As regular LDV readers may know, I’ve long advocated the idea of allowing candidates to put themselves forward for election on a job-share basis (letting constituents decide whether they want to elect job-share MPs). Today a Bill making this possible will be presented to the House of Commons.
The Representation of the People (Members’ Job Share) Bill will be introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by Labour MP John McDonnell. It will be interesting to see how much cross-party support the Bill gets. Individual Lib Dems have certainly been sympathetic to its aims. Mark Williams MP tabled an Early Day Motion on job-shares in the last session of Parliament (gaining signatures from Labour, Conservative, Green and Plaid Cymru MPs), while Ros Scott and Kate Parminter have championed the cause from the House of Lords. In 2010 I debated MP job-shares on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, while Nick Clegg voiced his support on Mumsnet.
Explanatory Notes to the Bill set out the detail, but here’s a reminder of the rationale.
A growing body of evidence shows that job-sharing can stem the ‘female brain drain’ by enabling more women to progress into senior roles while combining work with family. A recent report included the striking finding that 80% of highly qualified professional women want to work part-time. Last year Lord Davies’ “Women on Boards” review found mid-career work-life balance issues to be a key driver of female under-representation at Board level, while Justice Secretary Ken Clarke advocated high quality part-time career paths to boost numbers of senior women judges.
Exactly the same logic applies in politics. Research I undertook for the party four years ago found that many experienced prospective women candidates in their 30s and 40s rule themselves out of standing for Parliament because they see it as incompatible with family life. We’re really not that bad at getting women in their 20s and 50s into Parliament; the problem is the period in between (which, incidentally, is precisely when most men are first elected).
Highly qualified professional women (and growing numbers of men) in their 30s and 40s, are rejecting all-or-nothing models of work and instead gravitating towards careers which offer high quality flexible part-time work. This is where job-sharing comes in: giving job-sharers the reduced hours they want whilst offering organisations the responsiveness, full-time cover and commitment needed for senior level roles.
Just last week, Liberal Democrats scored a big win with policies for shared parental leave. We recognise dual career families as the norm, and believe it should be up to parents, not the state, to decide how mothers and fathers juggle work with family. Challenging outmoded, inflexible and male-centric workplace cultures is a crucial part of delivering our party’s vision of gender equality.
Westminster is no different. To attract and retain more women in politics we need to make politics fit women’s lives, not vice-versa.. The beauty of job-sharing is that it does this in a way that doesn’t compromise on constituents’ need for full-time representation. And while job-shares may disproportionately be taken up by those with caring responsibilities, they will of course be open to any candidates who can persuade local parties and constituents to vote them in on that basis. What could be more liberal and democratic than that? Anyone wishing to support the campaign for job-share MPs can sign this petition. .
* Dinti Batstone is a member of WLD and Acting Co-Chair of Campaign for Gender Balance.