Atalanta at The Arts Club: “A Woman’s Place is in Politics”

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Yesterday, we had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion at The Arts Club, featuring a line-up of inspirational and accomplished women in UK politics: Baroness Anne Jenkin, Conservative Member of the House of Lords; Jess Phillips, Labour Member of Parliament; and Bethany Wheatley, digital strategist and former Conservative Party Digital Director.

The panel, moderated by Atalanta founder & CEO Eva Barboni, looked at the state of women’s political representation in the UK and what is being done to try to accelerate progress towards parity.

Baroness Jenkin, who co-founded Women2Win alongside then MP Theresa May in 2005, set the stage by highlighting the importance of having women’s voices around the table: “It matters because women’s life experiences are different to men. They’re not superior or inferior but they are different, and that difference needs to be better reflected in Parliament.”

Phillips stressed the experience and knowledge that women bring to Parliament, noting that women tend to have more political experience than their male counterparts when they are elected as MPs, and that they tend to have more degrees. She also highlighted one particular type of experience that helped her prepare for politics: “Being a barmaid was the best job that trained me for public life. I was a barmaid for five years [in evenings while working another job]. The ability to talk to people who are cross...and drunk...no political apprenticeship can teach you to be put in a room and just chat to people.”

The conversation also addressed the impact of online sexism and harassment, with participants reflecting on the findings of Atalanta’s recent report, “(Anti)Social Media: The benefits and pitfalls of digital for female politicians.”

Speaking about the effect of online harassment, Phillips said: “When it first happens to you, it's absolutely shocking…I was getting hundreds and hundreds of messages a minute.” She added that the harassment cuts across party lines, noting: “Tory women, Labour women will think before they send out a message, not because they’re scared, because they’re tired and have a hundred other things to do today. It silences women. It shuts them up.”

Wheatley, who put a system in place for women candidates in the Conservative Party to report online harassment, added "We said (to the candidates) ‘you need to go to the police if you feel threatened and they are making an actual threat against you. You should never feel unsafe when you are carrying out your job.’"

Eva concluded by thanking The Arts Club and Director of Music & Member Events Susanna Warren for organizing the event, and the panelists and attendees for a dynamic and engaging discussion.

Eva Barboni