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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Plans to help women in workplace
Female worker
The February report said women earned around 17% less than men
Proposals aimed at boosting the prospects of women in the workplace have been unveiled by the government.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said helping women to "harness their full potential" could be worth up to 23bn a year to the UK economy.

Initiatives include creating more quality part-time work and making girls aware of non-traditional careers.

It is a response to a report published in February into the barriers which lead to women earning less than men.

Initiatives include a national campaign to encourage businesses to sign up as "exemplar employers" offering women help with flexible working, time-share and good quality part-time work.

More than 80 companies and organisations, including Accenture, BAE Systems, BT, BP and Centrica, have already signed up.

'Gender stereotyping'

Other proposals will include a 500,000 fund for companies and organisations specialising in flexible working, and a new local education authority requirement for schoolgirls to be offered career advice that is "free from gender stereotyping".

And a new Equality Check will aim to help firms spot problems such as determining any gender gap in pay.

Ms Kelly said: "My message to business is clear, this is not about political correctness, this is about improving your profit margins."

Communities secretary Ruth Kelly
Just because a woman decides to trade down her hours, doesn't mean she should trade down her status
Ruth Kelly
Communities Secretary

"The challenge now is to ensure we establish a long-term change in attitude and a major expansion of opportunities, with businesses helping individuals make the most of their talents.

"The proposals we are setting out today aim to establish a change in culture from the playground to the boardroom."

She said that parents found it difficult to "balance professional and family commitments" and the role of government should be to help them make the right decisions which suit them.

Ms Kelly added there had been "huge improvements" across the workplace, but the government wanted all employers to "reach the standards of the best".

"Just because a woman decides to trade down her hours, doesn't mean she should trade down her status," she said.

The measures are in response to the Women and Work Commission's Shaping a Fairer Future report.

The government-established commission found that women in full-time work were earning 17% less than men.

Baroness Margaret Prosser, chairwoman of the commission, said she was "extremely pleased" the recommendations were being taken forward by "so many government departments".

"If government, trade unions and business continue to work together, I believe that we can make a real difference to the lives of millions of working women in this country," she said.

Ms Prosser said she expected the action plan to be "vigorously followed through" and looked forward to hearing of its progress next year.

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