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Women’s minister to offer parents guide to boosting girls’ ambitions

Maria Miller to launch info packs to help guide daughters’ career choices amid falling numbers of women in executive positions

Ministers are planning to produce information packs for the parents of daughters to help them to bring up “aspirational” young women.

The packs will offer advice on how to guide daughters through subject and career choices, amid concerns that many people feel they lack key parenting skills at such crucial times.

It is feared that girls are not being brought up to be ambitious for themselves. The number of female chief executives in the FTSE 100 has fallen in the past year, with just three now heading large London-listed firms.

The plan to roll out the information packs is being formulated by the women’s minister and culture secretary, Maria Miller, in response to recommendations from the Women’s Business Council (WBC), established last year by the government.

The WBC plans to publish its advice in a report on Tuesday in which it will say that a key task is to “broaden girls’ aspirations and job choices before the start of their working lives”.

The report will say that equalising the ratio of men to women in the workforce could increase economic growth by 0.5% a year, with potential gains of around 10% of GDP by 2030.

It will add that if women were setting up and running businesses at the same rate as men there could be 1 million more women entrepreneurs. The proposed information packs will be part of a wider government campaign to boost long-term growth by maximising the impact of women in the workplace. Among other measures, female business role models will be encouraged to visit schools and mentor girls and young women.

Miller told the Observer: “Making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy. Encouraging women to fulfil their potential doesn’t begin when they are already working; it starts when they are young, still at school. A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications.

“Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions.”

The WBC was set up in 2012 to advise government on what more can be done to maximise women’s contribution to economic growth, focusing on areas with the greatest potential economic impact.

The “guide for girls” could be controversial, but one group of senior businesswomen claim in a letter in this week’s Observer that women need to be more ambitious and should shoulder part of the blame for Britain’s male-dominated boardrooms.

The letter says: “If the economic answer to delivering better-performing businesses is skilled and capable women working alongside equally talented men, then it is time that these women stand up and be counted; that they take some responsibility for the issue of the under-representation of women at the top of corporate Britain.”

It is published in advance of the launch in London next week of the Two Percent Club, an organisation that tries to boost the representation of women at board level, and already has a series of regional groups. Allison Page, a partner at law firm DLA Piper in Leeds and chair of the Yorkshire branch, said: “Part of what the Two Percent Club is doing is to say: ‘There are a lot of us here who are willing to take on these roles’.”

The government has set a target of 25% female representation in FTSE 100 boardrooms by 2015, but recent evidence has suggested that progress towards that goal is stalling. Just 5.6% of FTSE 100 directors are women. Business secretary Vince Cable has threatened to impose quotas for women in the boardroom if the 25% goal is missed.

Linda Pollard, pro-chancellor of the University of Leeds and national chair of the Two Percent Club, agreed that it is in women’s hands to increase their representation at the highest corporate level. “I think sometimes we do hold ourselves back,” she said. And she rejected the idea that there is a shortage of women of the right calibre to be promoted to boards.

“I get quite irritated if I hear that. I come across I can’t tell you how many unbelievable women out there: there’s a plethora of them.”

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