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Economic Justice

Making devolution work for women in the West Midlands

Women in West Midlands remain under-represented across public life according to a new briefing from Fawcett Society.  The report finds that evolution deals and metro mayors offer a new way forward for public services and economic growth – but so far they have not offered change on women’s representation. To deliver on that vision for devolution, it says that women’s voices must be heard.

At the top table of Metro Mayor Andy Street’s West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), just one of the 30 people who hold a vote on West Midlands (WM) policy is a woman. If chief executives are included, who are in the discussion but not formal voting members, just 21% of people around the table are women – so the 51% of people in the West Midlands who are women are not represented.

That under-representation means that there is a risk that issues that disproportionately affect women may be left by the wayside which is why the Fawcett Society, working in partnership with Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC) and West Midlands Women’s Voice, have embarked on“Making Devolution Work for Women”. The Mayor and Combined Authority need to hear the diverse voices of women and girls on the public services that affect their lives if they want to make the West Midlands a growing economy, inclusive of all of its residents.

This briefing represents a first look at data on key public services in the West Midlands, which are part of the devolution policy debate at differing levels.   It looks at employment and skills, an area which is key to the new Mayor’s economic regeneration plans. Worryingly, we finds that West Midlands has a widening gap of 12.4% in the proportion of women and men who are employed, even as that gap is closing nationwide. The gap is even greater for BAME women.

While the West Midlands gender pay gap is similar to the level across the UK, progress to close it remains slow.  Fawcett Society’s new data shows that there is also substantial gender gap in subject choices, often in shortage areas that are key to WM growth. Women make up just 1% of construction and 8% of engineering apprentices – but the majority of health and care trainees.

The report looks at care – both for adults and children – and find that women are over-represented in both unpaid care and the social care workforce. 23% of that social care workforce in the region is on a zero-hours contract. 28% more women than men provide unpaid care in the West Midlands, and the sufficiency of childcare is worse than in the UK as a whole.

Finally the report looks at transport. Up-to-date West Midlands data is scarce, which Fawcett Society argues ought to be remedied. But the national trend shows that women use different modes to men and in different ways, making the case for a gendered lens on transport. Women use buses more, and rail and bicycles less.

Overall, this research uncovers that there are still substantial inequalities in the region, which are a threat to overall productivity as well as holding back the women who face them. The Fawcett Society’s polling finds that 73% of women and 70% of men in the Midlands agree that a more gender equal society would be better for the economy – and 66% of women in the region feel that more needs to be done to achieve equality.