On Sunday I will be attending the Vote 100 March in London along with other female MPs and thousands of women and girls to mark 100 years since some women were enfranchised. 100 years later, there is much to celebrate, but also so much more progress to be made. With all that is happening in the world at the moment, there has never been a more pertinent time to have a frank discussion about the barriers that still prevent some women from being able to thrive in their chosen field. This was highlighted most recently when the Government revealed the worst explanations for not appointing women to FTSE boards. The outrageous explanations included suggestions that women are not able to understand the ‘extremely complex’ issues that FTSE boards deal with, and the idea that women do not want the ‘hassle or pressure’ of sitting on a top board. I can imagine these same excuses being made 100 years ago to deny women a role in politics. But since then we have shown, through two female Prime Ministers, hundreds of female MPs and business leaders, that women can do it all – run a home, a business, and a country.
Under the last two Conservative-led governments, our largest companies have made great strides towards meeting challenging targets for the number of women on boards, with the number more than doubling since 2011 to almost 29%. Yet, despite this progress, many FTSE bosses are refusing to move with the times. In order to pull down these barriers we need greater transparency, and it starts from the top, which is why the Hampton-Alexander Review calls for bosses to ensure that one third of FTSE leadership positions are occupied by women by 2020. We are also urging businesses to renew their commitment to diversity, by rooting out and fixing gender pay disparity and other workplace inequalities. This will deliver a more equal society where everyone can achieve their potential.
Locally, I am delighted that Wiltshire Museum was awarded a grant from the Government’s Equalities Department to organise a creative community project to celebrate the Centenary and give a voice to the concerns of women today. I was fascinated to read their research on the many courageous women and men from the Devizes area who fought for women’s right to vote. The Museum are also holding a number of workshops with local women’s groups including Home Farm Trust and the Tidworth Military Wives Choir, to make banners celebrating women’s suffrage, which I look forward to seeing proudly carried during the Devizes Town Carnival.