Today the UN’s climate summit in Glasgow is shining a spotlight on gender. This is welcome, because women are being harder hit by the impacts of climate change owing to existing global gender inequalities, and the time has come to tackle this. Here in the UK, many initiatives have already begun, or are in the pipeline, to address the impacts of the climate crisis. We need to make sure that they do what they can to also address the other societal challenges that we’re facing. This is a huge opportunity to really build back better, to create a greener, cleaner and fairer society.
It is possible to design a fair transition to net zero which eliminates the harshest impacts of the climate crisis, while also working towards resolving other inequalities – like regional, and gender divides. Regional inequalities in the UK are among the worst in the developed world, so it’s essential that net zero or clean growth initiatives in places like the North work to address these inequalities. We already know from existing research that women in the North have been disproportionately affected by inequalities, and as a consequence suffer specific challenges relating to things like income and health disparities. One of the tools that could be used to help to change this is the skills system.
Local leaders are working to create hundreds of thousands of green jobs across the region, presenting a huge opportunity to not only develop the green economy in the North but also to ‘level up’ the country. With this also comes the moment to ensure that those already disproportionately affected by inequalities are supported to access these jobs and the benefits they bring with them, thus ensuring a fair transition.
The Hynet and East Coast Cluster programmes in the North West and North East respectively, have both recently been announced as being successful in progressing to the next stage of development as part of the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Infrastructure fund. The jobs set to be created by these programmes are likely to be predominantly roles in engineering and technology. While it’s positive to see increased provision of highly skilled roles, it’s important to remember that these kinds of roles are typically not ones taken up by women and girls; only 15% of engineering jobs are typically done by women. Much has been done over the last decade to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) study and careers to women and girls, but this has often been through relatively disparate initiatives and campaigns such as Women in STEM and Science Grrl. Progress has been made, but much more still needs to be done by schools, colleges, skills providers, employers and government to ensure that women feel these roles are within their grasp.
From a skills perspective, existing initiatives aimed at engaging women in science-based subjects must be championed and strengthened. This should happen from an early age and continue right through to adult education; all educators and career advisors must work to change perceptions of science-based subjects. Positive role models are essential; young women must be able to see people who look like them in science-based careers in order to feel they can embark on such a career themselves. While not in the field of clean growth, we have a huge opportunity to build on the success of the Covid-19 vaccination development programme and the visible face of Professor Sarah Gilbert to amplify the role of women in science.
In addition, there is much that can be done by employers to support women into these roles. Action such as instigating Good Work pledges or promoting flexible working opportunities that fit around caring responsibilities, as highlighted in IPPR North’s Women in the North report, could make these green jobs more appealing. Regional infrastructure and devolved adult education budgets could also be used to strengthen relationships between skills providers and businesses. This could both create the necessary pathways into these jobs and potentially support the employers themselves through the provision of people management and human resources capabilities to make workplaces more appealing to women.
This is about using the skills system to offer great opportunities to level up and create a good life, and a good planet for everyone. That work can begin today.
Erica Roscoe is a senior research fellow at IPPR North. She tweets @erica_roscoe.
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