK. So that is good positive progress but, and there is a but here, it’s still the case that more than 3/5 of all businesses are being started by men, and less than 2/5 by women.
And that matters as a basic issue of principle - a basic issue of equity and but it also matters for a really hard-headed reason as well. That disaparity harms the country and our economy overall. Research suggests, and this statistic really illustrates this very powerfully, research suggests that if the level of female ownership of businesses in Scotland, matched the level of male ownership, the size of our economy would increase by around 5% - just to put that into context that equates to £7.6 billion.
So getting more women into business isn’t just good for women, quite simply it will make all of us more prosperous.
So that’s a point that’s always important to say. In the current year, we are supporting Investing Women – who help businesses which are led by women to access the finance they need. From an initial investment of £900,000 in ten companies, Investing Women has helped those firms to attract a total of £10 million of further investment – that is a pretty good success story.
We also help Business Women Scotland to inform women about the support networks that exist for female entrepreneurs.
And we work with Women’s Enterprise Scotland to publicise case studies and good practice examples which might help or inspire other entrepreneurs.
Of course all of that sits alongside, as it should, our wider efforts to promote greater equality in the workplace – at all levels.
For example, diversity is one of the things that businesses commit to if they sign the Scottish Business Pledge – which currently has over 600 members. Last week, we announced our intention to refresh the Pledge. It will now have an even stronger focus on gender equality, specifically.
In addition, we continue to push for greater representation of women in senior positions- through initiatives like our 50/50 by 2020 campaign. And I appointed a gender balanced Cabinet, still one of only a few across the entire world.
And we’re also taking steps to promote the wider use of mentoring – something that I think is really important for women to give to the next generation. I know it’s also major focus for Business Gateway Edinburgh – and I’m sure that many of you have been involved as a mentor or a mentee.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor two fantastic young women.
Mentoring them is an experience which I hope bas benefitted them and it has definitely benefitted me.
It’s incredibly valuable to share experiences and insights with people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives.
And I would encourage any of you who haven’t thought about it to take up the opportunity as it’s a really important way to give something back to help the next generation.
We want to ensure as many women as possible are able to benefit from mentoring. That’s why – last week – we announced a Future Female Business Leaders programme. It’s a partnership with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. And it will ensure that female mentees near the start of their business career, are paired with mentors who have relevant experience and knowledge.
It will help to ensure that more women do get the kind of support and advice they might otherwise lack. And it’s another very important way in which we are trying to promote greater equality in the workplace.
So it’s clear I hope the actions we are taking collectively are having an impact, but we need to do more, and particularly we need to do more, in my view, around the gender pay gap.
On Wednesday this week PWC released their ‘Women in Work’ report and the good news from that report is that it ranks Scotland as the best place in the UK for workplace gender equality.
One of the reasons for that is that Scotland’s gender pay gap is at an all-time low. Last year, for full time employees, it was 5.7%. That’s significantly lower than it is across the UK as a whole – where it’s 8.6%.
However, the pay gap for all employees, including part-time work, is much bigger at 15%. It’s declining, and it is lower in Scotland than in the UK. However, any pay gap is – self-evidently – too high.
Quite simply, you cannot have true gender equality if women are being paid less than men. So we are determined to further reduce and eliminate Scotland’s gender pay gap.
Our efforts to boost pay generally – for example by supporting the living wage - are important here. A higher proportion of workers in Scotland receive the living wage, than in any other country of the UK.
However we also need to take specific steps. That’s why the Scottish Government is today publishing our Gender Pay Gap Action Plan. It sets out the range of ways in which we will tackle the causes of the gender pay gap – in our education system, in the workplace, and across society.
For example, it includes our commitment to invest £5 million – over the next three years – in our Women Returners Programme. The programme provides advice, training and placements for women who want to return to work, following a career break. And it builds on the other steps we’ve taken to support working parents – particularly mothers – such as our expansion of free childcare.
The Plan also sets out our commitment to promote flexible working. As part of that, we will fund a feasibility study for the creation of a ‘Centre for Flexible Work’ for Scotland. It will design and test new flexible work models and ideas. And its aim will be to open up new economic opportunities for parents on low incomes.
In our education system, we’ll continue to tackle the kind of stereotyping which causes career segregation. That is of course, a particular problem when it comes to STEM subjects.
On Monday, I was at Forth Valley College, where I met their recent intake of engineering modern apprentices.It was brilliant to see so many young women starting out on a skilled career which will be crucial to Scotland’s future economic success.
However, it’s still the case that more than 90% of engineering modern apprentices are male. It’s also – just as damagingly – still the case that 90% of childcare modern apprentices are female. That’s the kind of imbalance which we are determined to tackle.
The Plan also commits the Scottish Government to undertake an Equal Pay Audit. It will help us to understand the causes of our own gender pay gap. And we hope that – by demonstrating leadership on this issue – we will encourage other businesses and organisations to do the same.
These are just a few of the actions which the plan sets out. They will help Scotland to make further progress in closing the gender pay gap. And they will help to ensure that more and more women are able to fulfil their full potential.
Just to conclude all of the measures that I’ve spoken about this morning will help to ensure greater fairness and equality – in business, and in the workplace.
And I want to stress the point that I made earlier, that will benefit everyone not just women – it benefits men and society overall as well. And that is a key point.
All of you are great examples of the kind of business talent that exists, across our country. By creating jobs, prosperity, you are making an invaluable contribution to Scotland. Our task must be to ensure that more and more women can contribute to – and benefit from – Scotland’s success, in the years ahead.
So we look forward to working with partners like Business Gateway – to continue to promote female entrepreneurship and encourage women in the workplace.
And as we do that, we can learn so much from the experiences and success of women like of all you – who are making their way in the world of business.
That’s why events like this are so important and why International Women’s Day is so important. So let’s, as we go through our discussions today, celebrate wherever we are, whoever we are and be determined, rededicate ourselves to that role of ending gender inequality.
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