Battle for key professional roles ongoing for women

February 11, 2010

AngelaEagle

-Angela Eagle is Minister of State for Pensions and Ageing Society. The opinions expressed are her own. Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in.-

International Women’s Day is still as relevant today as it was almost a century ago when it was first established. In Britain, when the suffragettes won the right to vote on equal terms with men in 1928, there was a feeling that there would be an inevitable journey towards full equality with men. But we now know that there are other battles that still need to be won.

Earlier this month, I attended a meeting of the European Women’s Forum in the Spanish city of Cadiz where leading female politicians met to evaluate the EU’s compliance of the Platform for Action approved at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. We concluded that there was still much work to be done in the fight against gender-based violence and the incorporation of women into key decision-making positions in business and politics.

While the UK is a country where women have made good progress in the path towards equality, there still needs to be structures put in place in society to fit in with the shape of women’s lives. For example, the labour market needs to properly recognise women’s duties as carers of children and older people. The gender pay gap which still exists in many places also has to be eliminated.

Women are still particularly under-represented in the worlds of business and finance. Research by European Professional Women’s Network, a pan-European network set up to promote the role of women in business, found that women made up less than 10 percent of the membership of company boards among the top 300 corporations in the European Union.

Things are particularly bad for women in the financial services industry in the UK, where a substantial pay gap still exists. The number of women in bank boardrooms has actually fallen since the credit crunch. Given that the causes of the credit crunch were unsustainable risky behaviour, the activities which led to financial crisis could arguably have been restrained a bit more if a more balanced representation of society had existed at boardroom level.

In my own experience, the higher you get in politics and economics, the fewer women there are. Women are largely absent from the key decision making places. I remember going to committee meetings at Ecofin, which covers EU policy in a variety of areas including economics, and the only other woman in the room was the French Finance Minister Madame Christine Lagarde.

This has to change as women can be very pragmatic in their approach to economics and have a lot to offer. I have found that women tend to connect their experience of economics to their family life and their roles as leaders of households. Women could put forward some really interesting insights into problems in the way our national accounts are put together which currently largely ignore the contribution of women.

As we approach IWD, women have to reflect on a range of fundamental work that still has to be done to further women’s equality. But we should not underestimate the great strides forward that have already been made.

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