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International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:05 pm on 9th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Conservative 3:05 pm, 9th March 2017

My Lords, first, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Following the noble Baroness, I was involved in the appointment of the last two chief executives of Stonewall, and I have been involved in the appointment of a large number of women to lead philanthropic and charitable organisations. I know how seriously her words are taken. I say that, along with my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, I am so proud to be part of the monstrous regiment of women—and I think that many of us in this House are. One of the joys and privileges of being here is that there are so many women who in their time have broken through barriers and have had a pretty tough and difficult time—but their tenacity, courage and resilience have seen them through.

I cannot help but have a sense of jubilation about some of the achievements in the United Kingdom. Whoever thought that we would have a woman commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick. This is extraordinary. Whoever thought we would have a female head of the TUC, in Frances, who is such an excellent woman. Welcoming the Minister is a particular joy, because her background is very different to that of many of us, who battled on along rather conventional paths. She is an example of the modern woman—a technological expert, an entrepreneur and part of a modern generation. I am also pleased about the noble Baroness who will be winding up because her particular contribution in education is very much at the heart of all that we are achieving.

How can I not mention that now in Britain we have our second female Prime Minister? When I was young, many centuries ago, I never thought that we would have a single female Prime Minister, far less two. Did I ever think that we would reach 30% female MPs? Of course not. When I was an MP, there were 23 female MPs out of 600. I wore a black suit, a blue suit or a grey suit—I have not changed much—on the basis that, if I looked like a man, people would not be too disagreeable to me. We are lagging in the Lords with about 26% of females—that is because we move more slowly—but we have certainly been great pioneers.

However, in being excited about much that has changed in the United Kingdom, I do not for a moment want to underestimate the real issue of global disadvantages faced by women: the lack of education, financial empowerment and human rights. That is why I so celebrate the work of our Prime Minister Theresa May in her former job, on modern slavery, and the seriousness and focus that she gave to that. Within our own country, we all know that there are many women who are disadvantaged and who lack opportunity, freedom and the ability to develop their skills and personality. In celebrating what can be and what has been achieved, I would not like noble Lords to think that I underestimated all that needs to happen in the rest of the world and throughout the United Kingdom.

Frequently, this debate has focused on women in business. I think that we have had a rather exhausting conversation about women on boards, because I do not think that they are the single most important group of females in the United Kingdom. But the transformation is extraordinary. When I was first on a board in about 2000, the board meetings started, “Gentleman and Lady”—and that is how they continued. Now we have beaten the 25% figure of women on FTSE 100 boards, ahead of time. That was not done by quotas, legislation or other such techniques that many in this country revile, but by exhortation, good example and a healthy bit of naming and shaming. Cranfield University deserves a lot of credit for helping on the naming and shaming, and I celebrate that. Now the latest target is that 33% of the senior leadership positions in the FTSE 100 and 33% of the board positions in the FTSE 350 should be female by 2020, which we were told about yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford.

Of course, it is right that the executive positions are much more difficult to develop and fill with females because of all the difficulties over career breaks—as well as unconscious discrimination, lack of aspiration or role models, and everything else that we understand. However, we now have seven FTSE 100 female chief executives. The first female chief executive of the FTSE 100 was appointed in 1997; we now have seven. The first FTSE 100 female chair came in 2002; we now have four. That is an extraordinary rate of progress compared with the context in which I was operating when I was in government. There is more to do, and I welcome all those who are supporting enlightened employment practices, such as Vodafone and many others who are helping people with their return to work.

I will move forward fast to say something about women and the arts. We all know that in history, “anonymous” meant a female author who did not like to declare her name. The appointment of Maria Balshaw to replace Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate—our largest, more impressive and iconic arts organisation—is extraordinarily exciting. There is a whole cohort of women: Diane Lees at the Imperial War Museum; Jennifer Scott at the Dulwich Picture Gallery; Perdita Hunt at the Watts Gallery; and many others.

I pay tribute to another woman, Dame Vivien Duffield, who funded the Clore Leadership Programme for the arts, which helped to develop and coach so many of those women. It is not possible to speak in the House without mentioning how, in the city of culture, only this weekend there is going to be a festival for women of the world, at which many female artists, such as Lucy Beaumont and Maureen Lipman, are appearing. Many of the new commissions, too, will be female.

Lastly, I will talk about one area where we must see more progress—universities. It is extraordinary that, when we started these debates, about 12% of vice chancellors were women; it is now up to about 20%, but there should be more. Minouche Shafik is taking over as the first female director of the London School of Economics—my alma mater—and the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, is doing the same at SOAS. But the figures are low both for female vice-chancellors and female chairs. I am pleased that there are many female chancellors in this House apart from myself: for instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. We all enjoy it, but only one in three chancellors is female. I ask the Minister to give her own personal commitment to the Athena SWAN equality challenge programme, because it is through education that we are going to deliver the future. The Athena SWAN programme has so much to offer in universities, and with her support and encouragement I am sure that so much more can be done.