Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Delivering change through Networks

Something that I myself really came to appreciate last night was the power of networks and communications to bring about change. When we founded the Fabian Women's Network four years ago, we wanted to create a unique space in which women can engage in debate, discussion and networking. But that isn't an end in itself. It's also a means to achieving more. A real benefit that came home to me last night was the importance of networks to help an individual work out their own path in public life (or other sphere) – their stepping stones.
A common story I hear from older women who we see as having "made it" is that yes, they have got to the "top" but it was a harder journey and took a longer period of time. This was much to do with the difficulties of navigating choices particularly around work/life balance that women face more than men at different stages of their life. So one of the things I took away is how as women we can, and need, to support other women work out their stepping stones and negotiate their pathways efficiently and confidently.
This would have benefits not just for the individual, but for the country. Take some examples of our public life. Women currently form over 50% of the population, but 33.3% of public appointees; less than 20% of Parliamentarians; 13% of University heads and 10% of High Court judges. But there is no point talking about more women coming forward if we don't recognise and address much more the emotional and practical barriers that women face, but also recognise some of the very simple interventions - often one to one - that can help a woman move forward at her next cross roads. All of us have something we need but also something we can give. Being part of a network gives the opportunity both to give and take, and see social change begin to happen.