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Launch of the National Women's Strategy 2017-2020- Supporting Women in Business?

May 11, 2017

by Emma Kerins, International Affairs Executive, Chambers Ireland

Earlier this month (3 May 2017), Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, in her capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality, launched the Government’s new National Women’s Strategy in Dublin Castle. It aims to encourage women into leadership roles in the workplace, sport, politics and the arts.

Chambers Ireland believes that an ambitious National Women’s Strategy 2017-2020 provides us with an opportunity to address gaps that may be impacting Ireland’s economic performance. Our economy is competing against the top performing countries in the OECD for investment and for access to markets. If we are to position ourselves as a knowledge-economy with a highly skilled workforce, our human capital must be developed to its fullest. Therefore, ensuring that Ireland is a more equal society, where men and women are supported to reach their full potential, as citizens, employees, leaders and entrepreneurs, must be a crucial part of future policy planning

As part of our submission in January of this year, we made a number of recommendations on how the new strategy could support increased equality in the workforce and support entrepreneurship.

Women in the Workforce - Promoting Equality

Investment in Childcare

  • Government has recently committed to increasing investment in childcare and recently published the heads of legislation for the Single Affordable Childcare Scheme. This is a welcome first step towards increasing investment in childcare services making it more affordable for parents. We recommend that Governments continues to invest in child-care services in the long-term.

Pension Reform

  • One of the biggest risks to the future prosperity of our citizens is a lack of adequate pension provision amongst private sector workers. We recommend the introduction of a number of reforms to encourage more workers to enrol in private sector pensions. For example, regulations governing pensions must be made flexible and incentives should be used to encourage enrolment in private sector pensions,

Supporting Parenting Equality

  • If gaps in pay and pensions are to be eradicated in the long-term, a cultural shift will be required in how care-giving responsibilities are met in society. If women continue bear the brunt of these obligations, the gender gap in socioeconomic equality will continue to exist. We call on Government to work with employer’s groups to examine how increasing parental leave provisions can be introduced and managed with minimal burden to employers.

Women in Business - Promoting Entrepreneurship

Access to Finance

  • We recommend expanding funds like the Competitive Start Fund that targets female entrepreneurs to include a broader range of business models and sectors would have a positive impact on female entrepreneurs who are struggling to access finance and investment.

Reduce Regulatory Anomalies for Female Entrepreneurs

  • We recommend that the National Women’s Strategy commit to reviewing measure that discriminate between PAYE workers and the self-employed. The fact that a female entrepreneur must have 52 weeks contributions in a relevant tax year compared with 39 weeks for an employee (33% more) and must give 12 weeks’ notice of their intention to commence maternity leave compared with 6 weeks for an employee (100% more notice) is a direct barrier for women considering becoming a entrepreneur.

Promoting Entrepreneurial Skills

  • Develop “educating the educator” programmes for teachers in STEM fields to encourage and support female students in business creation would be a helpful first step to supporting more women to be active in STEM related professions. 

Encourage Female Entrepreneurs to grow their business and consider trading internationally

  • The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor noted that more than half of female entrepreneurs are focused entirely on the home market and have no markets overseas, while just one third of male entrepreneurs are similarly focused. As part of the National Women’s Strategy 2017-2020, we recommended that state agencies provide training to female entrepreneurs on international trade. We also recommended that Government commits to increasing female participation in Irish trade missions to help female entrepreneurs to access new markets.

What's Next?

The next step for the Department of Justice and Equality is to publish targets and indicators for all actions (expected later this year, Q3 2017). However, while we’re pleased to see the strategy commit to supporting female entrepreneurs and workers through developing a National STEM Policy, increased investment in childcare and providing more funding supports for female entrepreneurs, we would like to see more tangible outputs, particularly when it comes to reducing regulatory anomalies that discriminate between PAYE workers and the self-employed in areas like maternity leave. Serious action on pension reform must also be a priority. Budget 2018 is an opportunity to put into action the commitments outlined within this strategy.  It’s our view that more equal society means a more competitive and more resilient economy, an ambition that’s now more important than ever as we prepare for the impacts of Brexit. 

The NWS 2017-2020 can be downloaded here.

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