Political Leaders and Feminism – an uneasy relationship

Wearing a t-shirt that says “This is what a true feminist looks like” is relatively easy, but being a true feminist is more demanding. Perhaps there ought to be a test to determine whether you are or not, before wearing the aforementioned garment.

It is easy for our political leaders and others to don the shirt, but do they have the understanding or care about its meaning. Wikipedia claims that “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women”. There is however a marked distinction between ideology and actioNick & Edn.

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband clearly believe they are feminists but if they do, their claim should be backed up by their actions. What are our political leaders doing about….

Women in the boardroom – accepting Lord Davies’ view that quotas would be necessary if FSTE 100 companies do not achieve 25% women members by 2020. NOT ENOUGH!

Equal pay – putting pressure onto all companies to ensure the law against gender pay discrimination is upheld in all cases. Women still got paid 15% less than their male colleagues in 2012 according to The Fawcett Society – NOT ENFORCING!

Prize money and payment in sport – the prize money received by Arsenal women for winning the FA Cup was a third of one percent of what the men achieved for the same feat. The government could insist that golf, football, snooker and darts (and many others) follow the example set by tennis. NOT GETTING INVOVLED!

FGM – according to NHS statistics there are 66,000 women in the UK who have experienced female genital mutilation and about 20,000 girls under the age of fifteen at risk of it each year. Though it is illegal, in many communities, it is still happening. NOT PRESSURISING!

Page 3 – despite much pressure from across the political spectrum and beyond the daily red-tops continue to print their precious Page 3 glamour pictures, objectifying women. Politicians in power could make this illegal, but don’t. NOT RECOGNISING!

As a result of the above and other issues Britain has fallen to 26th in the gender gap’s global rankings, according to the World Economic Forum.

Yet our politicians wear the T-shirt with pride. Irrespective of the recent findings that the item is not Fairtrade (which, by the way, they should not ignore), they should be ashamed of themselves and work harder to generate real gender equality; do more, enforce, get involved, pressurise and recognise.

No-one is suggesting this should be easy but please try; this is, after all, 2014 and sexism is alive and kicking.

Posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, human rights, Prejudice, Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Question of Language – foreign or not? (guest blog)

It is my pleasure to reproduce a blog written by a friend and colleague of mine, Chris Markiewicz. He writes weekly, always producing something of interest. This week his title is Inwazja Angielskiego – not a phrase I readily understand, as it is his second language, Polish.

multilingual signs

What country am I in?

Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by language; the use and misuse of it. As a diversity practitioner, how words are used and phrases formed is fundamental to successful communication in the workplace and beyond. So I welcome Chris’ words to my blog page. I would be pleased to hear what you think and, if you find it of interest, you could visit his blog for more of the same.

Imagine walking down your local high street and seeing advertising slogans, signs and other such items written in say French or Czech or even in Cyrillic or Arabic script. I’m certain it could feel quite alienating and even invasive.

While working away in Central Europe (Czech Republic and Bulgaria) over the past two weeks, I was struck by the prevalence of English language about the place.

As I passed through my local shopping centre the day after my return, I tried to imagine how I might feel at such an intrusion from a foreign language.

Granted, English is considered to be the global lingo of commerce and international politics, but does it need to permeate so into peoples’ day to day lives through billboards, packaging and the like?

Maybe it’s a generational thing and, being a bit of an old timer myself, I’m pretty sure I’d find it doubly difficult to adapt. I fear though that nations’ cultures and individualities are being eroded by this onslaught of the English language.

Scanning the shelves of Bulgarian and Czech supermarkets I was at times lost and baffled by what might be contained within boxes, jars and bottles labelled in the local language. I accept this as part and parcel of visiting another land. However, many products had English as the prime language pasted across them – handy for me, yet how do many locals cope with that, and how might they feel? I’m not sure we’d tolerate the equivalent here in the UK – oh dear, is my “inner Farage” bubbling up here?

And this extends beyond the written. A few years back I was checking into the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw. I decided to engage with the receptionist in my mother tongue, to which he declared, in a US accent – “I’m sorry sir, I don’t speak Polish”. Looking around the place, I noticed that all the signs in the hotel were in English. Interestingly, the only signs in Polish were those denoting emergency exits!

Last Friday evening, on my way home from my trip, I was going through security at Prague airport – the bleeper sounded, alerting that some metal on my person had tripped the alarm. An airport employee approached me and said “Do you speak English?” You’d have thought that, being in his native country, he would have been perfectly within his rights to first ask whether I speak Czech and, only suggest English as a second option.

I find that quite sad.

Thus, I turn the tables with the Polish title to this post. Worked it out?

Do zobaczenia!

Thanks Chris, for your thoughts and stimulation. The inequality of language impacts on us all locally and globally. Next time I travel abroad I will work hard to leave my English in the drawer from where I take my passport.

Posted in communication, community, Guest, inequality, Prejudice | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Everyday Sexism – university campus misogyny

Having read the article in this week’s Guardian by Sally Williams entitled “Campus nightmare: female students on the rise of sexual harassment” I began to look at other article about gender inequality in the UK university system. I found another by Ms Williams from earlier this year called “Facebook’s ‘Spotted’ pages: everyday sexism in universities for all to see”. I felt obliged to make comment.

We are aware of the historical (and current) objectification, harassment and misogyny of women (No more Page 3), but these oppressive behaviours seem to be alive and kicking for female university students up and down the country.

I have spent the past thirty years working as a diversity practitioner. We all recognise that working environments have moved a long way towards gender equality, though recognise that there is still a way to go. Indeed, with regard to boardroom equality there may yet be a need to bring in quotas, as Lord Davies suggests, if public company boards to not achieve 25% women members by 2020.

With over forty years of gender diversity legislation, improvements are everywhere. In September one of the last bastions of men only space, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, finally voted to admit women. So why would misogyny be on the increase in our universities.

With a seventeen year old daughter about to enter the complexities of university application, comparing one against the other for courses, results and environment, I wonder should the level of misogyny also be part one of her assessment criteria.

Facebook allow (or at least do not prevent) university “spotted” sites from existing. It is on these pages that level of public objectification, overt sexism and humiliation can be seen. In the Guardian article there are several extreme quotes about sex and what the contributor would like to do to the object of their desire. Being inquisitive, I went to explore a Spotted page for myself and chose at random, the UCL Library Spotted Page. This is the text of the eighth post.

To the sexy medic brunette sat across from me…
I couldnt make out your full name but your surname is Bangham?!
I would bang you over and over again. Come on over, you can feel my hair and maybe something else*
The stud with the Afro xx
* In case I wasn’t explicit enough, I was in fact referring to my penis

This clearly does nothing for Ms Bangham, but neither does it do the writer any good, or for that matter, the high quality educational institution from where it emanates. What I found quite staggering is that the post has thirty-five “likes” from male and female students alike and several reinforcing comments too.Student

Perhaps I should also add that it’s not only comments from men about women on Spotted sites, but these seem to be the most humiliating.

How has our youth society dropped to this level of public sexism that in the workplace would clearly be considered illegal?

Sally Williams’ feature this week goes even further, describing pranks, practical jokes and initiation ceremonies that have no place in our higher education establishments or, for that matter, anywhere else.

I am not a prude, but cannot find any part of me to condone or accept the behaviours described in the articles. I wonder whether Facebook and the universities are themselves complicit by allowing the sites and the behaviour to continue.

Perhaps it’s time to take control and start campaigning against these Facebook pages. If your daughter or son is going to apply to university, why not check out the Spotted Pages from the institution they are applying to (easily found via Google or another search engine). Have a look and see what is going on. Amongst the many inane comments there is plenty of misogynistic harassment. If enough people report these sites for their content, eventually Facebook will have to respond.

I am fearful that the long term impact of this behaviour on young men and women will be a regressive step in the journey towards gender equality in the workplace. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s employees and managers. Hopefully they will leave their behaviours at their colleges and not take them into their future lives, potentially damaging forty years of gender equality work. If not, where will the glass ceiling be in twenty years – lower than it is, I suspect.

Perhaps it’s worth asking, what did you learn at your university?

Posted in gender equality, inequality, Sexism, teenage sexism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A small step for Lego – or a new management style

I was reading an article today entitled “Lego addresses gender gap with female scientist range”. Lego is introducing a new set, to include a chemist, an astronomer and a palaeontologist, all women. WOW! The Danish toymaker has launched the female figures with science jobs following a campaign to address gender bias issues. ILego' Women Scientists cannot imagine a smaller step, albeit in the right direction.

Let me explain. If you take a look at their website, you will see Lego feature four main pictures on the home page, gender neutral monsters, men only super hero, a men-only building site and women only friends posing in a range of modern provocative stances. Perhaps the men on the building site are wolf-whistling at them!Lego Friends

Nearly every page of the Lego website seems to have has a product for girls, it doesn’t say so specifically but the evidence of pink is there to be seen. Indeed, on each of the pages there is predominance of male orientated merchandise. On glancing through the site it appears that less than 10% is directed towards girls – until you get to the “creative” tab on the Games page. Here pink predominates as do the themes: Beauty Salon Game, Pool Party Game, Dressing up Game etc. Clearly not for boys!

I grew up when Lego was a toy for all. There were very few complete sets to buy, just blocks of various sizes and colours, windows and doors and the occasional wheel, hinge or connector. The result was a completely gender neutral toy which was also 1970s Lego Advertreflected in Lego’s advertising. As the toy has changed, so has the marketing, but is that an indictment of Lego or of our broader society?

The Boardroom of Lego (Statistics from their website) reflects similar gender ratio to the products – six men and one woman, whilst their management board has three women to twenty-two men. Is it any wonder that the company is male orientated. What influence, if any, do the women in Lego management have on the development of the product range?

All our companies are duty bound to serve their customers with the products they want and require. But they are can also be trend and thought leaders for society. It is time the toy industry (and all others) to be part of the solution rather than the problem that perpetuates gender inequality in our societies.

Not all girls want pink and not all boys want monsters and building sites. The challenge is to develop a gender neutral product range. Not only will this be more widely acceptable it will bring massive media coverage and public interest. This will bring more children into your customer numbers and therefore increase sales and profitability; a good deed for society and yourselves.

Be radical Lego, give us more than a female chemist or palaeontologist. I’m sure there are many diversity practitioners around the world who could advise how this could be done!

Posted in beyond diversity, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, inequality, Sexism | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Search for Justice – or just getting your man.

This article is a little different from my usual offerings, but I have felt compelled to write something.

Like the rest of the world, I am not in a position to know what went on that February night in Oscar Pistorius’ bedroom. Indeed, the only person who really knows the truth is the man himself.

In August 2012 Mr. Pistorius, as he is now referred to, was the subject of another blog article I wrote, just after he competed in the London Olympics. He was one of the three disabled people taking their place against able-bodied athletes. Then he was a hero, not just to me, but to many people around the world; a role model and a beacon of hope for so many.

Things have changed – but now, as then, I find myself gripped to the unfolding drama that is his daily life. I do not make any judgement about what he did and why. Nor will I comment about owning and being prepared to use a loaded gun; I do not know what is like living in a crime-ridden city, being really afraid for personal safety. I can only comment on what I am hearing daily; Mr Pistorius in tears; a broken man.Oscar Pistorius

Certainly, I have massive sympathy for the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp; her life violently and abruptly ended that night. I cannot image the pain and suffering they must have gone (and been going) through.

What I can comment on is what seems to be unfolding in the courtroom. This drama is drawing watchers in from around the world, even people who would not previously have heard of Oscar Pistorius. What are they seeing, a man seemingly broken by his own action, being attacked by a professional interrogator? Clearly Gerrie Nell is an accomplished lawyer, insisting on the story being told over and over. In the dock, Mr Pistorius, often in tears, forced into reliving the night that changed his life.

He fully accepts his part in Reeva’s death and is full of regret and remorse. He has apologised to her family and his followers, a heartfelt and truly genuine apology. Either his pain is real and deep or he is the best actor I have ever seen, providing an Oscar-winning performance. I suspect the former.

However, I know not whether he is innocent. I cannot make that judgement, but I have been horrified at the bullying tactics of the prosecution. Is this what any of us would expect if we found ourselves being cross-examined? Facing an adversary with a professional tenacity that refuses to let go. Though I have nothing to do with the case, sometimes he makes me feel guilty too. I cannot imagine what it must be like being attacked face-to-face.

I always believed that judicial systems are designed to get to the truth, not purely get a conviction. In this case, I wonder whether Mr Nell agrees?

Posted in Justice | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

82 countries where homosexuality is illegal

I found this blog listing the countries where forms of homosexuality is illegal. It makes for uncomfortable reading for some. Unfortunately, judging by the number of unsubscribers from my distribution list after my last blog, comfortable reading for others.

82 countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Posted in Equality & Diversity, Sexuality equality | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

No Double Beds Available – a religious response to equalities

When I go on holiday, I want to be able to share a room and a bed with my partner; whether we are married or not should be of no consequence. In last week’s news, I read a story of a thirteen room bed and breakfast establishment in Wales that has removed all double beds in order to get round an Equality and Human Rights Commission comment about it being illegal not to allow unmarried or gay couples to share a bed.

This issue has arisen before when in 2008 Peter and Hazelmary Bull, a Christian couple in Cornwall, refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed in their guest house. This led to a successful prosecution under the Equality Legislation and a subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court last November stating that their decision was sexually discriminatory. On the surface this may seem like an easy judgement to make, but when one person (or group’s) rights conflicts with another’s, it is usually more complex than first it appears.

Highland Moors Guest House

Highland Moors Guest House

In this second case, should Sue and Jeff Green, of the Highland Moor Guesthouse in Llandrindod, have the right to determine what goes on (or doesn’t) in their guest house? They claim their traditional Christian values are undermined by equality legislation and the demand made by the EHRC, suggesting that the ruling compromises the way they want to raise their children.

As it happens, it is irrelevant whether or not we agree with their position, for as soon as they opened the guest house they were bound by the Equality Act 2010, as were the Bulls in the previous case. The Green’s response to the ruling was to remove the double beds from their establishment – a creative, and it appears, successful compromise.

In our work places we find that disagreements and conflicts arise far too often and usually as a result of two people thinking their position is right. Do managers have the skills to help them find the middle ground solution, which may demand a little creativity, thinking ‘outside of the box’, and individual give and take – Sue and Jeff Green showed this is possible. It helps if the protagonists try to see the position of the other people in the conflict and come back from the polarised positions they find themselves in.

Posted in beyond diversity, Equality Act, Sexuality equality | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Your Family Name – following the mother or the father?

One of my new LinkedIn contacts Stephen Morley, Sports Development Officer at Cambridge City Council posted this question on the Beyond Diversity group on LinkedIn. He stated.

“For a long time I have felt that a major inequalities is how woman give up their family name to take on their husband’s after marriage. I’ve been married for nearly forty years and neither of us questioned the fact that Miss Clyrene Harris would become Mrs Clyrene Morley when we married. I don’t believe my wife had any strong feelings about it, it was just the norm. As I’ve got older I’ve really begun to question this practice.

Why should a woman give up her name and take on that of their partner?

When the Danish Badminton player Peter Gade married Camilla Hoeg, he became Peter Hoeg Gade.

If you are going to have a formal marriage ceremony, why not have a joining of the two family names to mirror the joining of the two people?”

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia, Consultant, Trainer, Mentor and Coach appreciated Stephen’s comment and question and added that “There are different practices across the world, not all cultures perform the name changing after marriage. In my home country, Norway, it is very common to keep both names: maiden name and husband’s name.

I now live in France and was horrified when I got the first tax papers; I no longer had a name! I had become Mrs Husband’s Last Name, Husband’s First Name! I think it says something about women’s status in society: you don’t even have the right to your own name. Later on my bank changed my name without asking me, to my first name and husband’s last name. I was very angry! But, talking with other women, they had not thought much about this practise; “it is just the way things are”. However, it seems some women around me now start noticing these inequality for women due to the fact that I started commenting on them”.

Stephen then went on to acknowledge that from time to time his wife still receives correspondence addressed to Mrs Stephen Morley, which in his opinion is a step too far.

Is this discussion yet another example of the general status of women in our society. I suspect there are not so many men that would give up their claim to a family name and the connections that go with it, so why should society (and many men) expect a woman to so do.

I am conscious of how this name changing practice impacts on children too. In most societies, it is the norm to give them the father’s last name, or in more aware families double barrel it with the mother’s name. In my case our two children have the mother’s family name as their surname. I was recently asked, after introducing my son to a business contact, whether his mother and I were divorced. Never married was the answer and still very much together. She did not change her name and the children have hers.

The person who asked the question wondered how that madeUntitled me feel. I asked him how his wife felt not passing her family name on to their children. He had never given it a moment’s thought, which is no surprise really. When you think about it, which family names appear on your family tree?

This is another interesting gender inequality that seems to set in societal stone. I think it’s time to get the hammer out and start smashing it!

Posted in beyond diversity, community, gender equality, inequality, Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Business Networking – another male domaine

Last week, I popped in to a local business network event to find thirteen men and one woman, which from my experience is not an unusual gender split at such groups; I do, however, find it quite disappointing. The room resonated with maleness.

Of course this was not the first time I had noticed this gender imbalance, but decided to explore it a little deeper, for surely, it cannot be that only men find networking to be a real business benefit. After a brief search, I found a survey conducted by Trowers and Hamlins, an international law firm, laying out some evidence to this networking anomaly.

The article is clear about the statistics showing that women want to network as much as men, but don’t do it. What are the barriers that limit their equal presence and participation?

The survey findings suggest that whilst women want to attend they make choices not to. Is this a simple case of “I have other priorities”, or “my work patterns prevent me from attending”. I think not. Most networking events are open to all and anyone who goes along has an opportunity to get involved. I do not believe that there is direct discrimination preventing women from attending, but what goes on there does reflect traditional ‘male’ behaviours and therefore is more attractive to men.

Networking is a challenge – going into a room not knowing anyone, approaching people, introducing oneself and being able to comfortably talk about “you and your business” and listen to others talking about “them and theirs”. Certainly this is not for everyone.

I run a monthly group, which during 2013 had over 120 attendees. Reviewing the attendance figures I see that 30 were women (25%), which compares well to other local groups. I asked some of them whether they view networking as a necessary business function. Nearly all agreed that they attend groups because they think they ought to, rather than want to, but acknowledge that they are actually better suited to men. One suggested that “the more testosterone fuelled ‘hard sell’ groups where everyone has a tag-line about their business, often with some kind of dubious double entendre, are particularly difficult”.

In conclusion, if traditional networking spaces are better suited to men, it becomes the responsibility of those running groups (me included) and other attendees to be aware of this phenomenon, to work to turn them into more inclusive spaces.

Women will not be the only beneficiaries. The groups will improve too. So, what will you do next time you go networking?

Posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, Sexism | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Using Gender Neutral Language – a path to equality

In recent months I have been asked, in a variety of environments, why using non-gender neutral language is sexist. I thought it would be it worthwhile exploring this issue.

There are many major gender based inequality issues in our societies that need addressing: on the one hand there is rape and physical violence against women, trafficking and modern day slavery (though not always perpetrated against women), whilst on the other there is harassment, the lack of women’s promotional opportunities and the pay gap in the workplace. Whilst these are all very different, I suggest that they all figure on the same continuum and exist as historical reminder that women were, and still are in many cases, subjugated by men and more particularly the male dominated society in which we live. 


Equality legislation tells us that gender discrimination is illegal and, for in excess of forty years, has been making social change. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go to achieve full gender equality.rical reminder that women were, and still are in many cases, subjugated by men and more particularly the male dominated society in which we live.

Whether in the home, the workplace, the newspaper stand or on the street, most people would agree that there is not yet gender equality, despite the legislation that tells us men and women are equal. There are too many stories and statistics that prove otherwise.

What cannot be denied, is that the fact that in English at least, the language is far from gender neutral.

Generally in society we use “mankind” to describe all people on the planet or if particularised then they are likely to be “he”. Many organisations claim that “the use of the word he or him refers to both men and women”. Would they ever change to say that “she and her” will be used instead? I serious doubt it.

The dictionary offers other male phrases/words – “manmade fibre”, “man the door”, “man management” or “all men are born equal” – but they mean all people. Men seldom question them, for they are included, but do women all feel included – probably not. These phrases just epitomise how we talk from a male perspective and how the English language has grown up male orientated.

For many, the anomaly within our language is missed; it is a non-issue and has a minimal significance. However, perhaps it is worth exploring the use of sexist language a little further.

Clearly there is a raft of misogynistic words, I need not spell out, that are part of our language. For those of us with any aspiration of gender equality, I’m sure, would want to see these eradicated. There are many other words and phrases seen as less impactful. Perhaps though, it is these words that continue to reinforce sexist stereotypes within society: we use male generics continue to emphasise the maleness of our world and are invariably used to describe higher status positions too.

Language is perhaps as much of a driver for change as is legislation and social policy. Certainly this can be seen if we explore the changing attitudes during the past forty years towards race, disability and most recently sexuality. In terms of gender equality, we each have a part to play by taking responsibility for the words and language we use that perpetuate gender inequality.

So, we come back to the “why” of the initial question. And my answer may be considered somewhat contentious. The use of non-gender neutral language is part of the oppression against women and is on the same scale as harassment in the workplace, sexual assault, domestic violence and even rape.

If this is so, then perhaps by changing ourselves and the organisations we work for and represent may make our society safer and more comfortable for women.

Posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, human rights, management, Sexism | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments