Why are women losing the battle for jobs?

When the UK government announced its austerity measures, critics warned that they would affect women disproportionately. The latest unemployment figures, released last week, show that those fears may well be justified, as the number of women out of work has reached 1.05m – the highest level in 23 years. In the past three months, more women than men have been made redundant.

These figures could reflect the fact that women are twice as likely as men to be working in the public sector, which is where most job losses are occurring. It is also possible that other cuts – to childcare provision, for example – have driven women out of the workplace.

However, it might also be less to do with government policy and more with market forces in general. Last month, the Pew Research Center published data showing that between June 2009 and May 2011, men in the US had gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 per cent, while women had lost 218,000 jobs in the same period. Men appeared to be gaining jobs in retail, health and education – sectors that historically had employed high numbers of women.

On the same day that the Office for National Statistics published the UK unemployment data, a new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned it would take another 70 years – or 14 general elections – for Britain to reach equal numbers of male and female MPs. The report, titled Sex and Power, also found that the number of women in the Cabinet had fallen to its lowest level in a decade.

Kay Carberry, commissioner, said: “The gender balance at the top has not changed much in three years, despite there being more women graduating from university and occupying middle-management roles. We had hoped to see an increase in the number of women in positions of power; however, this isn’t happening.”

The sentiment was echoed by Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a UK-based women’s advocacy group, who said: “It’s 2011 and women remain largely excluded from positions of power and influence in virtually every sphere of life – the media, the judiciary, the education sector and more.”

If you have a view on why women seem to be losing the battle for jobs, whether generally or at the very top of our most important institutions, post a comment.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.