Breaking down barriers: Politics and business are crying out for ambitious women's brilliant ideas - CityAM

Politics used to be a man’s game: in the early 20th century, parliament was a club to which women were not invited. Laws were made by men, for men.

Gladly, things have changed beyond recognition. We now have our second female Prime Minister, while 2017 saw a record number of female MPs elected.

We might still be in the minority, making up just a third of the Commons, but I’m doing my best to change things. Tonight, I am speaking at the LSE’s Women in Politics Society, to encourage more ambitious young women to take the plunge.

We need them, their energy and their insight, because British politics faces a host of new challenges.

Following Brexit, we need to forge a new path to prosperity, and that means we need to bring down the barriers to politics.

Because with more people from different backgrounds forcing their way in from the outside, we get more competition and, as their ideas clash with old ones, the best of them come to the surface.

The same concepts hold true for British business.

A report published by the British Business Bank last week showed that men have a virtual monopoly in venture capital funding: over 90 per cent goes to all-male founder teams.

By contrast, just one per cent goes to founder teams that are all-female.

This cannot be allowed to continue. As we leave the European Union, we need to be more competitive than ever.

We cannot afford to ignore half the population and all their great ideas. If we are to create the Googles and Apples of the future, then all of our team has to be out on the pitch.

If women started businesses at the same rate as men, we would have 1.2m more of them in the UK.

Not only would this be fantastic for the economy, but for female independence as well – the ultimate goal for the free-market feminist.

So, what’s the solution? I think there are two parts to it.

First, women have to be bolshie and push themselves forward.

Too often, those women that have made it to the higher echelons are told to behave themselves and not make a fuss.

They’re urged to be grateful for the system that got them to the top, rather than be angry about its basic unfairness.

I believe in the opposite: because there are fewer of us – in every field from politics to pop music – we need to make more noise.

We have to be bold, trust in our own ideas, and ignore those who try to put us in our place.

We also have to encourage women and girls to love the idea of making money, take finance seriously, and reject the idea that the pursuit of profit is anything to be even remotely ashamed of. Alongside this, we need to encourage more girls to study maths and computer science.

At the moment, the proportion of girls taking A-level maths is 15 percentage points lower than for boys.

In simple economic terms, it makes sense to change this: better maths can lead to an earnings boost of more than 10 per cent.

But it goes further than that. Our world now revolves around technology and data, so maths skills give women power to shape the future.

The second point is that venture capital funds have to look beyond the usual suspects to find the massive talents we have in this country.

There has been a five per cent growth in new businesses over the last year, with fantastic startups springing up all around the UK.

But those companies are not going to be discovered if VCs just hang out in the same old golf courses and clubs around Shoreditch roundabout.

There has been an 85 per cent rise in 18-24 year-old entrepreneurs since 2015, making Gen Z the most business-minded generation we have seen. We need to do everything we can to seek them out, raise them up, and tap into their potential.

This can be the year when we put all this into action, when the female freedom fighters come to the fore, and change the old ways of doing things. With their energy driving us on, revitalising politics and turbocharging the economy, we all stand to benefit.