Westminster Business Forum

Women in the workplace - returnships, intersectionality and reassessing the gender pay gap

Morning, Wednesday, 11th December 2019

Central London


This seminar will focus on next steps for policy and organisational practice in breaking down barriers for women looking to enter or re-enter the workplace, and in closing the gender pay gap.

It will be an opportunity to consider the progress made regarding increased female representation at board level, following the expected publication of the fourth annual report of the Hampton-Alexander Review.

It also comes as the Government Equalities Office sets out a roadmap to tackle gender inequalities and support women to balance caring responsibilities with a career. The GEO is broadening its focus - beyond ‘big business’ and senior executive positions - to support marginalised women, with £500,000 of government funding for returnship programmes for those who are vulnerable.

Delegates will examine the practicalities of an intersectional approach which takes into account the multiple or overlapping barriers that may be facing women in a wider variety of workplaces, along with the implementation and eight key challenges of the roadmap.

Delegates at this seminar will consider practical steps to improve attitudes and tackle unconscious bias in the workplace, in light of increasing concerns about the effect this has on mental health.

The discussion will be informed by examples of best practice from businesses, as well as the recent Collaborating with Men report produced by Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, which found that 74% of female employees believe their workplace culture makes it more challenging for women to advance.

Further discussion is expected on the recent government and industry initiatives to break down barriers for women looking to enter, or re-enter, the workplace - including the increased use of returnship programmes as well as the spread of online mentoring and network creation.

In light of the government’s ongoing commitment of £1.5m to the Returners Fund, aimed at helping people with caring responsibilities return to work, delegates will discuss areas and priorities for investment.

It follows the aforementioned government announcement of funding allocated to seven innovative programmes aimed at helping marginalised women return to work which will provide refresher courses, training and qualifications. A further £1m is expected to be awarded soon to help people with caring responsibilities return to work, and delegates will discuss areas and priorities for investment.

Delegates will discuss the progress made towards achieving the 33% target for Women on Boards by 2020 set by the Hampton-Alexander Review.

There will also be a focus on looking beyond these statistics to assess the influence and meaningful opportunities granted to the female board members. The Review has highlighted that despite an increasing number of women with board experience this is not reflected in the number of women in FTSE 350 Chair roles, which is supported by a recent report from Cranfield University which found that female directors keep their jobs for a shorter time and are less likely to be promoted than men.

It also marks the second year of gender pay gap data reporting, published by more than 8,000 private sector employers. Delegates will assess the provision of data, calls for stricter rules and the efficacy of recent government initiatives to support this, including publishing new guidance for creating action plans.

This agenda will draw out the latest thinking on the use and regulation of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This follows the recent findings of the Women and Equalities Committee that NDAs are ‘routinely’ used to cover up allegations of unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Delegates will consider the consider the proposals for new legal measures for NDAs proposed by the government, which include clarifying in law that confidentiality clauses cannot prevent people from reporting a crime, as well as requiring a clear, written description of rights before anything is signed.

It also comes as the government consider the effectiveness of current laws protecting people from sexual harassment in the workplace, with the Government consulting on whether a new legal duty is required.

Attendees will consider the international case study of Iceland, which consistently leads the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.

There will be consideration of the impact of quota rules and other innovative approaches to employment, as well as discussion of varied strategies - including what the role of legislation can be in achieving increased gender equality and cultural change.

Keynote Speaker

Denise Wilson

Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review

Keynote Speakers

Denise Wilson

Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review

Gillian Unsworth

Head, Gender Pay Gap Reporting, Government Equalities Office

Professor Sue Vinnicombe

Professor of Women and Leadership Strategy, Cranfield School of Management

His Excellency Mr Stefán Haukur Jóhannesson

Ambassador, Embassy of Iceland in London


Nikki Butt

Vice President, British Association for Women in Policing

Mairéad Nayager

Chief HR Officer, Diageo

Julianne Miles

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Women Returners

Louise Robinson

Head of Breakthrough, Santander

Dr Jill Armstrong

Lead Researcher, ‘Collaborating with Men’ Project, Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge

Ali Hanan

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Creative Equals

Max Winthrop

Senior Partner, Short Richardson & Forth Solicitors and Chair, Employment Law Committee, The Law Society

Mick Whelan

General Secretary, ASLEF