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York Women's Equality Party talks business

The President and Secretary of the University of York's Women's Equality Party chat to Business Editor James Humpish about the national party as a pressure group, the gender pay gap and quotas.

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It's easy to get lost in the debate around how to tackle gender inequality in the workplace. Is the gender pay gap going to close completely? Should there be quotas for executive boards? Is that contrary to equal opportunities? Committee members of the University of York Women's Equality Party (WEP) were able to give their perspective on a variety of issues relating to the challenges women face within the business community. Their views demonstrate that there is still much to be done.

While the student group is focusing on sex and relationship education in schools, Emmie Rose Price-Goodfellow, York WEP's President, and Clare Lillywhite, York WEP's Secretary, spoke about the National Party's position and gave their personal thoughts.

The WEP are making an impact. Set up in 2015 by Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig, Price-Goodfellow explains that: "most of WEP's strategy is to pressure parties by running in elections, not necessarily in order to get into power, but to force some of the issues onto the table. Sophie Walker, who's the party leader, ran for Mayor of London, not necessarily expecting to win, but after the first debate she was approached by Sadiq Khan who basically said 'I want to take your entire platform and make it a section of my policy.'

Price-Goodfellow is optimistic about what the WEP can achieve. Noting that the WEP has more than double the membership of UKIP: "if you look at the way UKIP operated and acted effectively, even though they have one MP, they acted as such a strong pressure group that David Cameron effectively caved in and gave them a referendum. The WEP has more members than UKIP does in our country so I think there is the potential in forthcoming election for other pressure groups now that UKIP's big thing will be fixed and there's nothing to cave in for them."

At the moment only 11 of the top 100 technology companies are run or were founded by women. One could argue that technology is just more attractive to men, but the extent seems implausible. Price-Goodfellow agrees, saying: "I think we're not yet at a stage where we can say if it's true men are more interested in tech. They did a study recently where they got male and female coders of equal ability and got them to do a piece of work and showed it to top coders in the industry. They showed it to one group blind and the majority thought the woman's coding was better and they showed it to a number of other industry professionals as well and attached names to it. The majority of that group decided the man's code was better. I just think this is a good example of unconscious bias, not just for people thinking of entering the industry, but also within the industry in terms of hiring policies and promotion and giving opportunities."

For Lillywhite, equal childcare leave is another concern that needs to be addressed. "I imagine having a child and instantly not having any choice," she says. "There is shared parental leave but a really small percentage of men take it because they're not eligible for it. The man would have to have a partner in paid work to for him to have shared leave. That disqualifies about two in five men. Paternity leave stands at one to two weeks. Businesses need to understand that women have children and women have been having children forever so why haven't businesses tried to tackle the inequality women face from this by 2017?" The argument that society is moving towards equality is a moot point for them.

Price-Goodfellow reasonably states: "there's a point when you reach a position in society in which you can't just wait and let it carry on. 50 years ago there was an argument for saying 'we'll just wait and see and it'll probably get better' but by the time you've reached 2017, where it's not thought that the gender pay gap will close until 2069, there comes a time where you have to say 'we've tried the "let's wait and see' approach and we need to understand that we have to take active steps rather than hope for society to change. If you take an active step then societal change may well follow from that.

"The private sector pay gap is greater than the public sector pay gap because there's less accountability and transparency". With this, it is vividly clear that there's plenty more to be done to make a fairer workplace.

Price-Goodfellow notes that the government itself is falling short of what it could do to for equal gender representation, and without representation it's tough to obtain equal opportunity. She says that the WEP "are part of a campaign to push for a 50/50 parliament by pressuring other parties to have 66 per cent of their candidates as female which would numerically work out as a 50/50 parliament. The Women and Eqalities select committee has suggested 45 per cent of female candidates in every general election because 50 per cent could be unworkable, but then that takes forever to actually get 50 per cent in parliament. The government recently signed on to a committment to force companies to publish gender pay gaps but the WEP has pushed to go a bit further on that because the proposals at the moment don't give very good statistics as it wouldn't be broken down by age, race or disability and that's quite an important part of the pay gap as a whole."

Debates about the path to equality will rage on, but the many pronged approach of the York WEP makes it clear they are clued up on the consequences of the government's and businesses' actions.

If the WEP can consolidate influence as well as UKIP, their potential is huge.

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