Page last updated at 22:06 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 23:06 UK

Theresa May: My Life as a female MP

By Theresa May
Shadow Minister for Women

Theresa May MP
Ms May is dtermined to see fairness and equality in the workplace

I have worked in two traditionally male-dominated careers, firstly in banking before moving into politics.

In both professions I have never allowed being a woman to be an excuse or an obstacle.

When I was working in the City I tried to see myself as a person, achieving what I did on my own merit not because of or in spite of my sex. And it has been the same in politics. Yet regardless of this, there are others who have seen me differently, particularly the media.

For example, it is quite widely known that I like shoes.

This is not something that defines me as either a woman or a politician but it has come to define me in the eyes of the newspapers. I wore a pair of leopard-print kitten heels to a Conservative Party Conference a few years ago and the papers have continued to focus on my feet ever since.

Quite apart from the fact that I can never wear boring shoes now, it is frustrating that they missed the reason I was there - as the first female chairman of a major political party.

Frustrating

There are countless other examples of the message being drowned out by the package and to make matters worse I am often frustrated at the negative manner in which women's achievements are shown.

We tend to focus on the lack of women in business or politics or how tough it can be to balance work and family life when really we should be celebrating the great things being done by the women who are there.

Being a woman has never held me back
Theresa May, MP

Perhaps if we focused on the positive accomplishments of these women, we would encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Being a woman is not a barrier to anything and we need to shout about the triumphs of women to give confidence to others, to make them feel that they too can achieve and there are those that have gone before them and have the successes to prove it.

In my role as Shadow Minister for Women, I have been lucky enough to attend many events that reward high achieving women in the workplace. I have heard extraordinary stories about remarkable women from every part of working life that show as women, we can do whatever we want.

These women's achievements are inspirational and to be valued. The opportunities available for women today would be unimaginable to the majority of women 50 years ago.

However, many challenges remain.

Equality

One of my passions is fairness in the workplace, and I am steadfast in my pursuit of this.

In 2007 I launched Women in the World Today, a report showing how the Conservative Party intends to tackle the myriad inequalities of opportunity still faced by women today.

Theresa May shoes
Ms May gets frustrated that packaging is often more important than message

One of the most damning statistics for me is that of the gender pay gap - it is still there 30 years after The Equal Pay Act and actually increased last year to 17.1%. People are often shocked when I mention this figure to them; we tend to take equality between men and women for granted as if it is a box that was ticked off years ago. This is not the case. Whilst it is true that we have come a long way with the equality agenda we still have further to go.

So why does the pay gap persist? Why has it remained so stubbornly high? Because its causes are deep and complex, and yet the tools we have to fight it are blunt and inadequate. While some of the pay gap is caused by old-fashioned discrimination, the majority is caused by other issues.

I do not assume that just by passing another piece of legislation, you are going to get rid of it. I believe legislation such as extending flexible working rights and making the tribunal process more effective would help significantly. But as well as this we know that the pay gap is also cultural.

Political drive

That is why the Conservative Party want to work to inspire a culture change through 'soft' measures like encouraging girls to make more ambitious career choices, and improving careers advice in schools.

And I hope this will lead more girls and young women to choose a career in politics.

Being an MP is a great job for a woman - we make good MPs. We know how to listen, to multi-task and we like working as a team. I feel hugely grateful for the opportunity to work in politics, doing something that I am passionate about.

I decided to become a politician to make a real difference to people's lives, to be part of that debate. And being a woman has never held me back.



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