This week I start my induction into the conservative party with a bang by attending the launch of "Conservative Future Women" hosted by the Home Secretary Theresa May in London. It is one of the traditional glitzy political events that you find on all the main parties political calenders along side formal dinners, parties and drinks receptions and are ruled out by some as "all glitz and no substance". However I feel those people are missing their point and there worth.
We live in an age where men still dominate the top levels of the political and business world and where women still have to work harder to achieve the same as their male counterparts. Often the answer from the left is short term quick "wins" in the form of quotas, all women shortlists, positive discrimination all designed to bring women to the top quickly often regardless of the merit of the people involved.
The mistake supporters of tick box equality measures make is they misunderstand the fundamental reasons for the imbalance in 2012.
I will argue with anyone that women can achieve and be as good as if not better than anyone else and that we don't need "special treatment" "legs up" and positive discrimination to be successful in life and the very idea itself is oppressive and counter productive. The problems facing women are often based on the social environment we find ourselves in. Contry to popular belief when I and many other young people joined or join a political party we haven't planned out our route to number 10 or a career path to be Home Secretary, we get involved because we care about our local communities or want to make a small difference nationally. Once in the party we meet other like minded people, leaders, inspirational people and those who have already been successful and some may inspire us to look to get that "little bit more involved" and maybe get us to consider standing to become a cllr, take up a position in the party or even as an MP.
Here comes the first barrier women face. In a male dominated environment we can often feel isolated or lack the role models or inspiration to encourage us to make that next step, not through choice or any "direct discrimination" but just the informal social situations that happen around all grass roots political parties and the availability of people we relate to who can encourage us to get more involved. You add this too the fact that wanting to stand for public office isn't as easy as filling in a student election nomination form, you have selection panels, candidate applications, campaign planning, finances, local politics, winning over members all before you get anywhere near an election yourself. Often it will seem like an overwhelming task and getting the appropriate support to help push you on and over the barriers is so important. Traditionally men have often gained that support and advice informally over a pint in a pub or in close conversations with friends in the party they have made. Now with fewer visible women who have achieved success in politics and their "availability" across the country to guide and support women following in their footsteps being limited it is not surprising that many women may be stopped early on by these barriers and challenges.
What women need to help develop a parliament where the gender make up is more balanced are more visible successful women in those sectors to inspire and encourage the next generation of leaders to follow them, we need more opportunities to network and develop individual contacts that can help guide us on what can often be a tricky and complicated path to success and we need mentors and role models locally that develop our young leaders men and women to help them aspire and achieve their goals.
This brings me back to the start of my post where people claim these "party launches" and dinners and events are "all glitz and no substance" I'd argue the networking, inspirational people you meet, individual contacts you make to help support you in achieving your goals do more than all of the legislative positive discrimination measures labour introduced and their all women shortlists and quotas. We need to support our young people to achieve themselves not select those we want to artificially through un fair processes and tick box selections.
Conservative Future Women I believe stands for the values I've outlined above and I'm looking forward to meeting a room full of inspirational people tomorrow and sharing our experiences and support on our future journeys.