Tag Archives: Politics

A Miller’s scale

The role of Maria Miller’s sex in her continued survival as a cabinet minister has been the subject of much media debate in recent days. It is for the prime minister to know the extent to which he is keeping his culture secretary in post, despite persistent pressure for her to go, because she is one of just four women with a government department to call her own. What is clear is that the UK is a long way from achieving gender equality in national politics.

While that is hardly a revelation, new research suggests the UK is also sliding down the European scale when it comes to ensuring power is shared more evenly between the sexes.

New research from the European Institute of Gender Equality aired in Brussels last month found that the UK was one of two EU countries, alongside Lithuania, to see women’s share of power decline between 2004 and 2013.

At first glance it could be worse. The UK falls just short of the EU average ‘power index score’, where 100 equals parity between men and women, as shown here:

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But it’s this graph, detailing the changes in each member’s score between 2004 and 2013, that really does the talking:

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The power score is calculated, essentially, by totting up the number of women occupying influential positions in each EU member’s national institutions: government, parliament, central banks and company boards.

The raw data for the UK are not currently available. But Thérèse Murphy, EIGE head of operations, told me that the following were all part of the picture which paled in comparison to other EU member states:

- 2004: 26% women ministers   >>>   2013: 18% women ministers

- 2004: 18% women MPs   >>>   2013: 23% women MPs

- 2004: 13% women board members   >>>   2013: 18% women board members

Also consider that in 2004 a third of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee was female: Rachel Lomax, Kate Barker and Marian Bell. Today each of the interest-rate setting body’s members is male.

Murphy promised an updated, more detailed analysis of the comparative data later in the year. ‘We will be looking for extra variables to demonstrate at country level how people are doing,’ she said of institute’s quest to map gender equality across the region.

What Miller’s job will be by then remains to be seen.





‘It means that you believe in equality’

Lucy Kellaway is pretty smart. She went to Oxford, makes programmes for Radio 4 and is an associate editor at the Financial Times. I am a fan: like the flake in a 99 Whip, I save her columns for last, looking forward to her straightforward, witty style as I trawl through the less sprightly items of the day.

It is therefore a little astonishing to read that it has taken 54-year-old Kellaway her entire life (minus a week) to realise that she’s a feminist. In her latest column she relates that until an advertisement for shampoo prompted the revelation last week, she ‘had thought that women who did professional jobs were a privileged group who should stop complaining’.

Granted, Kellaway gets marks for self-awareness and her nod to what the academics term awkwardly ‘intersectionality’ – the notion that gender cannot be considered in isolation from other aspects of our makeup such as class, race and sexual orientation. But she falls into a trap that snares so many professional women (including myself): that of either misunderstanding or simply forgetting that the basic principle of feminism is equality.

kate nash picYes, professional women are often privileged. Educated, employed, given choices. Yet quite frequently our male colleagues are more so. Think the UK’s 9.6 per cent pay gap in favour of men, laws which make women responsible for childcare and Kellaway’s own observation that cultural expectations of their sex mean that many women waste more time on their appearances than do their male equivalents. Kellaway need only have looked round the FT office for clues. Among the paper’s 20 heavyweight columnists, for example, there is a single woman, Gillian Tett. The men and women of the privileged professional class are not equal.

Like Kellaway, it took me years to acknowledge my feminism. I too saw the opportunities I had and was grateful. Calling myself a feminist seemed not only unnecessary, but an act of self-sabotage. I heard ‘feminist’ and thought ‘troublemaker’. It wasn’t a word bosses and colleagues wanted to hear. It wasn’t a word men wanted to hear. And why did I care? Because these people held the power, and behaviour which disrupted or threatened that probably wasn’t a good idea.

My gratitude for the chances which I have remains. Yet by stopping to understand that the essence of feminism is equality, it seems blindingly obvious that professionals can and should be feminists. Life might be pretty good for the professional woman – but that doesn’t mean it’s as fair as it could be, for women or men.

In moments of doubt I remind myself of a conversation between mother and daughter, overheard on a train, and relayed via Twitter (so long ago that the precise source escapes me, alas). It presents feminism’s drive for equality – and suggests that you don’t have to wait until adulthood to recognise it. It goes like this:

Daughter: ‘I’m not a feminist.’

Mother: ‘Do you want to own stuff and choose who you sleep with?’

Daughter: ‘Yes.’

Mother: ‘Then you’re a feminist.’*

*11.2.14 I’m pleased to report that my Twitter feed has just coughed up the source: @MirandaKeeling, to whom thanks and apologies for a slight misremembering. Keeling’s original reads thus:

‘Teenager on train: I’m not a feminist. Mum: Do you want to own things and decide who you sleep with? Teen: Yeah. Mum: You’re a feminist.’


More chairs, please

Gloomy news for genchair stackder equality campaigners in last Thursday’s FT. The newspaper reports a slowdown in female appointments to FTSE 100 boards, according to new data from the Professional Boards Forum.

Key findings include:

  • just 12 per cent of directors appointed in the two months to 1 May are women, compared with 50 per cent in 2012
  • the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards hasn’t budged from 17.4% since last August
  • a minute 5.6% of the group’s executive directors are women

It’s worth adding that all (four) women appointed to FTSE 100 boards in the two months to 1 May are white. Not that race, class or disability (and that’s just for starters) seem to enter the ‘diversity’ debate much – at least not when it comes to getting women on FTSE 100 boards.

Sadly, that state of affairs is hardly surprising when you consider the hash the very people pushing for change seem to be making of getting their message across.

Let’s begin with the Professional Boards Forum itself. Besides tracking the number of female board appointments to fill bleak column inches, the forum’s proclaimed mission is to ‘help chairmen find outstanding women non-executive directors’.

That’s right. Their raison d’etre is to help ‘chairMEN’.

Now I used to be one of those ‘chairman/shnairman’ type people, who’d shrug and say ‘it’s just shorthand, everyone knows it doesn’t mean it has to be a man’. But then I realised that, really, using a gender neutral term like ‘chair’ was probably preferable given that it didn’t invisibilise around half the human race.

Perhaps the PBF should have a think about that. What’s not to like about ditching an outmoded and sexist term which undermines their whole argument?

The media might also want to have rethink. The FT’s style is to refer to ‘chairmen’ and ‘chairwomen’, according to the sex of the office holder. A quick search reveals the BBC, The Telegraph, The Economist, The New Statesman, The Independent, The Guardian, The Express and The Mirror do likewise.

Clearly this is better than the forum’s approach, recognising as it does that both men and women can – and do – head boards. Yet it’s still problematic, not least because the rule is applied inconsistently, with women chairs frequently referred to as men. In a recent diary piece I wrote for The Telegraph, for example, Lady Barbara Judge appeared as ‘chairman of the Pensions Protection Fund’, despite being ‘chair’ in my original copy. Does anyone know of a male chair who is routinely referred to as ‘chairwoman’?

And even if the ‘chairman/woman’ rule is always followed, what about the people who identify as neither male, or female? Reinforcing gender binaries is not the way to go for those seeking genuine diversity – however remote that goal may seem at times.

Language matters. The words we choose have the power to include or exclude, to encourage or dissuade, to foster change or to promote more of the same.  By adopting the gender-neutral ‘chair’, groups like the PFB and the media have the opportunity to set a new, inclusive tone which sends the message that seats at the boardroom table are not just reserved for men.