Saturday, 10 March 2018

We need all the talent we can get (International Women's Day speech)

Thank you for giving the honour of speaking at today’s event.

It's the first time I’ve been, and it’s the first time I understand any men have been allowed in, which I think is fab. I'm chuffed to be the first man to speak to this annual event.

It is not for men to stand in the front on days like today, but I do think men should stand side by side - to be allies in the fight for equality.

I am the son of an inspirational woman, the husband of an inspirational woman and the father of an inspirational young girl.

I am a feminist. And I am an optimist - we can bring about change.

They say the past is a foreign country.

And to think that in the lifetimes of many of the people in this room…

Women didn’t have the same rights to finance.

Didn’t have the right to equal pay.

Didn’t have the right to abortion and contraception.

Didn’t have the right to retain your own surname after marriage.

And - right up until the 1990s - didn’t have the right not to be raped by your own husband.

Some of these formal achievements now sound absurd.

It just goes to show that determination can bring about change. Organising can bring about change. Politics can bring about change.

What’s striking about the #MeToo movement, though, is how much more work there is to do.

Not necessarily on formal laws and statutes, but on the more insidious manifestations of gender equality. The daily belittling that women face.

And if this is happening in Hollywood, to these incredibly powerful, confident and successful women, then what hope have you got if you are a woman working in somewhere like Gestamp or Calsoinic in Llanelli. What kind of everyday belittling do they face?

My Mam was a natural leader in a world of men. She had gutsy determination to fight against the idea that she should know her place. Mam took over the swimming club in Ammanford when I was growing up and I remember the tears of frustration as the powerful pool manager and ancient County Councillor tried to keep her in her place. But she fought to succeed.

But you shouldn’t have to be a fighter to succeed here.

I want Llanelli to be a place where every woman and girl has the support and encouragement to reach their own potential.

Not just because that is the right and fair thing to do, but because that’s what’s best for our community.

Coleg Sir Gar - a fabulous college, run by a real visionary head - set out the scale of the challenge in their latest equality strategy.

97% of engineering students are male


94% of hair and beauty students are female, as are 87% of care students.

We are wasting our potential.

And I don't say this with any snobbery, my Dad worked in a care home and my Mam was a hairdresser. These are valuable roles, but we shouldn't be pigeonholing young people into these roles.

If half of our talent is holed up in beauty parlours and care homes - in underpaid and uncertain jobs - we are doing them and us a disservice.

And if we are going to reverse the economic stagnation that this constituency has faced over recent decades, we are going to need all the brains and talent we can get.

Because the challenges coming our way are ferocious. Automation and Artificial Intelligence provide huge opportunities for us, but they also present challenges. Nobody knows for sure but the best estimates are that for every one new job created through technology, three male jobs will be lost. But fives women's jobs will go, because many of the roles that will go in the early stages will be clerical and back office and many of the new jobs will be in STEM areas where women's are appallingly under-represented.

There is a gendered element to the challenge of automation. I'm calling on a weekly basis, with increasing frustration, for the Welsh Government to do more to prepare us for this big change.

For my part, I’m launching Amelia Earhart day this year - on June 18th (which will be the 90th anniversary of this quite literally awesome woman landing on our shores).

And I’ll be inviting 8 year old girls from across the constituency to an action-packed day that I hope will encourage more of them to see themselves as the future fighter pilots, engineers, space-explorers, computer nerds and scientists they have the potential to be.

But we must find new ways, not just of raising the aspirations of girls to go into STEM subjects, but to change what they find when they get there.

Ensuring the environment they meet isn’t one where their research means that little bit less, where their ideas are taken a little less seriously. Where they aren’t accused of being bossy, and instead are praised for being assertive. And where they aren’t just a little more expected to make the tea.

And that’s going to take action from men, just as much as women.

Diolch. It's been a huge honour.

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