Think of the main British players (decision makers, analysts, media commentators etc.) on how to deal with the effects of the credit crunch: Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Mervyn King, David Blanchflower, Vince Cable, George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Robert Peston, Evan Davis, Martin Woolf, Will Hutton, Larry Elliot... It's hardly a list notable for its diversity is it? Whilst there are a few notable exceptions (including Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Yvette Cooper), it is generalyy the case that the tops of economics, finance and banking are overwhelmingly dominated by white men. This is not an exclusively British phenomenon - I'm not sure exactly how many of the G12 or EU finance ministers are women, but I'd hazard a guess it's a very small minority. It certainly compares unfavourably with the world of foreign affairs - where Hillary Clinton is taking over at a State Department previously headed up by Madeleine Albright and Condi Rice, whilst Margaret Beckett became the first woman to be the Foreign Secretary in the UK. Perhaps this reflects gender stereotyping - woman are good at touchy-feely diplomacy, but leave the tough number-crunching to the hard-headed men. To my knowledge, we are still waiting for the first woman head of the Federal Reserve, the first woman Govenor of the Bank of England or the first woman Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Of course, if the decisions are still being made overwhelmingly by white men, the effects of the credit crunch are felt by a much more diverse section of the population. Women or BME workers are noticeably better represented in the groups whose jobs at risk from the HBOS/Lloyds TSB merger, or in the families who will find their homes repossessed. Politically, how women voters evaluate the government's performance in helping people through the recession will be critical to the outcome of the next election. To "get it right" it is vital that the government listens to womens' concerns. This is why it was so important for Labour to take positive action to get more women elected to the government benches, and why it is so important that a Speaker's Conference will be reviewing how the rest of Parliament can be made to look more like the kind of society we live in. It is why Labour's treasury team was right to fast-track increases in child-benefit, to help working families through this difficult period. But at the same time, if government welfare reforms are seen as coercing women with young children into work, forcing them onto an already overcrowded job market (at a time when employers are looking to reduce staffing) or punitively cutting back on benefits, it will hardly reassure the electorate that Labour is putting fairness at the heart of its economic recovery plan. Yes, provide information and support to give every assistance where women seek to improve their employability. Likewise, with female life-expectancy greater than that of their male counterparts, and with low interest rates wiping out income from savings, the prospect of council tax hikes would disproportionately hit women of pensionable age. The thrusting young city-boys on the trading floors, the grey-beards in the banking industry, and the "masters of the universe" who run the global economy might have got us into this mess - but now it's time for other voices to be heard. Labour would be well advised to listen.