Only two UK Covid briefings were led by a female MP, report finds

Only two of the government briefings held at the height of the coronavirus pandemic were led by a female politician, and in both cases it was the home secretary, Priti Patel, a report into gender representation across the UK’s top jobs has shows.

The 2022 Sex and Power Index, compiled by the Fawcett Society, a charity campaigning for women’s rights, showed equality is still “decades off”, as men continue to dominate the top ranks of law, politics and business.

The biennial report also highlighted the complete lack of women of colour in senior roles and what it lamented as a “glacial” pace of change. Women account for just 8% of FTSE 100 CEOs, none of whom is a woman of colour.

Jemima Olchawski, CEO of the Fawcett Society, said: “The pandemic has laid bare deep-rooted inequalities across the UK. Yet it is women who have borne the brunt and often largely invisible from debate and excluded from decision-making.”

Of the 56 daily press conferences, when the government makes significant announcements about coronavirus, 43% featured an all-male lineup with no female politician or expert present, the index showed. Only a third (92 of the 274) of members on Covid-19 advisory boards are women.

Research by Kings College also found female voices to be missing from public debate. Its analysis showed that women made up only a fifth of the top 20 most frequently mentioned British politicians in media coverage of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, in journalism, the proportion of women editing national newspapers has doubled from last year to 42%.

While the gender split in parliament has barely progressed – the proportion of female MPs inched from 32% in 2017 to 34% at the 2019 election – outside Westminster, there have been “seismic shifts” towards equality. In Scottish parliament, women now make up just under half of MSPs under the leader, Nicola Sturgeon.

At the May 2021 election, Kaukab Stewart became the first woman of colour elected to the Scottish parliament, and Pam Gosal was elected as the first Sikh MSP. The six minority ethnic MSPs make up 4.5% of the Scottish parliament, which is in line with the percentage of minority ethnic people in the country’s population.

“Men continue to dominate most senior roles,” Olchawski said. “That’s not only bad for the women who miss out on opportunities to thrive, but it’s bad for us all, as we miss out on women’s talent, skills and perspectives.

“What is most alarming about today’s data is that it shows an unacceptable lack of women of colour in senior positions. It is appalling that in 2022, women of colour are missing in leadership positions from some of our key institutions and organisations.”

Women are outnumbered 2:1 in the 5,166 positions of power in society. Only two justices on the 12-member supreme court are women, and no person of colour has ever taken up the role. The next tier down is more representative – a quarter of the 37 court of appeal judges are women.

“Put simply, this gives the lie to the idea that we live in a meritocracy or a society of equal opportunity,” Olchawski said. “Structures, culture and often individuals continue to create barriers that prevent women and women of colour in particular rising to the top.”

Responding to the findings, the Fawcett Society called on the government to set targets to increase the number of women in senior roles and improve pay gap reporting, including reducing the threshold for reporting to employers with 100+ employees, and publication of mandatory action plans.

The Guardian