Female Lib Dem minister makes Cabinet history

Jenny Willott's promotion gives her party a gender equality boost after the Lord Rennard scandal

History will be made this week when Jenny Willott, the Business minister, becomes the first Liberal Democrat woman to sit at the cabinet table.

In a significant step forward for gender equality in the party after the Lord Rennard scandal, Ms Willott has been given attending cabinet status. Although she does not have full cabinet minister rank, the 39-year-old will take her seat this Tuesday alongside the new women's minister, the Tory MP Nicky Morgan, to make a presentation on coalition efforts to close the gender pay gap.

The Lib Dems have faced criticism over their lack of female representation, an issue that was heightened when party workers made allegations of harassment against the former chief executive Lord Rennard. Nick Clegg has attempted to portray himself as a campaigner for equal rights, yet just seven of the 57 Lib Dem MPs are women.

In her new role secured by the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Willott will promote more family-friendly workplaces and tackle issues around discrimination. She is to attend the Cabinet when issues related to shared parental leave and workplace rights are on the agenda.

"This is a really exciting opportunity to tackle an issue I'm passionate about at the very heart of government," said Ms Willott. "I'm looking forward to sitting around the Cabinet table to promote longstanding Liberal Democrat priorities such as making workplaces more family-friendly and closing the gender pay gap."

Ms Willott, a mother of two, is covering the maternity leave of Jo Swinson, who is expected to return to her job of Business and Equalities minister later this year.

Mrs Morgan was appointed Women's minister in the mini-reshuffle that followed Maria Miller's downfall over her expenses. But there was embarrassment when it emerged that Mrs Morgan had not been appointed Equalities minister because she had voted against gay marriage.

In their presentation to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on Tuesday, Ms Willott and Mrs Morgan will discuss women and growth, modernising workplaces, and how the Government is making sure the recovery will benefit female workers.

A senior Lib Dem source said: "It will be great to have another Liberal Democrat voice around the cabinet table, especially when it's as strong as Jenny or Jo's.

"This is another boost for a big Liberal Democrat priority in the coalition government – family-friendly policies that make it easier for mums and dads to balance their work and home lives. In particular, Nick has asked Jenny and Jo to take a long, hard look at the gender pay gap to see what more the Government can be doing to close it."

While the gender pay gap has narrowed in the past 10 years, from 25 per cent to 19.7 per cent, campaigners say this is still too large. The average woman in the UK gets £10.33 per hour, £2.53 less than the average man.