Damned by faint praise

June 01, 1992

At a reception held on May 5 at National Westminster Hall, London, the Opportunity 2000 campaign announced that a further 50 employers had joined since the initiative was launched by the Prime Minister in October 1991.

To date 110 employers covering 20% of the UK work force have committed themselves publicly to improving the position of women at work, partly through setting and meeting targets.

The reception was addressed by Lady Howe, Chair of BITC’s Women’s Economic Development Target Team, and by Lord Alexander, Chairman of NatWest Bank, who said the Bank had already improved the number of women in the management team to 17.5%.

A Financial Times survey among 16 large employers revealed in April that the idea of numerical targets was gaining ground. The main reason cited by those who had not yet set targets was the need to conduct a fundamental review of policies, practices and attitudes, without which targets would be unrealistic. Some expressed fear that targets would be seen as fixed quotas, raising fears that employees would not be recruited or promoted on merit. Contact Louise Edgley, Opportunity 2000, on 071 321 6426.

The new Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, announced on May 20 the appointment of a working group on women’s issues. The twelve strong group, including Lady Howe, chair of Opportunity 2000, and seven executives from private business, will advise her on the “intractable barriers that hold women back”. The first issue will be improving after school and holiday childcare facilities. The Conservative Manifesto promised to fund a scheme through Training and Enterprise Councils, but sufficient money for any new scheme to have a significant impact has yet to be forthcoming the Treasury. Contact Pat Matheson, Department of Employment, on 071 273 4971.

Nearly 80 employers’ representatives attended the first seminar organised by the Employers’ Forum on Disability, following the launch on the Agenda on Disability in January. Hosted by The Wellcome Foundation on May 18, it looked at the practical measures necessary to meet the Agenda’s ten point action plan. Among the speakers were Ian Hayden from Royal Mail, Anne Watts from Midland Bank and Viki Ford from Rank Xerox UK.

At the start of May, the Forum published a practical how-to-do-it guide called Monitoring People with Disabilities in the Workforce. Sponsored by Midland Bank, the guide gives a step-by-step explanation of how to collect the information on which it is then possible to base corrective action, if proved necessary. Contact Susan Scott-Parker, EFD, on 071 321 6595.

Responding to criticism that ITV’s successful fundraising venture, Telethon, has portrayed disabled people as tragic victims deserving pity, the Broadcasters’ Forum on Disability has commissioned a specialist training company, Disability Matters, to brief broadcasters on the issues. The aim is to shift understanding from the `medical model’ of disability which concentrates on what is wrong with a disabled person, to the `social model’ which examines the way in which people with impairments are disabled by the environment in which they live.

The Broadcasters’ Forum on Disability has also produced a series of three videos to promote positive images of disabled people in the broadcast media and so to improve their career prospects. They are funded by broadcasters, including Channel 4 and the BBC . Contact Sarah Robinson on 071 321 6591.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is expanding its services to the one million blind and partially sighted people in the UK, thanks to two donations from the private sector. Digital Equipment Company announced a £130,000 gift of computer equipment and ack-up services. On May 5, the Duke of estminster £250,000 raised by staff of David S Smith (Holdings), the largest UK owned paper and packaging company. Meanwhile the RNIB has published its 1992/93 catalogue of publications and products to assist blind people at work. Contact Louisa Fyans, RNIB.