Parliamentary quotas

It seems that we may be moving a step closer to quotas for women in politics. A cross-party conference has announced that if there’s not a significant increase in the number of female MPs at the next election, mandatory legal quotas should be brought in. The conference also suggested the introduction of non-mandatory ethnic minority shortlists and said that parliament is currently: “too white, middle-class, heterosexual, male and able-bodied”. Only 20% of MPs in the UK are female compared to much higher figures of 47% in Sweden and 38% in Denmark and democracy is under threat unless the government becomes more representative, according to the report from the Daily Mail.

Positive discrimination is always a tricky subject. It is not ideal to implement it, but sometimes it is necessary to give minorities, such as women, the chance to be seen and heard. Former MP Ann Widdecombe is one of the critics saying: “What matters is the merit they bring. We really cannot have targets for particular categories. It’s frankly insulting because it suggests women and ethnic minorities cannot get there on their own merit.”

Of course merit is important – even if quotas are introduced, I don’t doubt for one second that any women becoming MPs will get there unless they are suitably qualified and experienced. But the fact remains that, at the moment, politics is an arena where it’s crucial to have a gender balance but that gender balance is currently a long way off. And quotas could be a great way to bring about that balance. The question is: what does a ‘significant increase’ in female MPs at the next election mean exactly? And would quotas ever be brought introduced in the UK or is this just talk?

More paternity leave in store?

Could this be the step forward that we need?

The FT reported this morning that the government has backed more flexible parental leave, allowing women who return to work after six months to transfer the remaining maternity leave to their partners. This means instead of the mere two weeks leave that men are now entitled to, they will instead be able to take up to six months – three paid and another three unpaid. This would also apply to gay couples.

This is somewhat of a breakthrough. At W-Tech, one member of the audience came out with a statement and her shock and frank words summed up the current situation. She said: “I’ve been living in Sweden since 2003 – how much time do guys here get for paternity leave? Is it two weeks or something? In Sweden a guy can take up to one and a half years – there’s no discussion about who’s at home with the kids, you both are.”

This seems like a major step forward in the battle for equality – but as always, the war is not yet won. Many businesses are not happy about the changes due to the ‘administrative nightmare’ that it could cause them. And there is still speculation as to how many men would take advantage of the leave. But regardless, this news is definitely a step in the right direction and gives some very real hope for the future.

What do you think? Will we move towards a world where men and women will share the family responsibilities? Or will the women that reach the top continue to be the ones who have made the big sacrifices? Would you be happy to give some of your leave to your partner? Or are the gender roles that we’re in now just so long established that this move just isn’t enough?

“We’re all in this together” say women in technology

There are many changes that need to take place to make women a more powerful force in the IT industry, but this is something that needs support from all sides including men, women, the government and the business world. That was the message from W-Tech, the first dedicated recruitment showcase for women in IT held by womenintechnology.co.uk and the BCS, whose panel of successful females in technology said “we’re all in this together”.

In what was an information packed day, many issues were touched upon. High profile female technologists agreed that the UK needs pay audits, that IT education needs to change to make it more appealing to young girls, that maternity and paternity provisions need to become more equal and that women in IT should seek good mentors to help them in their careers.

“So many interesting things were discussed at W-Tech and so many points were raised” says Maggie Berry, Director of womenintechnology.co.uk and an organiser of W-Tech. “It was a great day packed full of positive messages which I hope the women that attended will take away and be able to put to good use in their careers. We’ve received some really positive feedback and already have ideas on how to make W-Tech bigger and better next year. Thanks to all that attended for making it such a success!”

W-Tech was held at the IET in London on 24th June. Around 1200 women who wanted to get on, or get into, the IT industry registered for the event which held a series of career development workshops, a CV clinic, recruitment fair and networking session. womenintechnology.co.uk and the BCS organised the event to address the lack of women in IT and the issues that those in the industry face, from the gender pay gap to the ‘motherhood penalty’. More information can be found at http://www.wtech-event.co.uk/.

New quotas in Egypt

First it was Norway that introduced a law saying that a minimum of 40% of a company’s non executive directors must be female. Now in a similar move, Egypt has announced that it will allocate 64 seats in the lower house of its parliament to women. In a country where most men do not trust women as decision makers, this has received mixed reactions, with some calling it ‘unconstitutional’. But this is exactly why it’s such a major step forward. Hopefully legislative changes will be the beginning of altering the traditional gender roles and stereotypes that still remain so prevalent.