Anna Bird: Let the Commons put house in order to set an example

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The Independent Online

Six months since the Davies report, the latest figures reveal that although progress in the boardroom is slow, there has been some. FTSE 100 firms have appointed 18 women to their boards since the Davies report – 31 per cent of the total and well over twice the proportion seen in any previous year.

We should celebrate this, because from Davos to the high street, FTSE 100 companies hold increasing sway over our lives. Who governs our biggest businesses matters. Wherever power is concentrated, women should have an equal right to be represented.

But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed just how dismal women's representation currently is in business, politics, the justice system, health, education, sport and the arts. At the same time, 10 sectors have seen a decrease in women's participation, including among members of the Cabinet and local council leaders.

Fawcett believes the House of Commons needs to get its own house in order first. Only four Cabinet ministers are women – a 10-year low. This sends a clear signal to other walks of life: it is acceptable to cut women out from positions of power.

The social justice arguments speak for themselves. But it is also profitable to have more women on boards – it improves corporate performance and changes the way organisations operate.

In politics, the effects of austerity will affect most those who can least afford it – low-income working mothers, single women pensioners, female victims of violence. Political decisions are still being made with too few women in the room.

So long as a narrow interest group continues to drive the course of our economy, our public services and our business interests, we are all worse off.

Anna Bird is the Acting Chief Executive at the Fawcett Society