Sharon Hodgson has been MP for North East constituency, Washington and Sunderland West since 2005. When first elected as a Member of Parliament she was the only female MP in the whole of Tyne and Wear, as a result, she knows what it is like to be in a male dominated workforce. We spoke to Sharon about how careers have changed for women, her experience working in parliament and what can be done to reduce the gender gap in many industries.
When you first were elected parliament was even more male dominated than it is today, did this concern you when you first started as an MP?
When I was first elected to Parliament in 2005, I was the only woman MP in the whole of Tyne and Wear; one woman out of 13 MPs. However, we now see more than half of the constituencies in Tyne and Wear represented by women. Also within Parliament nationally, the number of women sitting on the green benches make up 32% of all MPs, up from 20% in 1997. This is a trend I hope to see continue, as there is still a lot more to be done on women’s representation in Parliament.
Whilst entering a male-dominated workplace did not concern me, it was clear from being elected that women were still seen as unusual in the House of Commons and can still be seen in that way today – especially when it comes to the way we dress or for even being here in the first place when often we can be mistaken for the wife of a male MP or a research assistant. It is issues like this that concern me and are part of why we need to address the gender imbalance in Parliament, so that such a culture does not exist any longer.
There is still a sense of “boy jobs” and “girl jobs” in a lot of sectors, is there anything you think parliamentarians can do to help tackle this problem?
Firstly, I would say it is not helpful for the Prime Minister to reinstate gender stereotypes on national TV. It is important as Parliamentarians to do all that we can to address gender stereotyping in our society, may this be that girls are meek and mild who play with dolls or boys are loud and boisterous who play with trucks. Gender stereotyping is a deep-rooted issue that affects both genders, and we should be promoting individuals to pursue whatever takes their interest in life – even if it doesn’t conform to out-dated cultural norms.
Schools are really pushing to engage with more young women and introduce them into STEM subjects, how different was this when you were at school?
It is a welcome push to see young women being encouraged to take STEM subjects, so that as they enter the world of work they can help balance out the gender inequality in these sectors. However, we must address the issue of teachers admitting to subconscious gender stereotypes in relation to STEM subjects in order to not waste the potential of any young women who could be the next mathematician or engineer.
“When I was at school, there was not as strong a push for young women to go into industries that we typically perceive to be male-dominated, and this was reflected in the school curriculum and the careers advice given to young women at the time, with many being pushed into home economics at school or into secretarial work once they were old enough to get a job. It is welcome that this is not the case any longer and the work being done now will hopefully ensure we see more women entering male-dominated workplaces.
We recently saw on twitter your daughter graduating with a 1st in Maths! Are people ever surprised when you say what subject your daughter chose?
Strangely enough I would say on balance more yes than no to this question which I wouldn't have expected in this day and age. People still seem to acknowledge Maths is a very serious and difficult subject and perhaps therefore think not something young women would want to do which is where the stereotyping comes in. People have also said she doesn't look the type either. Again reinforcing some odd stereotype. I would say on the whole though people are more impressed than surprised especially when they learn how well she did. She is going on to do a PGCE to become a maths teacher, so I hope she will be able to inspire more young women to take an interest in maths and a potential career in the subject; as she has done.
If you could give your 18-year-old self some career advice now what would it be?
If I was to give my 18-year-old self some career advice it would be the advice I got later in life when I heard Tony Robbins (a famous life coach) speaking, and that was “it’s in the moment of our decisions that our destiny is made”. Since hearing this inspirational quote, it has been a driving force in everything that I now do in life. Even before I heard this quote, I would say that this was something I always believed in, but I would like to go back and say this to my 18-year-old self so that it remains central in my mind as I made life decisions from an early age.
Labour Party female Members of Parliament.