THE BLOG

Gender Equality in Politics and Business

08/03/2016 17:35 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Emmeline Pankhurst broke into the House of Commons to petition Prime Minister Herbert Asquith for women to get the vote and during her trial for that crime she declared: "We are here, not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers."

When my female colleagues and I entered parliament last May we were democratically elected, we did not have to break in.

Academic research recently showed that boards with more women do 36 per cent better than those without. Helena Morrissey, leading activist for gender equality and the estimable Chief Executive of Newton Investment, a global investment management company said on the publication of the statistics: "It seems pretty obvious to me that companies that have women at the top are also more likely to have inclusive cultures."

My own opinion is that we need more women in business and politics to make it more interesting, more balanced, more colourful and ultimately, because we are 51% of the population and so ought to be, better represented.

Whilst we have come a long way since the days of Emmeline Pankhurst, there is still a long way to go until we can truly say we have equality. The number of male MPs in the House of Commons today outnumbers the number of female MPs ever elected. In October 2015, City AM reported on the Davies review that "The Davies Review is setting a new target for a third of all board members at Britain's biggest listed companies to be women, as a separate new study warns that the country's boardroom diversity 'risks going into reverse gear'."

Whether through further active engagement with business, quotas, campaigning or bespoke programmes, we need to do more. We are slowly making progress with diversity and equality in our democratic institutions. My colleagues and I are also doing our best to modernise and bring the UK parliament into modern times because fundamentally, equality and diversity should start at the heart of our democracies.

It is well known that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been a champion of equality and her gender-balanced Cabinet set an example on the world stage when it received praise from the UN's Women's Policy Division as 'a role model to emulate'. She has written today about the importance of gender balance and equality in the work place.

In addition, the work of the Scottish Government and SNP Cabinet colleagues can be seen in its efforts to encourage balanced boards, women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, and people of all races, gender, ability and sexuality to get involved in society and politics, not to mention the SNP's record investment in childcare.

It seems ever obvious that it is not the why we should get more women involved, more the how we do it. There are no easy answers but when I've got up at 5 am to fly to London on a Monday morning then the House sits until 1am, you do wonder whether Parliament will ever reflect a normal working week. We don't just need to create a more family and female friendly Parliament, we need to tell young women in every school, college, university and workplace that they can do anything.

Diversity of every kind makes for a richer more balanced society. We need more LGBTI and BAME people too. That starts at the grassroots; I grew up with a single Mum who worked all hours as a lecturer and ran about at weekends entertaining my brother and I, whilst sitting on every school board and local activist group she could. She trod a path of 'anything and everything is possible' and I simply followed suit. That does not mean it is easy but she told me from a very young age that I could do anything and no boy or man was any better, or indeed any worse than me.

On International Women's Day, I'm calling for businesses across the nations of the United Kingdom to think and act on diversity and equality, if not now then when? Should be their mantra - it can only be good for business.