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Sex & Power report finds women are missing from top political roles

25 Feb, 2013

The Counting Women In coalition has today published ‘Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain?’ The report examines the presence -  or lack thereof  - of women in politically powerful positions in politics and other spheres of public life in the UK today, including the police, the education sector, the arts and the world of finance. It then goes on to consider the implications of a country largely governed by men, and makes a series of recommendations for tackling the dearth of women in influential positions.

Key findings include:

  • just 22.5 percent of MPs are women, 21.7 percent of peers and 17.4 percent of the Cabinet. Women make up 13.3 percent of elected mayors and 14.6 percent of Police and Crime Commissioners.
  • Britain is falling down the global league table when it comes to the representation of women in politics, as other countries move forward faster: in 2001 we were ranked 33 out of 190 countries, but by the end of 2012 we had fallen to 60th place. (2)
  • women are similarly ‘missing’ in many other spheres of public life: just 36.4 percent of public appointments are women, 13.6 percent of the senior judiciary and 5 percent of Editors of national daily newspapers.
  • women’s absence is particularly marked in finance and economy: there are no women at all on the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee; women hold just 11.1 percent of UK Bank Chief Executive positions, 17.3 percent of FTSE 100 Director positions and make up just 15.1 percent of members of Local Economic Partnerships.

The report explores the impact of this dearth of women at the top tables of public life, and concludes that:

  • The lack of diversity in public life weakens democracy and public confidence in it;
  • Women make a positive difference to actual decision-making itself; excluding them from politics and other areas of public life means missing out on the substantial benefits greater involvement of women would bring, while also wasting the huge investment made in women and girls through the education system and beyond;
    • A more diverse body politic with a wider spread of expertise and reflecting the life experience of both halves of the human race would be better placed to lead us through the complex times that face us.
    • Real, committed and targetted action is required; failure to do so means the UK will continue to ‘drift.

The report makes six recommendations:

-       Political parties should take immediate action to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of election with a view to fielding as many women candidates from as wide a variety of backgrounds and communities as possible in winnable seats in 2015. This should include active consideration of positive action measures in selection processes.

-       In order to enable everyone concerned to develop a much better understanding of the issues, a monitoring form similar to that used in recruitment for public appointments and applications for funding should be introduced. It would be completed and submitted to returning officers by all candidates together with nomination forms at all levels of election, and the results collated and published annually. This requirement should be implemented at the 2014 English local and European elections.

-       Government should pilot a new government-wide scheme in 2014 to increase women’s presence, profile and participation in the 2015 general election and beyond. This could be done by drawing together experience from the UK and abroad which could be used to improve both the participation and the candidacy of women of all backgrounds in Britain.

-       Government, political parties and others should act to implement the recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference Report published in 2010.

-       In addition to adopting the proposals for cultural change in public life contained in reports such as the Speaker’s Conference, the Councillors’ Commission, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Pathways to Politics, steps should be taken to develop a much wider set of proposals for improving the culture of both politics at all levels and the media coverage of them.

-       All organisations – public, private and third sector - should take steps to ensure that, at meetings and events, both women and men appear on platforms as speakers, and editors and broadcasters should also take responsibility for commissioning contributions from both women and men as commentators and experts. Individual citizens should be encouraged to object to men-only platforms, panels and programmes.


Nan Sloane, Director of the Centre for Women and Democracy said:

‘This report shows a shocking absence of women from powerful roles in Britain. We are often told that it’s just a matter of time before we have equality, but we have already waited for generations; asking us to wait still more will change nothing, and the quality of decision-making in our democracy and public life will suffer as a result. There needs to be meaningful action now if next year’s report is to show real progress.’

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:

“These missing women offer the most vivid illustration of parliament’s failure to keep up with the times. Politicians will struggle to connect with voters as long as the combined talents and perspectives of half the population are shut out. Party leaders admit there’s a problem, but all have failed to find a lasting solution. It’s not a good look for the Mother of all Parliaments to be left lagging behind on the fundamental issue of women’s representation.”

Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said:

“It’s simply scandalous that in 2013 men still outnumber women 4 to 1 in parliament. If political parties don’t take urgent action, Britain will continue to fall down the global league table when it comes to women’s access to power and representation in politics.”

"The number of women in the Cabinet is at a ten year low. Failure to increase the number of women around the top table of politics sends a message to other walks of life and to the next generation for whom we hope for something different, that excluding women from positions of power is acceptable.

“Women’s votes will determine the next election – remaining male dominated won’t help the parties on polling day.”

Ruth Fox, Chief Executive of the Hansard Society said:

“Parliament needs to show leadership in reflecting the people it governs and serves. Decisions made in Parliament affect women and men equally and the dearth of women in positions of political power not only reflects badly on the quality of our democracy, it also wastes the skill, expertise and life experience of half the population and sets a terrible example for other professions and industries. It’s time for Parliament and political parties to take concrete steps to increase the number of women in politics.

Alex Runswick, Deputy Director of Unlock Democracy, said:

"The lack of female involvement in UK politics is a canary in the mining shaft; it is a particularly visible example of how the system fails to represent people more widely. Our democracy and public life is weaker because it misses the skills  experience and talents of over half the population. It is not enough to recognise the problem and simply hope that things will improve; we need Parliament and politicians to take urgent action."