Today marks the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. Let us all remember and honour the women that fought teeth and nails for universal suffrage, and let us focus on the distance left to cover before we achieve true gender parity; for there is still some way to go. In industry, many sectors such as technology and the professions are still overwhelmingly male dominated and female leaders in all sectors are hard to come by.
Although our Prime minister is a woman, in most sectors tokenism reigns.
On 14 December 1918, women, providing they were over 30 and they or their husbands were an occupier of property, were able to vote in a general election for the first time. This had been called by prime minister David Lloyd George immediately after the armistice which ended the first world war. Eight and a half million women were eligible to vote following the extension of the franchise in the Representation of the People Act 1918.
Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, comments,
Of course, this year commemorates an important anniversary for those who did speak out – the women who won some of us the right to vote and the right to stand as MPs. Their campaign was sparked by the change they wanted to see, and paved the way for the now 489 women who have been elected ever to the UK Parliament. Just to put that in context, there are 441 men in Parliament just today.
It’s been fantastic to see how positively everyone has embraced the Vote100 events, marking this centenary year of women’s suffrage. Celebrating the suffragettes and suffragists like Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett. The first woman MP to take her seat in the Commons, Nancy Astor. And even the many men of the period who supported giving women the vote, men like David Lloyd George and George Lansbury.
And I’m not forgetting about Liverpool’s own Eleanor Rathbone, either – a brave campaigner for women’s suffrage who was a member of the Liverpool Women’s Suffrage Society from 1897 onwards. Eleanor Rathbone recognised that our democracy suffered for its lack of representation. As an MP from 1929, she campaigned on issues as diverse as support for the armed forces to, amazingly for that time, preventing female genital mutilation in Kenya. Fearless and trailblazing – she set an example that so many female activists and politicians aspire to.
Today our head of state is a woman. Our Prime Minister is a woman. The head of the Metropolitan Police is a woman. In Parliament, the Leaders of the Houses of Commons and Lords are women. And Black Rod, one of the oldest Parliamentary roles, is a woman for the first time in its 650-year history. Talk about progress!
But I’m also struck by the irony that, even as we celebrate the progress we have made, we seem to have taken a big step backwards.
Sarah Kaiser, Employee Experience, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Fujitsu EMEIA , comments,
Today marks 100 years since women first voted in the UK. Since then we have seen significant leaps in gender equality with the election of the UK’s first female Prime Minister, and this year’s gender pay gap report. Though, whilst great strides have been made, there’s still an ocean of gender inequality left for us to conquer. Amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, mandatory gender pay reporting and a push for more women in senior positions, this is especially apparent in the 2018 workplace.
There are many steps that businesses can take to facilitate a diverse and inclusive work environment. One major factor preventing gender equality is the pipeline problem. If organisations are to address the low number of women in more senior-level positions the first step is to increase the pipeline of talent by driving recruitment of women at a graduate and apprentice level.
But it doesn’t stop there. It’s easy enough to put in place initiatives where half of a company’s graduates employed are women, but this shouldn’t be seen as a box-ticking exercise. Women need to be properly retained and included with an organisation, and the introduction of women’s networks, for instance, can be vital in ensuring women receive the proper support and advice they need. But it should be the responsibility of the senior team to take the lead by championing women within their organisation, and encouraging senior women to act as mentors and role models.
The future does look bright for women in the UK, but transparency is vital if we are to continue the work of those women that fought for women to have the vote 100 years ago.