Project Description

Many people impress us with their flamboyant approach to life, using a force of energy or well-rehearsed presentation skills to make us sit up and listen.  Few people manage to attract the same attention with a quiet, measured approach but when it happens it’s often because of the compelling authenticity and strength of values within the person.  Many people might say that this is why they are drawn to listen to Dr Margo Thomas, but for me, as always, it was all about the colour.

I heard Dr Thomas speak in November at the Scottish Parliament. She is not young, tall or athletic but she engaged with her audience from the starting blocks of her presentation and spoke with a conviction that held our attention all the way.  As she spoke we understood that we were learning from a gracious leader who, despite her expansive knowledge and experience, would not speak down to us but wants to help us push forward together.  However, I was hooked before she said a word as a large swathe of rich gold lay just below her face in the form of an over-sized scarf.  A person with the insight to employ such an audacious use of colour to connect with her audience with MUST be worth attention.

Margo began talking to Scottish parliamentarians and business people by claiming that Scotland could be an example to the world.  In entrepreneurship terms I understood that to mean that Scotland could be the beach-head market.  If the nation embraces the notion of fully engaging women in equal work opportunities we could be a global example of the economic benefits of increasing women’s participation in paid work.  Margo spoke of the work of Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education,

“By not allowing women to engage equally in the workforce we are actually enforcing a tax on ourselves and future generations.”

For example, if the UK took this issue to heart and fully engaged women in paid work we could expect to add *£150 billion to GDP within 7 years. (*buckets of money which is equivalent to the UK’s current expenditure on education, defence and transport combined)

I don’t want to live in a world where social concern is trumped by economic greed and people don’t look out for neighbours or family without expecting some form of reward.  But equally I don’t think a society that expects citizens to carry out important tasks for free while rewarding less significant activity with money can expect anything more than unhappiness, intimidation and, in some cases, violence.  Margo pointed out that no matter how much wealth there is within a woman’s life the issues surrounding work and caring remain the same in nature.

But how can we enable half of the population to contribute to the economy when we don’t even realise when they’re working for free?  Many of us, both men and women, don’t recognise unpaid work, for example, accepting (or expecting) offers of care for our children by female relations without thinking that we’re maintaining the cycle of unpaid work and inequality.  Margo emphasised the need for individuals, the government and businesses to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid work.  Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund comments,

“Women’s economic empowerment isn’t just a moral must, it’s an economic no-brainer.”

If we consider women’s participation in the economy, as paid workers, as a means of safeguarding future generation’s economic development while ensuring the continuation of education for the young and care of the elderly then this issue must be put to the top of every political agenda.

Having completed her appointment as Chief Secretariat for the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment together with previous roles of leadership within businesses, including the World Bank, Margo is well-placed to challenge us in our lack of vision to engage all women within paid work.  However, her personal approach remains positive and encouraging with a challenge that is aimed at each individual regardless of gender – what can you do to tackle the issues that prevent women from engaging in paid work?  How can you open your perspective and help others to do the same, to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid work?

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