Friday, 10 September 2010

Is Job Sharing MPs Idea Sexist?

I know it is being suggested by a female MP.

I know it's aim is to get more women into Parliament.

But is the idea from Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader, to allow job sharing MPs not inherently sexist. She s suggesting that people should be allowed to stand as a pair of representatives. Her aim to lift the ability of women to represent the people in the commons.

While her aims are noble, does not the suggestion that women are not able to work in Westminster because of the hours of commitment to do so full time a sexist position? Yes there are needs to allow female members to have the same rights as workers elsewhere. For example how would constituents react to a female member taking her full maternity entitlement? Also if that were to happen what arrangements could be made to cover the duties of that MP.

There are issues of childcare, schooling, the two-centred living for out of London MPs and hours of working which need to be addressed to make the job more attractive and doable for women, or maybe especially younger women with or hoping to start families. Too many of the Blair Babes from 1997 have already voluntarily stepped down from the House because of the pressures they faced.

For years part-time work was all that married women were able to take on. They had to juggle housework, childcare and job, so could only be employed elsewhere for limited hours. It was a glass ceiling on their achievement. How could a job-sharing MP hope to progress beyond the back benches? Is it really possible that a sensitive issue could be handed on to another minister and back again depending on the day of the week. The same would also apply to case work, if you are sharing a job on certain days of the week, how is a job sharing going to make the constituent feel about a sensitive issue if they have to talk to two separate individuals about it. There is a certain member/constituent trust, would that be broken by a job share.

There are issues to be addressed in Parliament of that I have no doubt, but I also think that the proposal from Ms. Lucas appears to have been poorly thought out and indeed is degrading to female politicians. Bear in mind that the Green Party breakthrough has come after the party in England and Wales did away with co-convenorship of the party for gender balance purposes and selected a single leader, a woman.

Yes encouraging women into the chamber is to be encouraged. But to do so by offering them part-time jobs there is surely not progress but a retrograde step.

Read also: Never one to shirk away from starting a debate here is what Kate Joester, the Green party candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith in 2010 (aka Rebel Rising) has blogged in response. Also found this article from Lib Dem Voice back in March which covers the issue.


  1. I think I disagree.

    I can see what you're saying, but the reality of life for many women is that they are responsible for childcare and running the house - and it's not always a bad thing. Why should they be excluded from serving in Parliament? If you think that paid employment is the only indicator of worth, then you're wrong.

    I'm not sure that job sharing MPs is viable in practice though - what happens if the 2 reps for an area disagree on an issue, for example? But why not explore the idea? It can't hurt.

    All the major parties fail miserably on gender balance at Westminster.

    It's vital for the health of our democracy that this changes and I'm open to any suggestion which inspires or leads to debate.

    I think enabling online voting or even participation for MPs would be a sensible move.

    I don't know an MP who doesn't work ridiculously stupid hours. That's not going to change - in fact it's going to get worse as constituencies get bigger. Maybe jobsharing could help preserve the health and reduce the stress on both male and female elected reps.

  2. Of course I don't mean that the only value of anyones worth is the job they do, and you know that. However, I am inverting the feminist argument that women are as capable of men doing the same job, for the same pay.

    Therefore now we have a leading woman politician, saying that the 'best' way she can see for more of them to get through the glass ceiling in her profession is to go part time. Of course I agree with you that the easiest way to share thet work load in multi-member STV wards, which really is job sharing but also in opposition to your colleagues. It is also a way that would increase female participation I believe, as it leads to less confrontational, male-dominated campaigning and politicking.

    Just floating the idea out there about have we done enough about other reforms, and of course the answer is of course not.

  3. True. I'm not sure that being an MP for an STV constituency which would be 3-5 times bigger than currently, would lead to each individual MP doing less work.

    The expectations not just of constituents but of the party are that MPs are available round the clock. Under STV on a job share basis, two candidates could occupy one candidacy on the ballot paper.

    I'm not convinced it is the answer, but if open to everybody could lead to less stressed, healthier MPs.

    Any employer knows that you get more than 1 full time employee out of 2 job shares, though.

    Nothing tried so far has worked. I agree that STV will really help with diversity and culture of politics but it won't resolve the hours issue, nor will it resolve the travelling issue.

    I think Caroline Lucas was right to throw this idea into the mix.

  4. I think job sharing is a good idea - and whilst there are some practical challenges with a little thought and creativity I'm sure they could be overcome.

    I'm always slightly frustrated by this idea that any worthwhile activity must take 35+ hours to do. As an interim manager, I often go into roles on a full time basis but find very soon they are not _ I'm able to cut my hours back but those in permanent employment often find additional projects or responsibilities to make up the time.

    And you're forgetting the experience that many organisations have with part time and job sharers that they get much more that the hours they actually work - they are fresher and together are more effective than 1 full time equivalent.

    I can't remember which think tank it was but I do remember one prominent think tank that ran for many years with the Chief Exec as a job share!

    And why shouldn't job share MPs be promoted off the back benches - ministries care of many different sizes and I'm sure, again, with just a little creativity they could adapt.

    Because being a job share MP doesn't mean they have to be a job share minister - perhaps after a few years of being an MP their life may have changed sufficiently to make then able to take up the ministerial role full time - but if they're not in parliament in the first place we'll never know, will we.

    Your assumption that senior jobs in politics can only be done one way, the way made for men who didn't have any other responsibilities. That doesn't exist for Men or women nowadays so lets change the way we do things to suit everybody better.

    MP job shares is something that many of us women in politics have been thinking about for quite a while - in fact, I think Dinti Batstone wrote about it on Lib Dem Voice a while back.

    Sometimes, I think the Lib Dem membership put so many restrictions on how Gender Balance is to be achieved that we'll never get there.

  5. It's interesting that Lucas has opted to frame the debate as a gender issue by pre-emptive defence in that vein. While I think the suggestion has some opportunity for improving opportunity I'm not convinced that it's appropriate in the political space. By framing the debate in this way I think she's missed an opportunity to talk more about how representation is implemented.

    At the detailed level of this proposal, the key point for me is whether the portfolio of work is split between the two with a clear division of responsibility, or whether the two share the portfolio. Both have benefits and disbenefits. With the former it means that elements of the portfolio have only part time coverage, and the potential for both sharers to end up working excessive hours anyway. With the latter the opportunity to outmanoeuvre on a very regular basis those being represented are at a significant disadvantage.

    The issue of MP workload is a significant one but I'm not convinced that this isn't an answer in search of a question. Would it not be more meaningful to more generally think about what MPs do, why they do it. My perception is that Lib Dems are quite vulnerable in this area as a key differentiator that we seem to apply pretty generally is attention to casework. Changing the relationship of the representative with the electorate isn't something that this will deal with, but it has the potential to open the debate around how we are represented, and that can only be a good thing.