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A woman’s place is in the boardroom

Female workers earn, on average, 17 per cent less than their male counterparts. They occupy a mere 12.6 per cent of executive directors at the top 100 public companies and an even more paltry 5 per cent of these positions if the top 600 public companies are considered.

This issue, whilst never far from the public domain, is attracting increasing coverage at the moment. As well as the UMSU’s current Women’s Week and an independent inquiry currently underway into why there is such a small number of women reaching boards level, David Cameron has also outlined a desire to introduce tough measures to force companies to hire more women in top positions.

British film, Made in Dagenham, depicting the story of the female Ford workers striking in protest against their pay discrepancy, is released this month. It is widely considered that the actions of the 187 female workers in the Dagenham Ford Factories had an integral role in the manufacture of the 1970 Equal pay act.

It is first worth considering why such a disproportional representation at board level exists in the first place. One argument often cited is that women are still far more prevalent then men in the 5’C’s: caring, catering, cleaning, cooking and childcare. Emma Kerry, Women’s Officer at UMSU, agrees with this but also alludes to the vicious cycle whereby, “If you lack the appropriate role model you are unlikely to aspire to [work in that sector]”.

Kerry concludes that, “As women don’t hold these positions other women don’t think they can get them and thus don’t go for them.”

Sarah Wakefield, General Secretary of UMSU, commented that the current structure in these industries are, “Intrinsically favorable to masculine traits.”

With that in mind it is necessary to examine the measures being implemented to rectify this. The Equality Act 2010 has provided more transparency in regard to combating gender disparity in pay but many parties are calling for legislation to be introduced in a similar mould to Norway’s, who have outlined that company boards must have at least 40 per cent female representation. Many top financial institutions are also attempting to correct this inequality through women in business initiatives. These include campus events and networking opportunities in schemes designed to benefit the underrepresented women in business.

The issue of affirmative action warrants further scrutiny. Whilst undoubtedly measures are needed to both encourage more women into the industry as well as ensure they are given a fair opportunity to meritocratically rise to the top, women in business are also justified if they consider it demeaning to be given preferential treatment.

Perhaps Emma Kerry sums affirmative action up the best where she comments, “The purpose of these schemes, is to stop the need for these schemes.”

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