Who holds the power in Corbyn’s majority-female shadow cabinet?

Dee Goddard, University of Kent

So the Labour party doesn’t have a female leader. Or a female deputy leader. Or a female London mayoral candidate. But it does have Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet that contains more women than men.

Back when Corbyn looked unlikely to win the leadership election, he made a pledge that the shadow cabinet would be 50% female and that the Labour party would tackle gender inequality head on.

And Corbyn has met his pledge of a 50% female shadow cabinet. In fact, he bettered it, appointing 16 women and 15 men.

Women MPs were appointed to various important roles on the shadow front benches. Angela Eagle becomes shadow business secretary and shadow first secretary of state, Lisa Nandy as shadow energy secretary, Lucy Powell takes the education portfolio and Diane Abbott as shadow minister for international development.

Indeed it seems that more women have been appointed to shadow ministerial posts than ever before.

But the gender balance does not permeate throughout the cabinet hierarchy. Corbyn has handed the four top shadow cabinet posts (leader, shadow chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary) to men.

The fact that the public, and political commentators, have highlighted the lack of women at the very top of Corbyn’s Labour party has demonstrated a shift in the electorate’s expectations about the gender balance of the top posts in political parties.

Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has defended Corbyn’s appointments by arguing that the hierarchy of the cabinet is an artefact of the 19th century. He has suggested that the health and education ministries (which have been allocated to Heidi Alexander and Lucy Powell) are top jobs under Corbyn’s leadership, as they represent the services that people interact with on a day-to-day basis.


Under Corbyn’s leadership, this may be the case. But he will have to work to persuade those concerned about the representation of women at the top of the Labour party that the old hierarchies of government will not persist. This will mean media exposure for a wide range of ministers (not just the shadow chancellor) and giving his shadow ministers more command over the parliamentary floor.

Shifting standards

In 2008, David Cameron, as leader of the opposition, set an objective that one third of his Cabinet would be female by the end of his first term in office. This was largely perceived as an attempt to decontaminate the “nasty” Conservative brand, and appeal to women voters.

And indeed, before the resignation of Maria Miller as secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Cameron’s cabinet was one third female. Famously, none of the eight Liberal Democrats appointed by Nick Clegg to the coalition cabinet were women.


In the cabinet appointed after the 2015 general election, exactly a third of all ministers permitted to attend cabinet were women – although they made up just 20% of those appointed as ministers of state – the highest rank of junior minister.

The tendency to appoint women to the most public posts while they remain under-represented in junior positions could be seen to show how party leaders are held to account on their pre-election pledges about women’s representation, even if they aren’t committed to promoting women at all levels of the party.

Corbyn has committed to promote women at all levels of the Labour party, and the early years of his leadership will test his commitment to the progression of women throughout the party.

Party leaders across the political spectrum in the UK and throughout Europe are under increasing pressure to appoint more women to the most high-profile political posts. As the most visible public representatives of the party, ministers and shadow ministers are the symbolic face of the party, and their demography shapes the electorate’s perception of the party and its leader.

Best on the left?

Whether driven by an attempt to suggest a feminisation of the party’s agenda or more simply to show that the party is not “pale, male and stale”, party leaders are aware of the public’s concern about the gender balance of the cabinet.

This is especially the case for left-wing parties across Europe. Voters expect these groups to be progressive on gender issues.

In 2004, the left-wing Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, appointed a majority female cabinet and a seven-months-pregnant defence minister. This was a clear move to signal his commitment to promoting women in the party, and the feminist left-wing agenda.

This ideology factor also explains the backlash against Corbyn’s appointments. As a socialist Labour leader, Corbyn was expected to be amongst the most progressive in his shadow cabinet appointments.

For the women who backed Corbyn during his leadership campaign, the lack of women in the core team of the shadow cabinet is disappointing. Especially after claims have emerged that Angela Eagle’s additional role as shadow first secretary of state was announced as a way to resolve the “women row” arising from Corbyn’s early appointments.

It will be up to the Labour leadership in the upcoming weeks to determine how much exposure the women in the shadow cabinet receive. It is clear that there is a public appetite for the representation of women in the most high-profile roles of Labour’s shadow cabinet. If Corbyn believes that he has given the real high-profile jobs to women, he’ll need to prove it to the media and in the House of Commons.

The Conversation

Dee Goddard, PhD Candidate, University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Lack of women professors means research grants are skewed towards men

Paul Boyle, University of Leicester; Henrietta O’Connor, University of Leicester; Kate Williams, University of Leicester; Lucy K Smith, University of Leicester, and Nicola Cooper, University of Leicester

Our new research has shown that when women working in the social sciences apply for a research grant, they are just as likely as men to win funding. But while there is equality in the success rate, the fact that so few women are in professorial positions applying for grants means men still get more research money than women in the social sciences.

The role and inclusion of women in science has attracted considerable attention recently. Rightly so. Cambridge physicist Athene Donald has recently highlighted that girls’ early years and their socialisation as they develop, is likely to have a role in women’s subsequent careers. However, we also need to focus on how women succeed once they have embarked on a career in academia.

One important measure of success is the receipt of competitive research funding. Our analysis, published in a Nature comment piece, considers whether men and women submitted similar numbers of applications, were equally successful and were awarded grants of similar size by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Previous studies show that women’s success rates are worse than men’s in European Research Council funding: for example, in physical sciences and engineering, women submit 17% of grant applications and receive 15%. While data from the Wellcome Trust show that women in biomedical sciences receive significantly smaller grants than men.

We compared how well women and men fare in the social sciences. It is true to say that women are better represented across the social science disciplines than they are in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, but we remain far from equality.

Overall, we found that between 2008 and 2013, accounting for academic position, success rates for women and men were equal and the size of grant awarded was similar at the ESRC. Indeed, women aged under 40 were significantly more successful than men and received slightly larger grants.

However, overall women received only two-fifths of the ESRC funding over the period. This meant women received 41% of the £127m distributed. The underlying reason for this was the representation of women in senior positions. While there was a similar number of men and women in non-professorial social science positions in the UK, less than a quarter of professorial positions were held by women, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Women professors were as successful at winning grants as their male counterparts, but because there were fewer of them, far more grants were awarded to men.

Structural impediments

Fortunately, much is already being done in the UK to try and redress this imbalance. The Research Councils have published a concordat which includes expectations for both themselves and the institutions that receive their funding to promote diversity and equality. Notably, under Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, the National Institute for Health Research took bold steps to link eligibility for funding to performance in the Athena Swan programme, which awards institutions and departments for their work supporting women.

Even so, we argue that there are structural impediments to gender equality in academia. Across UK academia as a whole, less than a fifth of all professors are women and, according to the University and College Union, at the current pace of change it will take 39 years for women to be represented equally among the UK professoriate.

Leading the way: Ruth Luthi-Carter, chair of neurobiology of behaviour at the University of Leicester.
University of Leicester.

Men still do not have the same work-life balances or child or parental care responsibilities as women, so unless structural changes are implemented within universities and funding agencies, change will be slow. Like many universities, our own institution, Leicester, has recognised the need to rebalance – and we are taking practical steps, including championing women’s roles, revising our promotion criteria and encouraging both women and men to recognise and react to inequality.

Gender equality issues must be embedded in work practice and women’s career progression should be supported by promotion criteria that allow for career breaks and part-time working by focusing more on the quality than the quantity of publications and grant awards.

Our research also includes a series of recommendations, including that all funding agencies should submit their data annually to independent scrutiny of gender differences in applications, success rates and award sizes. The funding agencies and universities should also come together to discuss these and other strategies.

Global action

We are therefore supporting the UN global HeForShe movement, which aims to engage and encourage one billion men and boys to take action against the gender inequality which women face across the world. Ten prime ministers, ten CEOs of global companies and ten universities have been chosen worldwide to act as HeForShe impact champions to lead this initiative, and we are proud both that the University of Leicester is one of those ten, and that the UN will be launching its UK initiative at Leicester later this month. This seems particularly fitting, as when the university was founded in 1921, eight of the first nine students were women.

There is no good reason for women to be under-represented in senior posts. It is clearly not a result of innate differences in intelligence or ability. Gender equality is not a matter of being “nice” to women. In the higher education context it means ensuring that the very best people go into and remain in research and teaching for the benefit of society. Women in our universities are just as imaginative and talented as men but, sadly, our academic system has worked against them since its very beginning. We really must change this.

The Conversation

Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester; Henrietta O’Connor, Professor of Sociology, University of Leicester; Kate Williams, Senior Research Fellow in Nursing, University of Leicester; Lucy K Smith, Senior research fellow in health services research, University of Leicester, and Nicola Cooper, Professor of Healthcare Evaluation Research, University of Leicester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Children, Parenting & the #APSA2015 ‘Baby Ban’

A round-up of blogs and commentary on APSA’s decision to ban children from the exhibit hall at last week’s annual conference in San Francisco:

APSA discussion on children’s access to the exhibit hall

Some Thoughts on the Great APSA Baby Ban of 2015

Poli Sci’s Baby Ban

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In Defence of Lovenduskianism


Rosie Campbell, Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

In a recent post on the PSA Women and Politics Group’s blog, Jonathan Dean reflects on the June 2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender, as well as the state of gender and politics scholarship more broadly. Dean argues that the conference has made visible a number of struggles within the gender politics community and suggests that the core tension lies between those ‘Lovenduskian’ scholars interested in ‘feminising politics’ versus those who are interested in ‘politicising gender’. The first strand, he argues, considers the gender dynamics of political institutions to be the core area of study for the sub-discipline, whilst the second views the subject of gender itself to be a political project.

We welcome this call for dialogue between the diverse strands of gender and politics scholarship. However (in the spirit of this dialogue), Dean’s musings on the ECPG conference also provoke unease. Here we are reminded of Joni Lovenduski’s ECPG keynote speech, in which she cautioned those present against the misrepresentation of previous generations of feminist scholarship – arguing for a ‘slow science’ approach in which earlier feminist work is valued where it is relevant and new research builds on (and extends) what has gone before without claiming to overturn it. In short, we should avoid the temptation of ‘neologizing’ and underplaying continuity and convergences in the ‘stories we tell’ about developments in feminist analysis[1].

Yet, in setting out the supposed tensions between these two strands of gender politics – ‘feminising politics’ and ‘politicising gender’ – Dean constructs an oppositional relationship between those of us who retain the objects of mainstream political science as our focus of study (and who have, in his view, had our day), and those who are interested in a ‘wider range of theoretical and empirical concerns’, including migration, the post human, and the lived experience of LGBTQ communities. But is this necessarily so? Are not these lived experiences a key part of the analysis of how gender relations are demarcated and processed through political institutions? And is it really fair to characterize institutionally-focused feminist political science as a ‘limited’ political project? In insisting that gender is central to political processes and institutions, feminist political science has posed (and continues to pose) a fundamental challenge to conventional understandings of the political, linking public and private and formal and informal spheres[2]. Studying formal (and informal) political institutions is therefore crucial if we are to understand the practices, ideas, goals and outcomes of politics; the relations of gender power within and across institutions (and their intersection with other axes of inequality); and the general and gendered mechanisms of institutional continuity and change – as evidenced, for example, in the rapidly growing and diverse field of feminist institutionalism[3].

Dean goes on to argue that the central aims of these two projects also differ – the first strand aims to gender political science, while the second aims to politicise gender. Really? Feminist empirical political scientists have continually challenged the concept of gender and the category ‘woman’, conceiving of it as a social construct that reproduces gender hierarchies (which feminist activism seeks to disrupt). Indeed, Joni Lovenduski herself challenges a binary conception of gender and problematizes the categories of man/woman in her writing[4] – and has been making nuanced arguments about feminising politics and politicising gender for a very long time, evidenced, for example, in her agenda-setting review of the state of the discipline published in 1998. At its very core, then, feminist political science has always understood that gender relations are inherently political, and also that differences among women and men are at least as important as differences between women and men – thinking of, for example, Lovenduski’s early research (with Pippa Norris) on gender, race and class in the British Parliament; Mary Hawkesworth’s analysis of processes of racing-gendering in the US Congress; Nirmal Puwar’s conceptualization of women and BME MPs as ‘space invaders’; work by Laurel Weldon, Melanie Hughes, Mala Htun, Karen Celis, Liza Mugge, Silvia Erzeel, and many others on intersectionality, women’s representation and gender quotas . . . and the list goes on.

Nonetheless, society continues to demarcate individuals as man/woman- even in a context of transforming gender roles and identities – the overwhelming majority of individuals in society identify themselves as either men or women, and policy and practice continues to treat individuals it believes have or might become pregnant differently from those it considers ‘free’ from this ‘encumbrance’. It is, therefore, sadly still too early to drop the old binary of ‘sex’ in political research. For example, in a simple act of counting Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs demonstrated that 45% of British MPs who identified as women and 28% of MPs who identified as men had no children[5]. To consider the intersection between ‘sex’ and parenthood in this way is obviously a simplification that ignores variation in family structure, but the stark differences show clearly that power structures still serve as a barrier to the presence of people who identify as women and are parents in the British Parliament.

Motherhood/fatherhood/parenthood are categories that feminist political scientists, identified by Dean as ‘strand one’, would like to see blurred and the boundaries dissolved, but today, despite real progress, the old categories remain largely intact; ‘women’ still undertake the majority of unpaid caring work. To ignore this because we don’t like it or because it seems dated is to miss discriminatory practices that continue to affect ‘women’s’ lives. The study of symbolic representation is an important addition to the study of descriptive and substantive representation but it need not replace them. Counting the number of individuals identifying as women, LGBQT, BME, disabled, and so on, within our institutions remains an important element of researching gender and politics. It is also a political activity – counting bodies has been an effective way of politicizing the under-representation of women (and other marginalized groups) and of holding political actors to account – and many political parties and institutions still don’t count for themselves[6]. And while Dean questions the ‘limited emphasis’ on formal representative institutions in feminist political science, parliaments remain an important site of representation, as demonstrated by the extensive body of work on the importance of women and feminist legislators as ‘critical actors’ or ‘gender equity entrepreneurs’ in effecting change. Empirical research of this kind is crucial to identify barriers to be negotiated and dismantled.

The ‘Lovenduskian tradition’ sounds rather grand but sadly the institutional weight and recognition that Dean attributes to it does not feel entrenched but instead hard fought for and continually contested – often in the face of significant resistance and ongoing marginalization. Such a characterisation also obscures the multiplicity of approaches and perspectives within what has always been an eclectic, open-minded and broad ‘church’. For feminist political scientists, then, it seems to be a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ – attempting to engage with (and be intelligible to) mainstream political science whilst being part of a wider inter-disciplinary gender studies community, but, in the end, being dismissed by all sides. Yet, while Dean may feel that losing this distinctiveness in our analytic project is a price worth paying, putting women and gender on the mainstream political science agenda is as important as ever – particular in a time when discrimination against those who identify as women remains ubiquitous and, in an age of austerity, increasing. The research agenda that Dean argues for is a complement and a natural partner of Lovenduskianism, but it needn’t swallow her whole.

[1] See Clare Hemmings (2005) ‘Telling feminist stories’, Feminist Theory, 6 (2), 115-139; Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay (2009) ‘Already Doin’ it for Ourselves? Skeptical Notes on Feminism and Institutionalism’, Politics & Gender, 5 (2), 271-280.

[2] For comprehensive reviews, see Joni LovenduskI (1998) ‘Gendering Research in Political Science’, Annual Review of Political Science, 1, 333-56; Fiona Mackay (2004) ‘Gendering Representation in the UK: The State of the Discipline’, The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 6 (1), 99-120; Vicky Randall (2010) ‘Feminism’ in D. Marsh and G. Stoker (eds) Theory and Methods in Political Science. 3rd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[3] See for example Meryl Kenny (2007) ‘Gender, Institutions and Power: A Critical Review’, Politics, 27 (2); Fiona Mackay, Meryl Kenny and Louise Chappell (2010) ‘New Institutionalism Through a Gender Lens: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism?’, International Political Science Review, 31 (5), 573-588; Mona Lena Krook and Fiona Mackay (eds) (2011) Gender, Politics and Institutions: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[4] Joni LovenduskI (1998) ‘Gendering Research in Political Science’, Annual Review of Political Science, 1, 333-56; Joni LovenduskI (2005) Feminizing Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[5] Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs (2014) “Parents in Parliament: ‘Where’s Mum?’.” Political Quarterly 85(4):487-92.

[6] See also Linda Trimble and Jane Arscott (2003) Still Counting: Women and Politics Across Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


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The Gender & Early Career Researcher REF Gaps

Originally posted on Stephen R. Bates:

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates and Steve McKay

Men in psychology, economics and biology are so good at research that 29-30% achieved 4* outputs in the last Research Exercise Framework (REF). Women in theology; anthropology & development studies; sociology; aeronautical, mechanical, chemical and manufacturing engineering; civil and construction engineering; agriculture, veterinary and food science (and men in art & design) are perhaps not so impressive: only 13-14% achieved 4* outputs in these units of assessment (UoA). Overall, 22% of men and 19% of women submitted to the REF produced 4* outputs. These apparent differences in purported research quality were highlighted in one of the supplementary reports accompanying the recent metrics review by HEFCE, The Metric Tide*.

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Sexism in Political Science

Two recent blogs by Stephen Saideman (Paterson Chair in International Affairs, Carleton University) on the topic of sexism of political science, which may be of interest:

‘Sexism in Political Science: Fact or Fact?’

and the follow-up on what men can do to combat sexism in the profession: ‘Tyranny of Low Expectations: Doing More than the Annual Blog Post’

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2015 Undergraduate Essay Competition Winners Announced!

The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group is delighted to announce the winners of our annual Undergraduate Essay Competition. This year’s judge, PSA Women and Politics Co-Convenor Dr. Fran Amery (University of Bath), noted the outstanding quality of this year’s essays, stating: ‘This was a difficult contest to judge due to the extremely high overall standard of the essays submitted, which contained nuanced critical discussion of a range of issues in gender and politics and feminist political theory. Subjects ranged from the gendering of civil wars and peace processes, the effect of the media on gendered party campaigning, and the substantive representation of women and men, to the relevance of intersectionality to feminist theory. All of the candidates should be proud of their work.’

Our 2015 winners are:

First Prize – Letty Davis (SOAS): ‘Pinkwashing and Homonationalism: Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Israel’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr Rahul Rao) explores the interplay between hard and soft power in world politics through a discussion of ‘pinkwashing’ and homonationalism in Israel. The essay contends that Israel maintains a balance between unrivalled regional military strength and cultural appeal to the West through its display of democratic and pro-LGBT values, and goes on to explore the interplay between these two facets of power in the sexualisation of IDF soldiers in the Israeli pornographic film Men of Israel. The nuanced handling and seamless integration of queer theory, postcolonial theory and the more mainstream International Relations literature make this essay truly worthy of first prize.’

Second Prize – Natalie Lovell (University of Leeds): ‘Critically examine the importance of ‘intersectionality’ for feminist political theory and activism’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr Alexa Athelstan) draws on the work of Anna Carastathis to argue that intersectionality provides four principal benefits to feminist political theory: simultaneity, complexity, irreducibility and inclusivity. Each of these analytical benefits is exposited with textbook-perfect precision, and the essay demonstrates an extremely sophisticated grasp of the intersectionality literature.’

Congratulations Letty and Natalie!

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