Fools rush in where angels fear to tread they say so it is with some trepidation that my blog today is about women in society.
Clearly this has been a bad news week for men! A cardinal has resigned and Lord Rennard is accused of all sorts of sexual improprieties. But it is not just this week. Jimmy Saville had to be dug up; reports are being compiled about a paedophile ring using a children’s establishment in London; the Church of England failed to allow women to be Bishops. Some FTSE companies still fail to have a single woman on the Board and the number of women private sector Chief Executives is derisory. Of the 15 elected mayors in England only 1 (Lib Dem, Dorothy Thornhill in Watford) is a woman.
So all in all the message rings out clearly and repeatedly that women are second class citizens of sexual appeal but not really up to the job of leading Parliaments; Business or councils.
So let me ask again a question which I think was first asked by Hilary Clinton. “If it had been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers would we have had the financial crisis which we have struggled to escape from since 2007?”
Some think that this is a stupid question or one that is designed to deflect attention away from fundamental questions of economics. But if we want to look anywhere for a destructive, testosterone charged environment we need to look no further than the City. High 5s and the lure of a Lamborghini spur on risk taking to an inappropriate level. Winning becomes more important than behaving well. Personal gain becomes fair more important than service to society. Who has ever read a story about 4 women traders going out and spending £30k+ on a night out? It’s always men who seem to do this sort of thing never women.
My own belief is that men and women do tend to have different ways of doing things and different priorities for life. Different is not to me a pejorative term. More women, for example are drawn to the caring professions than men. More women choose to work part time (although I concede that many are forced to work part time) as they choose to spend more time at home and with their children.
I was reminded of this latter fact after listing to the wireless over the weekend. A survey was undertaken of men aged about 85. When asked what their biggest regret was it turned out to be not having spent as much time with their family.
Women tend to work better in groups; tend to be prepared to listen more; tend to try and build a consensus. They are as concerned about the effects of what they do as the results of what they do. Am I presenting to rosy a view of women? Possibly but in general terms I suspect that most people who reflect on how women ‘work’ would agree with much of what I have said.
I honestly believe that if it had been Lehman Sisters the financial crisis would not have arisen. Women bankers would have created stronger more socially supportive banks than men have done.I believe that the Church of England is stronger because it has women priests and would be even stronger if it had women bishops. I believe that our major businesses would be better run and far more sustainable if there were more women on their Boards.
So what can we do about this?
The first thing is to change cultures and behaviours. Politics is highly adversarial and does not suit the political style of most women. That is not a problem of women it is a problem of the behaviour of men. Councils could change their standing orders to be more inclusive. Select (or scrutiny) committees could be more discursive than combatative.
Banks could change their bonus cultures to recognise a triple bottom line of social and environment outputs and outcomes as well as financial outputs and outcomes.
I am afraid that as simple persuasion has failed to work we must resort to legislation. The political parties can start with internal changes. My own Party’s response to the Rennard problems must be to have women only short lists from some key seats. Many countries have a quota for elected women in both councils and parliaments.
We must legislate as other countries have done for at least a third of public company board members to be women.
I tried to think of some new things to say here but I suspect that there is nothing new to be said. Many have been aware of the problems for society of the lack of women at the top of our institutions for at least he past 3 decades but there has been only a small amount on improvement over that period. What we need is practical action and we need it now.
Given our current problems now is the time for a sea change in the way Lib Dems do things and the way we try to change things. Let something good come out of our present problems.