Only a Fool Would Argue That We've Shattered Glass Ceiling; Women Still Victims of Discrimination

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Byline: David Williamson

WOMEN in Wales are still subject to a "subtle, pernicious and unpleasant" discrimination as they struggle to break into top jobs, one of the nation's leading academics has warned.

Laura McAllister - vice chair of the Sports Council for Wales - argues that women are still losing out to men in the boardroom and across public life despite apparent strides in the number of female AMs.

Her comments were last night echoed by campaigners who said the nation should be "hanging its head in shame" at the continued inaction.

Ms McAllister, a former Wales international footballer who is also a professor at the University of Liverpool and was a member of the Richard Commission, pointed out that: There have only been 12 women MPs elected inWales since women won the right to vote in 1918; of our 40 MPs today, only eight are women and half of those were selected via all-women short-lists; just a quarter of councillors are women; only 17.5% of professors are women - despite a nearly equal number of lecturers; there are no Welsh female vice chancellors; some 80% of local authority chief executives are male; and Wales has no female chief executives in its top 100 private firms and under 5% of all FTSE 100 company chief executives are women.

Writing in the latest issue of Agenda, the magazine of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, she said: "Superficially, there have been some great strides forward but only a fool would argue we have shattered the glass ceiling. It is in everyone's interests that we do not create a conspiracy of silence around this.

"Despite some valiant initiatives, public life in Wales has a soft underbelly of inequality."

She argues that the gender breakthrough in the Assembly - where 28 out of 60 AMs are women - did not happen by accident but was the result of concrete policies, saying: "There was nothing organic about the achievement of numerical equality in the Assembly. It was the outcome of some rather bloody (and unfinished) party political business.

"Basically, two parties - Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru - were courageous enough, not only to use positive action to select candidates, but also to take the consequences from within their memberships.

"Labour's use of 'twinning' - that is, pairing neighbouring constituencies with one man and one woman selected for each pair - was augmented by Plaid's less expansive, but nonetheless significant 'zipping', with women candidates gaining from pole positions across the regional lists."

She is concerned that subtle discrimination and concealed inequalities are stopping women from flourishing in the boardroom, claiming: "Together, these conspire to form a new, more subtle type of discrimination, one that is social, cultural and informal, less easy to identify and quantify, but equally pernicious and unpleasant."

Victoria Winckler, director of the Tredegar-based Bevan Foundation think- tank, agreed that Welsh women are still getting a raw deal. …