The 51%

What if gender equality was at the heart of local plans for a more inclusive economy?

Efforts to rebuild and recover economic prosperity in a time of crisis often fall back on morale boosting images of – generally male – executives, gathered around a building site with hard hats. Economic partnerships and task forces assembled to help areas develop new plans for the future, too, can struggle with diverse representation, not only from women but from marginalised communities of all forms. Even the way in which we evaluate economic progress – in assuming that it will emerge automatically from economic growth – underestimates the importance of prioritising economic equality and diversity as a foundation to a more inclusive economy.

That’s why, at CLES, we want to use the opportunity of International Women’s Day 2022 to ask: what would it mean to place gender and diversity at the heart of our plans for more inclusive local economies? We’ll be posing this question as part of a series of events designed to elevate the work that is taking place at a local level to challenge convention and to put gender and diversity at the heart of our economic plans.

“women experience inequality every day”

In our local economies, women experience inequality every day: at home, in work, in their incomes, in housing and transport. The statistics are familiar:

  • on average ,women earn 70% less than men;
  • they do nearly twice as many hours of unpaid work;
  • they accumulate half the private pension wealth that men do; and
  • are less able to afford a decent home.

For many women, these inequalities are compounded by wider systems of systemic disadvantage. For example:

  • women of colour earn between 10-28% less than white men and women;
  • across all sectors, women of colour are over-represented in low grade positions; and
  • non-disabled men, non-disabled women and disabled men all earn more than disabled women.

The pandemic has further exacerbated these inequalities, with women – particularly women of colour – absorbing the economic shock through job losses and earnings.

“not only a categorical failing of public policy…it’s also bad economics”

These realities are well documented and the evidence about how to address them is robust. But mainstream economic development has remained silent on how it will address the barriers women face. And so the juggernaut rolls on. With plans to “build back better” and create “shovel-ready jobs”, women are left behind in benefiting from the changes these plans seek to bring about and inequalities widen. This is not only a categorical failing of public policy but it’s also bad economics. Modelling by the Women’s Budget Group has found that investment in a universal care system in which care work is a well-paid career, would create 2.7 times as many jobs as the equivalent investment in construction.

“only a minority of places […] foreground an intersectional understanding of how wealth flows”

At CLES we have worked with many places that have long recognised the shortcomings of conventional economic development and are pursuing progressive alternatives. These approaches recognise the imperative to move to an economic model which drives benefit for workers, consumers and communities rather than ever greater wealth for the already wealthy few. But these approaches are not immune to patriarchy! While community wealth building is being pursued by hundreds of organisations across all regions and nations of the UK, it is still only a minority of places that foreground this in an intersectional understanding of how wealth flows around their economies. These pioneering organisations offer inspiration and leadership to us all:

Inspired by these examples, we at CLES are developing a programme of work to put gender equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our thinking and doing approach. During March we will be working with our community wealth building communities of practice (in local government, the NHS and housing) to explore this topic and identify practical ways in which community wealth building can be used to tackle inequality. Building on this, on 31 March we will be hosting an event to bring together people interested in these ideas. The event will inform a campaign for local economic equality: building connections, understanding and shared action to put women’s equality at the heart of local economic development policy and practice. Please join us by registering here.