Women must lead the drive to true equality

Jennifer McKeever.
Jennifer McKeever.

The FTSE 100 lists only seven female CEOs – in fact, there are more men called Dave than there are women in that group of top business leaders in the UK.

I’d bet that if I showed you photographs of the 93 male CEOs – who are paid 77 per cent more than their female equivalents - it wouldn’t cross your mind to comment on their choice of clothes, their hair or their weight.

This is a scenario which I posed to students during a speech at the recent Ulster University Law Society ‘Law Ball’ at Magee Campus.

It was an honour to address the attendees and timely - given that we just celebrated 100 years since women won their right to vote - to acknowledge the work that remains to be completed in the battle for gender equality.

These students are among the law-makers of the future who will address the gender quality question through the prism of 21st century values. They didn’t need reminding that, despite great progress, our world in 2018 still does not treat men and women the same.

I have faith that they understand that equality means the equal distribution of high ideals, such as respect and recognition, and also the practical elements of everything from personal safety, equal pay and responsibility for children.

Equality must be the starting point - equality for men and women of every colour, religion and sexual orientation.

I believe that law students who celebrated together at the ‘Law Ball’ will have a unique appreciation of the fragility of rights and equality as they develop their knowledge, skills and aspirations at a time when Donald Trump’s school of governing is shaping global politics and Brexit is moulding the future of the UK and Ireland.

They will have an appreciation that, sometimes, the road to a more enlightened society is not built on a straight line and that rights - even when fought and won - can become eroded.

One of the key ways to ensure equality is for more women to get involved at every level of business, government and civic society.

Women in leadership just like Eimear Blaney, the presiding President of the University of Ulster Law Society, will lead the drive towards parity with our male counterparts.

Only by taking on the challenges of leadership can we drive for true equality. We can then, perhaps, also gain parity in number with the Daves, Johns, Michaels and the rest on the FTSE 100 and well beyond.

Jennifer McKeever is the 75th President of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce. She is the founding director of Airporter which connects Derry to airports in Belfast.