Break the bias, everybody wins: women hold the key to a stronger economy

Anneliese Dodds
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour is the party of equality. On International Women’s Day, it’s inspiring and humbling to reflect on the role that Labour governments – and especially Labour women – have played in creating a more equal society for women. From Barbara Castle and the Equal Pay Act to Tessa Jowell and Sure Start, to Harriet Harman and the Equality Act, Labour women have been at the vanguard of the fight for equality.

Some of our party’s great trailblazers are stepping down at the next election, including Kate Green, Harriet Harman, Margaret Hodge and Rosie Winterton. I want to pay tribute to their service and the change they brought for women everywhere.

International Women’s Day is a moment to celebrate the progress we’ve made. But it cannot be a time for complacency. There is so much more to do.

Women are still paid less than men – a gender pay gap that actually grew last year, on the Conservatives’ watch. At the current rate of change, an 18-year-old woman starting work today will have to wait until she turns 56 before that gap closes. Women are 40% more likely than men to be on zero-hour contracts; and just eight FTSE100 CEOs are women.

Covid-19 highlighted these inequalities and exacerbated them. Throughout the pandemic, women were more likely to be furloughed, more likely to lose income, and more likely to work in the sectors that were hardest hit.

The Conservatives are letting women down, and in doing so they’re letting the whole country down. We cannot deliver the security, prosperity and respect we all want to see if over half of the population are held back. Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do in and of itself – though of course that’s true too. It also helps the country prosper as a whole.

Women-led SMEs already contribute around £85bn to the UK economy. That includes businesses like The Stack, a networking and content platform for women entrepreneurs led by Sharmadean Reid, or VR platform Musemio, which makes history, arts and culture accessible for children and was founded by Ukrainian Olga Kravchenko.

There are many women-led business success stories that use representation as a strong selling point to investors and consumers alike, from Dem Dx – AI to make NHS workstreams more efficient, founded by Lorin Gresser – to Byway, a company that specialises in personalised, flight-free holidays and was founded by Cat Jones.

The evidence shows that companies with more senior women are more commercially successful. If we break the bias, everybody wins. That’s why a Labour government will put women at the heart of our economic recovery.

Our equal recovery pledge will ensure that the inequality supercharged by the Covid pandemic does not become even deeper and more embedded during our recovery. Our new deal for working people will bring in stronger family-friendly rights, including extending statutory maternity and paternity leave.

We will enable equal pay comparisons across employers where men and women carry out comparable work. And we will require employers to create and maintain workplaces and working conditions free from harassment, including by third parties.

We will do that by backing women entrepreneurs. Under the Conservatives, the rate of business creation has plummeted across every English region since 2016. We will reverse the Conservatives’ trend of plummeting business creation and enable 100,000 new start-ups in the first term of a Labour government across all English regions.

We would do all of this because Labour understands that women hold the key to a stronger economy. As Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, I’m determined to make sure their effort and talent is recognised by the next Labour government.

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