Fewer cocks in the Cabinet.

Comedian Andy Hamilton summed up how most of us feel about the injection of women into the new Cabinet when he said :”it’s nice that Cameron has discovered women so near election time.”

 

The reshuffle, which means that there are now 5 women in the Cabinet again (back to the level in 2011), seems to have struck the public as tokenism with a Sunday Mirror poll finding 56 per cent believe the Prime Minister brought in females for “mainly presentational reasons”.

 

Does the proportion of women in the Cabinet matter? Why should anyone care as long as it’s the best people for the job?  I believe in meritocracy.  I also believe in diversity.  It seems astonishing that in a democracy where women have been MPs for nearly a century that such a small proportion of them have reached Cabinet office.  I’m writing a book about women and work with Kathryn Jacob.  One of our arguments is that it is about time that the gender mix of the senior management of businesses should match that of the UK population.  Ie 50:50. We cannot be alone in believing this should also be true of UK government, ie that we should see a Cabinet where half are women, as a matter of course, and not in the position where we’re remarking on and celebrating that there are 5?

 

The tone of the news coverage has hardly been helped by the Daily Mail’s “Downing Street Catwalk” including the comment that Liz Truss looked “bright and sensible but a little too eighties air hostess”.

 

Well done Nick Clegg with his Tweet selfie: “What I wore to the office today.  Fingers crossed the Mail approves.  Hope I don’t look too ’80s cabin attendant.”

 

Gender balance should matter to businesses and by extension to government.  Statistics show that while tokenism doesn’t work (ie just employing 1 or 2 senior women), companies who have several women in senior management improve profitability and overall performance.

 

There’s lots of research proving this including a report in the FT from the Swedish Corporate Governance Board showing the positive relationship between the fraction of female board members and sales growth, returns on stock, equity, assets, and invested capital: “A board does itself a disservice by being too homogeneous”.

 

Any board, any government will thrive on diversity.  It is time that we take steps to ensure that gender balance is represented in proportion.  Those steps will be explained in detail in our book, but include understanding what is really going on (consciously and unconsciously) and strategies for women, men and business leaders (and government) for change.

 

 

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