Women are underrepresented at the top of UK public life. This perpetuates the systemic problems that already exist, because there aren’t enough women around to change the culture. It also means women are crowded into lower income jobs because there simply isn’t room at the top.
The latest figures show that UK women have 19% representation on boards of FTSE 100 companies (just two of whom are headed up by women). This means we rank tenth in Europe – a poor showing given we’re Europe’s biggest financial centre.
Lord Davies set the goal, in 2011, of getting 25% representation for women on boards by 2015. With Britain on target to (almost) hit this, we’re in danger of congratulating ourselves on a job half done. We are advancing slower than other countries, many of whom have been much more proactive than us. France, Holland and Italy are all increasing at around twice the speed we are – thanks to binding legislation.
- Rather than settling on 25% we need to enshrine Viviane Reding’s more ambitious target of 30% women on boards by 2015 and 40% by 2020 as our new benchmark. This was turned into a report and voted through by the European Parliament in November 2013.
- Hitting Viviane’s target will be difficult without quotas. Binding legislation has now been adopted by Germany, France, Italy and Holland – as well as Spain and most of Scandinavia. It’s vital that we follow suit in the UK.
Politics and public service
When it comes to political representation the UK does extremely poorly compared to EU counterparts. We rank joint 20th of 28 for the number of women MEPs we send to Brussels, and have just 18% representation for women in domestic politics – compared to an EU average of 27%. The gender composition of the House of Lords tells a similar story.
- As Labour’s comparative success at getting women into the top positions illustrates, all-women shortlists are the best way of rectifying this. The glacial progress seen by the Tories and Liberal Democrats shows that ‘cultural changes’ don’t happen in isolation.
- We also need to tackle the most macho elements of the political world, which deter women from getting involved.
Elsewhere, the synod’s November 2013 vote to begin ordaining women bishops means female clergy can now begin to break the ‘stained glass ceiling’ – with the additional bonus that they can start to go into the House of Lords. David Cameron must be proactive in making this happen.
We must also work harder to prevent the almost exclusively ‘male, pale and stale’ makeup of our legal system, which is at present the third worst in Europe for female representation – behind only Cyprus and Portugal.
Culture and the arts
Charlotte Church’s lecture in October 2013 addressed the lack of creative control female musicians have. As I discovered when I spoke to WIMUST’s Patricia Adkins-Chiti, despite producing 40% of music in Europe, just 4% of composers at publically funded music events are female. When we speak of women at the top we can’t ignore the cultural sector. Although they do better than most businesses, there still aren’t enough women on the boards of museums and other arts organisations.
- In 2009 the European Parliament resolved to improve access to the performing arts for women. To do this we must scrutinise more closely the gender make-up of publically funded events, and get more women onto the boards of arts bodies.