Around much of the world, inequality between men and women remains, in terms of education, access to healthcare, work, salaries, business leadership and involvement in political institutions. There has however, been an evolution in the views around the role of women over the last forty years and we have moved closer towards the aspiration of equality. But significant gaps remain globally and how far have we come in the UK?
Mao Zedong said women hold up half the sky, but you wouldn’t think so if you looked at the FTSE-100 Boards. Women make up a mere 12% of the FTSE directors in the UK. Sir John Bond, ex-chief at HSBC, now at Vodafone considers it bad business where women are not given equal opportunities…’apart from being unjust, it’s bad for business.’ (‘Fathers and Daughters’ Management Today, Nov. 2009). Yet according to the Economist 2010,
Women’s economic empowerment is arguably the biggest social change of our times.
The limited representation of women in top positions does not reflect the fact that women make up the majority of Talent in the UK with more and more coming into the workforce, achieving academically and developing professionally. So this issue is not that the talent doesn’t exist – an argument often cited.
Further, in this extraordinary month of election campaigning, TV debates, a hung parliament, political negotiations and finally a coalition government – there has been a significant lack of visibility of women in the political arena.
We did see an increase in the number of women MPs from 128 to 139 (or from 19.1% to 21.3%) (see One World Action) and given all the talk of an era ‘new politics’, is this enough? Further, as I write this blog there has been one woman named in the Con-Lib coalition cabinet – Theresa May – Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality. With a mere 55 female Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, can we expect any more?
As with the case for economics and business the lack of women in top roles and positions in the political arena is bad for government and disillusioning. We still have some way to go. ‘Women holding up half the sky’ remains an aspiration.