The percentage of women on boards of the UK's top FTSE 100 companies has fallen this year for the first time since records began. Only 17.3 per cent of boards in the UK's biggest companies are made up of women, which falls far short of the UK's surely quite achievable target of 25 per cent by 2015. Of the top 100 UK charities by income, only 17 per cent have women chairs.
Women in Journalism's recent research into women's visibility in the media reported that during a one-month study, 78 per cent of article bylines were male, 72 per cent of Question Time contributors were male and 84 per cent of guests and reporters on Radio 4's Today show were men.
The UK ranks 53rd in the world in gender representation in Government with 22.3 per cent made up of women; 145 out of 650 seats are held by women.
Of course, the reasons why women continue to be under-represented in senior positions are complex and highly contested: low availability of affordable childcare and inflexible working practices can be a barrier to women maintaining commitments to both work and families, despite the efforts of family friendly policies such as shared maternity and paternity leave and childcare support; gendered expectations and working styles might influence appointment decisions; Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg recently published a book arguing that both men and women need to change the way they behave in the workplace and in the home, to increase the number of women in leadership roles.
Nonetheless, it remains clear that we need to do more to raise women's profiles in the public domain and give more women a platform to share their expertise. Following in the footsteps of IPPR, Nesta has made a public commitment to end all male panels at our events and advocate the same for events we participate in. As we host regular live events and publish videos online, we hope this will bring more diverse and representative perspectives to political and social debates and start to make events with no women speakers seem odd and anachronistic.
Tokenism? We don't think so. It's as important as ensuring that organisations' Boards are representative, and at Nesta we're glad that our Board has moved closer to gender parity. Given the current proportions of women experts represented in public debate it may be easier to think of a man to speak or chair an event than to find a woman. Making this pledge makes it necessary to spend that extra effort to get someone different in. Does this go far enough? Certainly not. As others have argued eloquently, we also need to challenge dominant ethnic, class and disability representation in public life.
We hope that lots of other organisations will follow suit so that collectively we can bring more diverse voices into public debate. If you would like to get in touch and help make this happen, please email [email protected] and [email protected].