If you were following me on Twitter while I was in Brighton last week at TUC Congress you might have noticed a bit of a theme developing in my feed regarding the dearth of women speakers and delegates there. If you weren’t, well obviously you wouldn’t have noticed, so here are some examples:

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Unsurprisingly this apparent absence of women from the rostrum and from the hall prompted quite some discussion among some of us, so when I got home I decided to take a closer look at the stats to see if it was all a figment of our collective imaginations, or whether it was indeed the case that women were underrepresented at the trade union movement’s most important decision-making forum.

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Thankfully the TUC provided male/female membership numbers for individual trade unions in the Congress Guide 2012 that was issued to all delegates. The guide also gave the individual unions’ male/female delegation numbers. So I’ve now put them all together and made this:

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Looking at the totals I suppose the first thing I should point out is that considering the unions listed here actually represent more men than they do women, because men make up the majority of members of these unions, it’s only right that there were more men than women representing the membership of trade unions at this year’s TUC Congress. That aside however, I do think there are some interesting figures here that bear closer analysis.

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So for example, while men make up 51.1% of the membership of the trade unions listed here, they actually constituted 58.2% of the delegates at this year’s Congress. For women the figures are 48.5% and 41.8% respectively.

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Also, out of 20 trade unions that have a majority female membership, 14 sent delegations to TUC Congress that were composed of either an equal number of men and women (seven) or a majority of men (seven). While out of 27 trade unions that have a majority male membership, only three sent delegations to TUC Congress that were composed of either an equal number of men and women (one – NASS) or a majority of women (two – EQUITY and the NUJ).

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I think what surprised me the most though was that even some of the bigger female majority unions like USDAW, the NASUWT and the PCS sent more men to Congress than women, while the UCU, which has almost equal numbers of men and women in its membership, sent more than double the number of men (16) than women (7).

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UNISON has a rule book commitment to proportionality, which it defines as: “the representation of women and men in fair proportion to the relevant number of female and male members comprising the electorate,” which is why it comes out of any analysis like this quite well. But even UNISON didn’t get it completely right. According to the figures provided in the TUC Guide, men make up 30% of UNISON’s membership and women 70%. The UNISON delegation however was 23 men (34.8%) to 43 women (65.2%): if the union had been abiding completely by its own rules on proportionality, it should have sent 20 men and 46 women.

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Unfortunately I don’t have the figures on how many men actually spoke at Congress compared to how many women, but the impression I got as a delegate was that we saw far more men at the rostrum than we did women. Certainly the bigger debates, by which I mean those that the media were most interested in, were heavily dominated by men.

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Later this year when Brendan Barber retires/moves to the board of Transport for London, the TUC will have its first ever female General Secretary. Frances O’Grady opened her speech to this year’s Congress by saying: “Well Brothers. You’ve been thinking about this for 144 years. Now….I don’t want to rush you but…” Well maybe we don’t want to rush them, but judging by some of these figures it’s probably about time we gave the brothers a bit of a nudge.

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Still, it will be interesting to see whether having a woman General Secretary will have an impact on gender representation at future TUC Congresses…

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