Gender gap: how to skill up women in the justice system

Forty years after the Equal Pay Act, it is estimated that a man will earn £369,000 more than a woman across their careers. Last week 'institutional sexism' was highlighted in the justice system

Last week, the Fawcett Society highlighted "institutional sexism" in the criminal justice system, pointing out that most senior management positions in organisations such as police forces, the prison service and the judiciary are still held by men.

The gender gap is still very real: a new BBC two-part television series starts tonight. Exploring attitudes to working women 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, it points out that on average a man will earn £369,000 more than a woman across their careers.

Skills for Justice, the sector skills council for the UK justice system, is working to redress this imbalance through a new initiative aimed at helping women in a variety of jobs in the justice system, to improve their career prospects and earning potential through the development of new skills.

The Women & Work: Sector Pathways Initiative project is a response to recommendations by the 2006 Women & Work Commission's report, Shaping a Fairer Future. The project's aim is to raise the skills and unlock the potential of women who want to move into supervisory, management and senior management positions - areas where women are under-represented, particularly in the justice system.

Funding of £0.5m is being made available for training in team leading, coaching and mentoring, which will be available to about 600 women. For women already in senior management roles, the project offers support on how to effect a change in HR systems and structures through an executive coaching programme.

Alan Woods, the chief executive of Skills for Justice, says that although women make up approximately 44% of the entire justice sector workforce, they make up a significantly smaller percentage at management and senior management level and the new project will provide a great opportunity for women to learn skills that can help them to move ahead in their careers.

"The project also includes help for organisations to explore the role of company culture and structure on women's progression, supporting organisations to consider how their company policies could be a barrier to women's success," he says. "The aim is to help organisations remove the glass ceiling that can prevent women from getting to the top."

Speaking at the Skills for Justice skills summit conference last month, Annette Shepherd, an area manager with security firm G4S, told delegates that a change in management culture and implementation of HR policies in G4S has led to an increase in the number of women at all levels, including middle and senior management.

The two-part BBC series will be shown on 18 and 19 May and will explore men and women's attitudes to working women, asking why men still dominate the top jobs. It will feature interviews with a range of women, including an armed female officer at the Metropolitan Police's firing range.

Felicity Winter is director of policy & communications at Skills for Justice

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