No Glass Ceiling for U.K. Women Politicians, Research Finds

There is no evidence of a “glass ceiling” for women in British politics once they get into Parliament, a study of lawmakers has found.

The research by Peter Allen, a doctoral student at London University’s Birkbeck College, looked at the careers of 178 Labour Party lawmakers who entered Parliament as part of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s first general-election win in 1997. The group included 64 women, the largest such group ever elected at the same time. The U.K. press labeled them “Blair’s Babes.”

Out of the 178 men and women, 10 made it to the highest ministerial level, the Cabinet, before Labour lost power in 2010: five men and five women. That represented 8 percent of the female cohort and 4 percent of the men. The next rung down the ladder, minister of state, was reached by 17 percent of men and 20 percent of women. At each level, Allen found no statistically significant difference.

“The issue for women in British politics is getting into Parliament, not getting on in Parliament,” Allen said in a telephone interview today, International Women’s Day. “Once they’re there, they do as well as men.”

Before the 1997 election, Labour tried to improve women’s chances of getting elected by introducing all-female candidate shortlists for target electoral districts. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, the two parties that now form the coalition government, have so far resisted similar moves. The U.K. has had one female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who headed a Tory government from 1979 to 1990.

International Women's Day

Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, who was prime minister for Labour’s last three years in power, spoke at an event in London today to mark International Women’s Day, alongside the father of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani school student shot by the Taliban last year for speaking out for girls’ right to education and who was treated for her head wounds in a British hospital.

“Men must change,” Brown told his audience. “Male attitudes are a big issue. If you’re going to see big change, we’re going to have to do it together.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.