Leading figures in Boris Johnson’s government have a “very blokey mentality” compounded by the prevalence of ministers educated in single-sex schools, a senior Tory Party MP has said.
Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee in the House of Commons, argued there were some “serious questions about the calibre of the women” selected for senior governmental roles.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: “I think it’s still a very blokey mentality at the very top. I don’t think that we’re done many favours by the predominance of single-sex education round the cabinet table.
“And I think it’s really important that there’s much more recognition, we need more women in parliament across every party, we need more women in government and we need to be prepared to listen to their opinions and act upon them.”
Her comments come as the Women and Equalities Committee released its findings from an inquiry into the Covid emergency’s economic impact on women, with ministers finding the government has both overlooked and worsened pre-existing gender inequalities.
Ms Nokes, who lost her role as immigration minister when Mr Johnson became PM, added: “I’m not convinced that they are listening. I’ve been pointing out since the start of the pandemic how few women are sat around the cabinet table, how their voices are not being played into debates and decisions that the government is making.
“I think it’s absolutely crucial that the government wakes up to the fact that they need to take equalities far more seriously than they have to date.”
Women are over-represented in industries most ravaged by lockdown measures such as retail, hospitality, tourism, the arts and the beauty sector, while recent research found women are twice as likely to need time off work with no pay to look after children due to schools closing.
Ms Nokes’ remarks echo those made by Alex Davies-Jones, who sits on the Women and Equalities Committee, a day earlier. She told The Independent many women working in female-dominated sectors are self-employed and have fallen through the cracks of government support schemes.
“Retail, hospitality, beauty salons and hairdressing were the first to close because of the virus and the last to open. These seemingly forgotten industries significantly contribute to the economy. The women working in these industries have been forgotten,” the Labour MP for Pontypridd in Wales said.
“The government needs to have women around the table when they are creating these policies. It is a shocking indictment that we have only had a handful of female cabinet members fronting the daily briefings. There is a shocking absence of women at the top. Also none of the policies are fronted by women, which is really disappointing.”
The MP said she had spoken to women who think the Conservative government fails to “reflect their experiences and doesn’t see them” and subsequently does not draw up policies which support them during the crisis.
A government spokesperson said it had “done whatever it takes” to safeguard “lives and livelihoods” during the pandemic “and will continue to do so”.
“We are safeguarding people’s jobs and incomes with economic schemes worth over £200bn, including the Self Employment Income Scheme for the 1.7 million self-employed women in the UK,” they added.
“Covid-19 is prompting a culture shift, with more people than ever before working flexibly, and the government wants to harness that as we recover. By doing so, we could see more equal sharing of care work by parents, and more flexibility from employers, enabling us to unleash the potential of everyone across the country.”