This evening I spoke at a wonderful event in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire organised by BOA women 100 to mark International Women’s Day and 100 years of the vote.
Today is not just about celebrating inspirational and extraordinary women in the public eye or history like female queens and politicians. It is also our silent heroes our female doctors, nurses, teachers, military personnel, charity workers, businesswomen and mothers who make a difference to their communities and country everyday.
Today is also about remembering how far we have come – it is quite unbelievable that it is only 100 years since women got the vote. When I was born only 3.2% of MPs were female but now its 32%.
Equalities legislation and the equal pay act have helped and there are more women in employment in the UK than in history with the South West having the highest proportion.
Statutory shared maternity leave introduced in 2015 has given women more options and we have announced this week more moeny to promote this. I would however, like us to go further so all employers offer shared corporate maternity leave. In fact some estimate that 54,000 women a year lose their job due to maternity discrimination plus it feeds the gender pay gap.
We do have further to go especially in other countries and whilst Parliament is now 32% female, I am sure there is more that we can do to boost this number.
People often ask me what it’s like being a female MP – I say it’s the same as being a male MP and that’s the message to get across to encourage other women to enter politics.
Things are getting better in the world of business but there is still a long way to go and in FTSE 100 companies only 17% of Director are women and only 29% of people on company boards are women – this is a record figure so we are on the right track but more needs to be done. There is also a severe shortage of women in STEM related careers – something which I regularly talk about and boosting this is crucial to addressing the UK productivity crisis.
I don’t agree with quotas or positive discrimination and I’m not a fan of singling out particular groups as I do believe that further segregation can indeed cause discrimination. Instead I believe in empowering and encouraging women and all minorities to succeed and fulfil their true potential.
I believe in levelling the playing field so everyone gets an equal shot in life and this is why I entered politics – to create and facilitate opportunities. So, whilst I am proud to be the first female MP for Chippenham constituency – I don’t want to be known for that. Nor do I want to be known as a good female MP. I want to just be known as a good MP and I do think that once we are seen as no different then we will have reached true equality.