‘Raining Women’ & Feminising Politics

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

At home: In Westminster, Theresa May – the UK’s second woman Prime Minister – and in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon – Scotland’s first woman First Minister – opposed by the Tories’ Ruth Davidson, and Labour’s Kezia Dugdale.

Abroad: Angela Merkel, of course, and maybe soon President, Hilary Clinton.

The media seemingly don’t quite know what to do with ‘all’ these women in politics. Gender and politics scholars are finding themselves in great demand. There are, predictably, numerous articles in the newspapers about what the women are wearing, and how they do their hair.

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Shaping the corporate landscape: it’s high time for corporate reform

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Mistrust in corporate governance and multi-national companies has rarely run deeper than today. In extreme cases of misconduct, corporate bosses might be called in to answer questions about their own exploitative conduct vis-a-vis their businesses, as we have seen recently in the public interrogation of Sir Phillip Green, former “owner” of the now defunct BHS.

But generally, it has become ever clearer that while corporations carry responsibility for many of our current global problems, from rising social inequality to looming ecological disaster, they are rarely held fully accountable for their misdemeanours and recklessness.

Our corporate governance system has so far failed to impose effective limits on the rent-seeking of financial investors and the excess of corporate managers at the expense of the wider workforce and the exploitation of our communities and the environment. Instead, profit maximisation for shareholders, and handsome remuneration packages for company directors even when they manage their company against the long-term interests of employees, consumers and the wider communities that businesses are meant to serve, continue to dominate the order of the day.

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Women in Power: exploring the positive influence of women on boards of directors

Professor Sheila Ellwood, Professor of Financial Reporting at the University of Bristol, outlines her research on the influence of presence and position of women on the boards of directors of NHS Foundation Trusts.

Professor Sheila Ellwood, Professor of Financial Reporting, University of Bristol.

Across the UK and more widely, there are moves to increase the number of women on boards. Some countries have quotas, such as Norway, Spain and Iceland. Some countries require companies to “comply or explain”, as in the UK, Denmark and Sweden. Other measures are less explicit. The rationale is largely to improve female representation and increase board diversity in public and private sector corporate governance.

Along with Javier Garcia-Lacalle, a colleague from the Universidad Zaragoza in Spain, I undertook a study to look at the impact of greater female representation. We examined the influence of women on the boards of directors of NHS Foundation Trusts in England, and the resulting implications.

How does the position of women and high levels of gender diversity on boards of directors affect organisational performance when social performance is paramount?

We found that once a critical mass of women in decision-making positions on boards has been reached, there is little further effect on performance. A high female presence among executive and non-executive directorships does not result in significant differences either in financial goals or service quality. There is no effect on financial performance; positive or detrimental.

Equally, evidence suggests that female presence on boards positively affects corporate social performance[1]. Women are considered more socially oriented than men, resulting in more effective board decision-making, particularly on aspects related to social responsibility.

However, we found that in order for female presence to be effective, women need to be in the most prominent position on boards: Chief Executive or Chair. This is particularly important if boards are to achieve corporate social objectives.

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What does it take to get women at the top? Sex Balancing Party Leaderships

Meryl Kenny is Lecturer in Politics (Gender) at the University of Edinburgh

Meryl Kenny, Lecturer in Politics, University of Edinburgh

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol

The new Labour leader, deputy leader, and both candidates standing for Mayor in London and Bristol: all male. And this from a party whose parliamentary benches are more than 43 percent female and, in Bristol, where all its MPs are women. The newspapers and social media, not unexpectedly, were quick to question the party’s commitment to gender equality. Whatever you think of revaluing the education and health brief (and there’s a lot to be said for it), the absence of not one woman from the traditional top offices of state invited criticism. Some of this was no doubt right-wing commentators finding yet another reason to be critical of Labour’s new leader.

But the feminist criticism was more substantive: a longstanding worry that leftist politics often has too little room for gender equality in policy and personnel terms. Against such criticism, the counter argument: given the number of women candidates standing, party members had ample opportunity to vote for a woman. In short, Corbyn was the preferred candidate, his sex notwithstanding.

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A ‘Gender Friendly’ Parliament after GE 2015? The Case for a Women and Equality Committee

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

The 2015 general election portends an era of  ‘dangerous’ women having undue influence on British politics come May the 8th, if the print and social media are to be believed. Nicola Sturgeon – variously depicted as Miley Cyrus’ ‘wrecking ball’, Putinesque, the woman ‘holding all the aces’ and the ‘most dangerous woman of all’ will be pulling Ed Miliband’s strings. The women’s hug at the end of the Opposition leader’s debate epitomises an apparently ‘red sisterhood’ that will leave the Labour leader defenceless in the face of their collective seductive powers. To make matters worse, Ed’s ‘girly laugh’ (as Guido Fawkes put it) renders him insufficiently manly for the Premiership. All of this might be discounted as election banter, colourful to be sure, but nonetheless underpinned by legitimate concerns about post-election governing arrangements. Be that as it may. Such depictions also re-present Westminster politics as male, opposing and privileging the ‘male-politician-norm’ with the ‘female-politician-pretender’.

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Gender gaps and Conservative women: sitting to the left of their men

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol

There has been plenty of media copy over this Parliament apparently documenting the Conservative party’s trouble in keeping the woman voter happy. Many of these stories are on rather shaky ground. The gender gap in voting intention in the UK is far from that observed in the US; where more women are clearly in the Democrat camp. Continue reading

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Missing Women: It’s Time for Legislative Quotas in British Politics

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Last week the Counting Women In coalition published its 2014 report into Sex and Power in the UK. Yet again women will be reading that they are under-represented in British politics: at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont, and in local government across the UK. Meanwhile, resistance to gender quotas continues, with a recent YouGov poll highlighting the lack of popular support for all-women shortlists. It’s time for political parties to show leadership on this issue and follow the global evidence – well-designed and properly implemented quotas are the most effective way to address the under-representation of women. Patience is no longer an option – the time has come for legislative quotas in British politics.

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The Women in Parliament All Party Parliament Group (APPG) Inquiry

The Women in Parliament All Party Parliament Group (APPG) Inquiry: Sarah Childs and Annabelle Miles [1]

Today the APPG Women in Parliament will publish its report into the under-representation of women at Westminster[2]. Its conclusion is straightforward: the current percentage of women in the House of Commons – 22.6% – is simply not good enough. The UK ranks 65th out of the 189 countries included in the Inter Parliamentary Union’s monitoring report[3].

Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs,  Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol

Whilst parity of representation remains a long way off, the APPG recognises that some progress has taken place over the last two decades, not least in terms of the number of women elected to Parliament; in the selection procedures employed by parties; and in making Parliament a more family-friendly work environment. Examples of progress can be seen in the changes to sitting hours, a significant improvement from their pre-2012 state, and the opening of a workplace nursery in 2010. But this is no time for complacency. Indeed, with a general election less than a year away, ‘all political parties agree that there is much more to do to create a modern, aspirational and representative Parliament.’

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Do women make a difference as foreign policy actors?

Sylvia Bashevkin, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto

Sylvia Bashevkin, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto

Sylvia Bashevkin is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. She visited Bristol University’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) last week as the Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor.

Scholars in the UK and elsewhere have spent lots of time studying women’s contributions to legislative politics. Whether they focus on attention to child care and anti-violence policy or the better tone of debate that often follows from electing more women, researchers generally conclude that larger numbers do matter.

One angle that deserves closer attention involves women’s clout in the political executive. The growing concentration of power in the hands of prime ministers and senior members of cabinet means legislators are less and less influential. Even when backbenchers had more power than they now command, the political executive’s ability to shape decisions in areas such as international relations far exceeded that of parliament. For one thing, foreign ministers and the prime ministers who appoint them have long enjoyed access to all kinds of confidential intelligence reports and military briefings that never reach average MPs – let alone members of the general public.

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Women’s parliamentary friendships: a personal and political resource

Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

In 1997 an unprecedented number of women MPs – 120 – were elected to the UK House of Commons; 101 of these came from a single party. So ‘what difference’ did women’s presence make?’ An easy question to ask, but one that is now widely recognised to hide more than it reveals. Politics is not like physics – there is no magic point (critical mass) where women MPs are suddenly able to transform (or in more academic language) ‘feminise’ politics.  Looking back over the New Labour years in Government, it is evident that Labour’s women MPs entered a House not only over-represented by men but one which was famed for its historic traditions dominated by masculinised structures and norms. The new women MPs arriving in Westminster in 1997 found themselves negotiating a ‘gendered institution’.

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