UK Politics

Cameron takes Swedish lesson in wooing women

David Cameron and women
Image caption David Cameron says he wants to empower women

David Cameron is heading off to Sweden for a meeting with other northern European leaders. But will he have domestic concerns on his mind?

David Cameron has come to Sweden to learn from the women, specifically the ones in business.

He will sit down with leaders from eight other countries in Stockholm on Thursday for the second instalment of the Nordic-Baltic Summit.

It is a brief, informal event, billed more as a chance to exchange views and ideas, unlike the Brussels gatherings. For all of the prime ministers present, Europe's faltering economy is the overriding concern.

But seven of the nine countries represented here are not in the eurozone - so the plight of the single currency is not as pressing as it is for many further south.

Indeed, for an international summit, Mr Cameron's focus is decidedly domestic.

He thinks Sweden's pioneering approach to encouraging more women into work, in particular to the top of business, could be part of the solution to improving the UK economy.

In a statement released on the eve of the conference, he said: "The drive for more women in business is not simply about equal opportunity; it's about effectiveness. It's about quality, not just equality."

'Positive link'

A quarter of the board positions in big business in Sweden are filled by women. In neighbouring Norway they have a legal quota of 40% minimum. In the UK women make up around 12% of places at the top of business.

As for the summit's percentages, there are two female prime ministers in attendance - from Denmark and Iceland - and seven male. That's 22%.

Mr Cameron says he believes having more women in the workplace is good for the economy as a whole.

He said: "The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance so, if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we're not only failing those individuals, we're failing our whole economy."

Mr Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and most western world leaders are promising a new capitalism, based on a fairer, more responsible model.

Other issues will be discussed at the one-day gathering in Stockholm, with energy, education and the web of interest to all. But the UK's prime minister has chosen to make the event about women, and trying to export lessons from Stockholm to Sheffield or Salisbury.

There is a nod to domestic politics, too.

Opinion polls have suggested that Mr Cameron is struggling to win over women voters. His "calm down, dear" line to a female Labour shadow cabinet minister in Parliament has hurt him.

Focusing on women's role in rescuing the economy will not do him any harm back home.

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