Herd Immunity

  • Big Thinking
  • Economics

Gender inequality in our economy has delivered the same outcomes, over and again. What if our industrial strategy addressed sectors where women are marginalised and prioritised those dominated by women? One day, says Erika Rushton.

When Dominic Cummins proposed herd immunity, he must have skipped his biology homework. Herds are run by matriarchs and organised to keep predators at bay.


The ugly truth of gender inequalities was spatchcocked for all to see by the Coronavirus pandemic. In our neighbourhoods, the murder of women, by men, in their own homes almost doubled in the first 20 days of lockdown. Nationally, women served on the front-line as care workers, nurses, retail assistants and cleaners and were rewarded with a handclap (medals and monetary rewards have yet to be issued). And globally, women leaders, in the main, managed to murder fewer of their populous.


In October 2019 I gathered with 25 women, from different sectors, geographies and communities, classes, races and religions to re-write an industrial strategy from a women’s perspective. In One Day.


It started with an angry tweet in response to the region’s Industrial Strategy Position Statement which promised growth, for half the population. The plans ignored 30 years of evidence that the inclusion of women is economically and socially beneficial for everyone. The sectors in which women are marginal – manufacturing of cars and pharmaceuticals; data analytics and artificial intelligence and energy; offshore wind and hydrogen production – were prioritised and those dominated by women were categorised as low value and consequently unworthy of investment.


So, on the 30th birthday of the Women’s Budget Group we got angry, ugly, laughed, disagreed, googled, imagined, wrote, collaborated, produced and published, in a day, an alternative industrial strategy. It’s called One Day. As Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said to a gathering of over 100 women at One Day’s launch – on the last day before lockdown – we are evidence Northern women can show the UK a thing or two about productivity.


Science is the result of repeated experiments or observations that predict outcomes under the same conditions. Between us we had a collective 1,000 years of gender experiments and observations. We found they had delivered us all the same outcomes, under all-too-similar conditions of overworking, fanning egos, stretching our hours, efforts and childcare arrangements to their limits. We played along, thinking ‘if we could be just a little bit better, we might scale the same dizzy heights as the guys we had outperformed, out-trained or out qualified when the tests were equal’; who were promoted ahead of us and now served as our role models, mentors or (employment) terminators.


Our scientific findings were validated by 30 years of research by the Women’s Budget Group that predicted, tested, and confirmed just how much better the outcomes are, for the vast majority of men and women, when the conditions for equality are in place.


For One Day we followed our own science.


Globally, 60% of new economic growth is coming from women and that increases to 80% when policies to narrow inequality are in place.

In physics, a theory that reliably predicts the results, becomes law. Globally, 60% of new economic growth is coming from women and that increases to 80% when policies to narrow inequality are in place. Deloitte estimates that just by narrowing the gender inequality gap the UK economy could gain itself a £100 billion boost – but confirmed that only 2% of venture investment goes to women. 98% goes to men. So in One Day we made it law that 50% of regional public investment goes to women-led ventures.


Biology suggests living organisms are open systems that survive by transforming energy in order to flourish in their locality. The North West is home to 25% of the UK’s chemical and pharmaceutical industries, where women make up 50% of the workforce and are invariably better qualified than their male contemporaries. Yet only 10% make it through to decision making roles. 90% of all family healthcare decisions are made by women, yet 80% of drugs and health interventions are only tested on men. Black and minority ethnic women are 50% less likely to be given pain relief and 25% more likely to die in childbirth, despite the medical and technological advances funded by taxes we all pay.


For One Day, we made pharmaceutical companies and medical research an open system in which learning is freely shared in order to serve communities, rather than profits, so more women survive and flourish.


Chemistry illustrates how transformations take place, and energy is released, when one element is introduced to another. Conversely, it shows nothing changes when all the elements are the same.


The nine elected mayors of the devolved city regions, all men, meet each other and the prime minister monthly to talk about our collective recovery and our shared future. Some arrived with the slogan #BuildBackBetter, and I sincerely hope we do. But I wonder if, if women were at the table, the slogan might have read #CareMore. I wonder how many of our leaders – locally, regionally, nationally or globally – will take note of the evidence that countries led by women have, in the main, killed fewer people and suffered better economically and conclude they should step aside, confident in the knowledge populations and economies are, on balance, safer in the hands of women?

The Women’s Budget Group demonstrated, across seven nations, that investment in care delivers a better return than construction and creates twice as many jobs...

In just One Day, pre pandemic, a gathering of women recognised that care – paid and unpaid – is the foundation of a healthy and productive country, not a cost. We were unanimous in our call for care workers to be paid at least as much as construction workers because, the science showed, they deliver a better return on investment.


One Day is not a route map or recovery plan. One Day offers a reformation of the underlying causes that left us so ill equipped as a nation to respond to the pandemic; that relied too heavily on an economy that proved to not even have three months’ resilience in it; and exploited too readily the underpaid and undervalued efforts of so many women and men at a time of national emergency.


Matriarchs up and down the country have spent lockdown nurturing the green shoots of a kinder economy and are now recognising the predators. As we enter recovery some will follow a science. Others might follow the herd.

Erika Rushton is director of Creative Economist – working as part of the founding team of Kindred, offering new forms of money and peer-to-peer support to socially trading-organisations in Liverpool City Region; Islington Mill Arts Club in Salford, where artists are leading The Other City redevelopment of up to two hectares of urban space; and Hafod Housing in South Wales, where residents are invited to Dream Big.


The photography to accompany this piece is from a series by Kiana Bosman – check out @kiana.bosman on Instagram.


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