‘Blue’ January for women and politics

23 January 2014

If anyone was considering a career in government or politics, this week they might be forgiven for ripping up the application form

‘Blue’ Monday was supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. And for aspiring women leaders in politics and government it certainly was. The news reminded us that we are no closer to furthering the cause of women leaders in 2014. Four stories were guaranteed to put the most ambitious women off working in government, politics and the City.

First, came the case of the prominent peer and his party’s clashes over claims of harassment, denials and calls for apologies. This has most men and women I know hanging their heads and sighing heavily at what has become a big mess with no happy ending in sight. Most of the women I talk to just say this is another example of politics being sleazy and many question why anyone would ever consider working in it.

We also heard that another one of David Cameron’s 2010 female intake of MPs won’t be standing in the next election. That makes a total of four women from that cadre who have stood down. Every departure of a woman from frontline politics sparks the usual rush of predictable questions – why doesn’t the prime minister have the female touch? Is being an MP a career for women at all? The same is rarely asked if a man quits. It is precisely because there are so few women in politics that if they do leave, it is hyped up as a national disaster. This makes every woman feel that if she does enter politics, she has to be a role model and had better stay for a long time or, like Louise Mensch, be labelled as not up to the job.

The City and Westminster are almost competing for the last place a woman would work. Nigel Farage told an audience of City workers and executives that women who give up work to have babies are less valuable to their employers on their return as they take time to rebuild their portfolios when they return. Many people know how tough the City is for women who want families and that the job is not for the faint hearted. It is not very clear what Mr Farage hoped to achieve by saying the obvious. It only suggests that he thought he was speaking to an audience from yesteryear – but as with all such speeches the message travelled far and wide.

A more pressing issue, and one that would have been far more refreshing to hear any male politician or leader talk about, is about equal pay in the City. London has a far bigger gender pay gap than anywhere else and this, according to Forbes, is partly explained by the highly paid jobs in the City for men. Another survey found that women working in financial services were paid nearly £15,000 less than men last year.

But the PR gaffes on this topic are not confined to party political leaders. In the Civil Service there are problems recruiting women to the top jobs too. Since Gus O’Donnell claimed that half of permanent secretaries were women, the proportion has fallen with only one new female permanent secretary appointed to run a department since 2010.

A survey this week said it is the blame culture of Whitehall that prevents women from going for the top jobs. But rather than tackle the culture it is announced that women need to go on ‘resilience’ courses. Again I am not clear what the purpose was of publicising this piece of research and the proposed ‘solution’. It read either as if women cannot cope with normal stress at work (which is an insult) or that the Civil Service has accepted the negative culture it says it hates.

Economic Secretary Nicky Morgan this week reminded her party that it needs to talk about things that appeal more to women, such as long term issues and messages about how government can help. Hearing more positive stories about the contribution of women in society is as important.

Blue Monday could be turning in to blue January for aspiring women leaders. We hope to combat that at the IfG with next week’s event on how women lead organisations. This is the second event in our women leaders’ series and both are full with over 100 people on the waiting list. Very few of those clambering to attend are men.

Party leaders need to remember – starting positive engagement with women just before an election won’t wash, it needs to be continual. Women don’t see these issues as party political. With every small or big story about women being a ‘problem’ now, we need to imagine that another woman is ripping up that job application and possibly the ballot paper too. And that’s bad news for everyone.

Share this post:

One Response

  1. Andrea Newman on 24 January 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Great blog and I couldn’t agree more. I have been cringing listening to the ongoing dispute between Lord Rennard and his party – then they had to drag Miriam Durantez (wife of Nick Clegg) into the whole debacle this week – now there is a classy, successful, level-headed woman who we can all look to as a good role model.
    Similarly to politics policing still doesn’t have enough female senior leaders. Whether it be politics or policing surely for the public to be able to relate to these individuals then these professions need to reflect the communities in which they serve. Irene Curtis, President of the Chief Superintendents’ Association recently told me that when she became President she really hoped she would be up to the job and she doubted herself for just for a moment – but I think as women we all do it – wonder if we’re capable enough. One might say this is natural and just nerves but I know when I recently joined by company (a global defence & security company with a history in engineering) I was one of only 2 women on the Senior Leadership Team. I somehow felt the need to prove my worth as a woman in a predominantly male environment. I also have two young children so equally feel the need to compensate for those males who manage to work late into the night when I have to dash home. It’s a serious issue and we need to tackle this for the future generations. I for one hope try and show my daughters that women can do exactly the same as men, I hope I’m setting a good example and showing women can be successful too. But if every time they turn on the television all they see is men in powerful positions how will they ever get the message home?

Tags:

Blog: Permalink