I very much enjoyed my day last Friday at the isbi conference at Woldingham School. As part of the day, I was honoured to be invited to give a keynote address, in which I talked about the importance of communication, and I reflected for a few minutes as I did so on how the message about gender equality really isn’t coming across from our political leaders in the UK. Personally, I fear that despite the incredible amount of ground women have covered in the last 50 years as far as our social history goes, we will still be light years away from true equality as long as our own Prime Minister, David Cameron, seems unable to back the cause he once so publicly espoused – a better platform for women in politics.
It really saddened me to see that of 121 posts in Government – including Minsters and Whips – just 23 are now filled by women following the recent high-profile Cabinet reshuffle – that’s just 19% – whereas Mr Cameron promised us that a third of Government posts would be filled by women by the end of this Parliament.
Ceri Goddard from the Fawcett Society lambasted the Prime Minister for having a “blind spot” and marginalising women’s role in politics, and I agree with her. Even Nick Clegg recently admitted that the Houses of Parliament are especially off-putting to women. It is obvious to all of us involved in the education of girls and young women. And it actually makes me really angry – and more motivated to speak out. How can we respect the Prime Minister’s once much-vaunted promises to increase women’s role in public life when he practises his own form of NIMBY-ism in his own Government?
If quotas have to be introduced into our top institutions in our society, so be it. It is not ideal, but it may be the only way. It remains shocking that one in ten of the UK’s biggest financial firms still have all-male boards while just 16.7% of the FTSE 100 directors are women. We shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory that it looks like we are on target to reach 25% by 2015 – the target was, after all, only 25%!
But if our Prime Minister is giving out the message that it is acceptable not to give women positions of power, then he is giving tacit approval to all those sexist dinosaurs who still rule the roost in those City bastions and steadfastly retain their all-male boards – whether he means to or not. He is undermining his own message. And that begs the question, rightly or wrongly, of whether he really believes it and stands for it in the first place.
We should be holding our political leaders to account. So – time to step up to the mark, Mr Cameron, and show women what you’re made of, because otherwise you lose the respect of the next generation – of women in particular. When a stated vision is not lived out in reality, you may as well give up and go home.
Live the message, be the message, communicate the message … if our Prime Minister did this, it would go a long way towards ensuring that women have genuinely equal representation in this country.