COMMENT: Women are half held back – and they must not be

By Greig Baker, Chief Executive

I am a white, middle class, man born to loving parents living in the South East of England – so my personal experience of prejudice is pretty limited. But as the father of young daughters, the scales are starting to fall as I see the women my girls aspire to be getting held back every day.

Donald Trump calling his own daughter “a piece of ass” is shocking because it is so extreme. But the same offence was committed closer to home when a British journalist described Theresa May’s male co-chief of staff as “intellectual and ambitious” yet said her female co-chief of staff is “smart and sassy”. The problem can be found outside politics, too. It was eye-popping when a BBC commentator in Rio casually mused that Jason Kenny would be asking his four-time Olympic champion fiancé Laura Trott “what’s for tea?”, for example.

I do not believe the answer lies in more legislation or in Government trying to ban things. Instead, people in business and politics can volunteer practical steps to solve this horribly outdated problem.

In business, flexible working hours – and how they are filled – is key. The way new parents juggle work and childcare is becoming more varied, so the gender balance of staff available at different levels of management in a company is getting harder to predict. Instead of arbitrary quotas for the number of women and men in each role, companies should make equal numbers of hours available to men and women at every level of the business – and only adjust those numbers if it is proven that a balanced workforce cannot deliver the required hours through existing staff, promoting people ready to move up, or new hires. This means the best people available, male or female, would always have an opportunity to take the next step in their career.

In politics, there is room for more direct action. A representative democracy should be, well, representative. People who are active in a political party (including me) should pledge to spend more time encouraging women to become candidates, supporting them, and helping them to get elected. In my view, (and I know this is a lot to ask) men who are considering a run for political office should even go a step further and first look for an equally or more qualified woman who wants to stand for the same post – and lend their efforts to that campaign instead.

The youngest ever Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, says “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”. Small steps in business and politics could give our daughters the  opportunities they deserve – and end the bane of #HalfHeldBack.


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