It’s a myth that women aren’t ambitious enough

Professor Claire Annesley, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Equalities and Diversity) - and Chair of the Staff Survey Steering Group

Professor Claire Annesley is head of the Politics Department. She’s currently researching the process of government cabinet recruitment … and training for the London Marathon.

As a child I always had a strong sense of right and wrong.  My parents had T-shirts made up for me and my sister with our catchphrases, and mine was ‘that’s not fair’.

My family was fairly political, especially my granddad. He had been involved with campaigns for setting up the welfare state after the Second World War and would try to engage me in discussions about politics and gender equality.

I studied German with Politics at university and it was hearing about women’s lives in former East Germany during my year abroad that really got me hooked on politics.

I’m currently looking at why so few women in history have made it to the ranks of cabinet, not just in the UK but across nine countries. I am trying to break down the myths that there aren’t enough women out there to take these roles or that women aren’t ambitious enough.

David Cameron could have created an all-woman cabinet. He had enough women among his MPs. But time and again we see that cabinets are formed from old boys’ networks. People get appointed because of their loyalty to the prime minister and those networks are very often male in composition.

One idea is that we should start scrutinising the merit of those already in office. We should make them justify their position rather than getting women to justify why they should come in. It’s good that the media is quick now to point out when there’s only one woman on a cabinet. The media has a powerful role to play in scrutinising political systems.

It’s unfortunate that Margaret Thatcher was not a feminist in any way. She showed that women can hold positions of power, but she didn’t do anything to help her sisters. Her network was almost exclusively male.

I did a lot of work looking at the impact of austerity on women. I am dismayed at how the welfare state is being ripped apart and how support for childcare and shelters for vulnerable women are being stripped out of local authorities.

There is evidence that women are more in favour of a redistribution of wealth, but until they are in power it’s hard to get those policies up there.  I would rather pay more in tax and have a welfare state that we could rely on.

I was asked if I would stand against George Osborne for the 2015 election. I was living in the Tatton constituency at the time. As someone who’s committed to getting more women into politics, part of me felt I had a duty to put my money where my mouth is. But the bigger part of me thought I couldn’t do this. I said no for the reasons why many women usually do – because I didn’t want to expose my family to public life.

I set myself challenges and am running the London Marathon again this year. I find running is the perfect way to reflect on my work and come up with new ideas.




By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 9 March 2016