Councils blow their own trumpets for women

Ngaio Crequer reports on a national campaign for flexible and child-friendly working practices.

Britain's leading training providers are using their success at encouraging women back to work in an effort to get other employers to follow suit.

A national campaign by training and enterprise councils will highlight how the success of women at work can be enhanced by support schemes such as after-school clubs for children and business networks which help women in senior positions to meet.

The TEC national council is drawing on the work of several TECs which have promoted women into senior positions.

The South London Training and Enterprise Council (SOLTEC) has had considerable success. Lynne James, deputy chief executive, said: "We're constantly working on family friendly employment procedures here. We are always looking at ways of improving our flexible working patterns.

"Obviously you cannot have everyone on flexi-time: the phones have to be staffed, and we've got to be able to offer a service to our customers. What we're trying to do is find the balance."

Women trained through SOLOTEC now take up half its Modern Apprenticeships and are moving into traditionally male-dominated sectors such as engineering and electronics. Of the 564 businesses which SOLOTEC assisted last year, more than half were headed by women.

North Nottinghamshire TEC is another with notable successes. It has helped set up affordable "Kids' Clubs" to provide safe and stimulating places for parents to leave children after school. It has been shown to be one of the best ways of encouraging women back to work.

A Business Women's Network also enables people to discuss issues or problems such as motivation and tax self-assessment.

"If you are the only woman in a senior position in a business, it is often useful to get out and meet other people in the same situation," according to Pat Richards, chief executive of the North Nottinghamshire TEC.

Linda Bloomfield, chief executive of Merseyside TEC, controls a budget of Pounds 46 million and manages a staff of more than 200. Her husband abandoned his own career as a charity fund-raiser to look after their daughter when she was young.

"I have tried to think of staff issues perhaps only a woman would consider, such as nursery nurses and a creche facility at one of our out-of-hours staff seminars, but I must admit that a good personnel officer would make that provision anyway.

"On the negative side, I am conscious that I have set a trend by working long hours, I have possibly influenced staff to do the same, which is not conducive to family life. Now I have made a conscious decision to try to limit my working days to more normal hours, which will give me more time to spend with my family and set a better example."

Jacqui Henderson, managing director of Northumberland TEC, said she stresses the need for women to have a range of opportunities. "The need to provide women with meaningful career or learning opportunities has been even more acute during the past decade because of changes in the county's industrial and rural economy."

The TEC launched the Self Start programme to develop individual self image and personal potential. It also raises the women's awareness of their influence on the academic achievement of their children. Nine out of ten on the scheme have children and nearly half are lone parents.

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