The Right2Learn campaign asserts that access to education should be a right throughout life and that lifelong learning sits at the heart of a fair society.
This summer they organised two linked events ahead of Labour Party’s annual conference with the intention of taking issues to its national policy forum to shape ideas and future policy.
‘Women, Work, Jobs and Skills’
‘Women, Work, Jobs, and Skills’ took place in Parliament in July and Anya Cook FRSA, SEA NEC member and SEND Advisor at Newcastle College responds:
Arranged at short notice before the summer recess, to influence policy and the agenda of the Shadow Equalities team ahead of conference season, the brilliant Right2Learn Campaign convened a conference in Parliament on barriers to education and employment for women post-pandemic.
The event was introduced by Margaret Greenwood MP with contributions from Emma Hardy MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy, Shadow Equalities Minister Yasmin Qureshi MP discussing the positive impact of flexible working and her bill (which has now had Royal Assent), Faiza Khan Director of Affairs at City & Guilds on learning routes, Rose Stephenson Director or Policy at HEPI on gender disparity and structural barriers and Naomi Clayton Deputy Director at Learning & Work Institute on the link between education and occupational success.
Research shared with us showed that women are more likely to be higher qualified, more likely to undertake job-related training and continuing professional development yet not take the plunge and undertake additional training outside of their role to make the move into better paid roles. It probably comes as no surprise that women earn less than men at every age, are more likely to be found in insecure work and to get stuck in low paid jobs. Interestingly, women are also more likely to be interested in green career paths yet their awareness of routes into these jobs and training opportunities for them is limited, therefore that interest doesn’t translate into employment.
There are barriers that men and women both encounter, particularly for those living in areas of social deprivation, in terms of low educational outcomes, poor literacy and access to higher education, but there are challenges that women face, particularly expectations around leading on caring responsibilities both for children and elderly relatives. Qureshi’s Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 may benefit many women in future, with the ability to apply for flexibility in terms and conditions from day one in a job as would the creation of job share opportunities in more senior posts.
Adult Education funding is restricted, higher qualifications require loans to be taken out and time spent learning can mean less time earning for some. The benefits system itself creates its own steep barriers, with sanctions, reduced claims and withheld monies rendering poverty inevitable and sustaining low incomes or cyclical state dependency rather than supporting and enabling people to upskill and become unstuck.
The jobs that women undertake are linked to gender expectations such as cleaning or care work. Health and social care is the largest growing industry in the UK, predominantly employing women and is the lowest paid. Compounding issues of poverty wages, lack of quality training, lack of progression and the lack of credit and esteem for the work undertaken, trap many women in the sector.
One question unanswered is why men aren’t expected to undertake the same work as women. It is a disservice to men that kindness, compassion, and care are attributed to women, just as it is a disservice to women that men are generally earning more. Men and women both have a role to play in shifting gender stereotypes.
A recent conversation
In a recent conversation at work a colleague joked that it was her perceived masculinity that meant she provided support to the engineering department. Quite rightly her line manager, a man, challenged her on this. What hope have we got to balance the scales if as women ourselves, we are upholding outdated societal gender views and how then does this help encourage our young women to develop agency and move into alternative, better-paid career paths?
The provision of strong, positive women role models is key to addressing barriers for women in education and employment; women need other women to pull them through and to show them how they in turn can pull other women through – they need to see it is possible. Other solutions include improving access to high quality careers advice at all ages, addressing wide barriers such as financial costs and the benefits system as well as building confidence, assertiveness and esteem in our women and girls throughout their lives.
As Simone de Beauvoir says, ‘our experiences shape the women we become’ and so it is vital that men and women in education roles and in positions where they might influence women in their progression and life choices role model equality in words and actions, leading without bias and prepared to challenge assumptions.
Socialism and education are not separate, they are a double helix, an unending cycle of learning and growing and it is in the learning that women find hope and can lift themselves out of their situations.
CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT THE BYLINES NETWORK CROWDFUNDER!