Women make up the majority of professional workers in many countries. Sexist behaviour at work is illegal. The UK has passed important Acts of Parliament, including the Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), that have contributed to making society more equal for men and women. (All Acts addressing discrimination in the UK have been brought together and strengthened in the Equality Act of 2010.)
Changes in the economy have made a difference too. The old manufacturing industries which provided jobs in Scotland such as coal, steel and shipbuilding have been replaced by ‘service sector’ jobs in tourism, education, banking, IT and law. Women compete for these jobs on much more equal terms.
An increasing number of companies are seeing the benefits of flexible working. Staff are employed on annual rather than weekly hours and many come into work later or go home earlier, enabling men and women to look after children. Some businesses allow their staff to work nine days per fortnight and more people now work from home. As people live and work longer, companies are rethinking the structure of their career opportunities. Many offer unpaid leave and/or career breaks.
In politics women are still far from having equal numbers of representatives as men. At the 2010 general election, 20% of MPs elected to the House of Commons were female. This increased to 29% after the 2015 general election but is low considering the UK population is 51% female. There is little evidence that women are any less interested in politics than men (at the 2010 UK General Election, 66% of men voted, compared with 64% of women). So why are there still so few female representatives?
The Scottish Parliament has led the way in having more family-friendly working hours and holidays. But the reality of political life means that our elected representatives still have to attend many evening meetings and are expected to be ‘always available, anytime’ by phone, email or social media. As such, those with family commitments such as looking after children and elderly relatives, who are still more likely to be women, are put off getting involved in politics. Nicola Sturgeon appointed her cabinet of Scottish Government ministers with a 50-50 gender balance. However the male to female ratio of MSPs still does not reflect the population of Scotland.