Lack of affordable childcare still a barrier to women’s progress at work

The Sunday Correspondent 1990

I follow Joely Brearley’s excellent organisation Pregnant then Screwed and have read the accounts of the March of the Mummies, a protest at the cost of childcare, inflexibility of work and  lack of  government help on childcare attended by thousands on Saturday, with great interest.

It made me reflect on how much – or little – has changed since I returned to work after the birth of my son in December 1987 and then my daughter in September 1989. Back then there were also activist campaigns by women to improve maternity leave and pay.  The focus then was on the provision of workplace nurseries, which had some tax benefits for employers and demands  for tax relief on the employment of nannies. Workplace nurseries proved not to be a long term solution and local nurseries, childminders  and nannies became the most favoured choice of childcare (although the most common form of childcare in this country is still grandparents).

 Occasionally I wrote about the situation as above in the Sunday Correspondent in 1990.  I was certainly in the minority of women I had met whilst pregnant returning to work, mainly because part- time work for most professionals was not on offer, and many of my contemporaries were graduates,  professionals e.g. lawyers, accountants, marketers but didn’t want to work full time straight away.

But once out of the workplace it was hard to get back when the kids were old enough to start school.  I used to add up the extraordinary number of skills standing at the school gate which could have been channeled into the workplace.

Being at home has sadly never counted in employers’ eyes as being work yet in my experience trotting off on the bus in my designer trouser suit with a briefcase to do what I enjoyed was a doddle compared to dealing with two children under two all day. Plus what they never mention in the ‘looking after the children’ is that a huge amount of this is actually housework in some form or another and usually benefits the husband/partner as well.  Women who have managed a home and kids full time return to the workplace with a unique set of skills which are useful in all kinds of jobs… common sense, calm in the face of turmoil, negotiation skills, far-sightedness, multi tasking,  etc. I wish these were given more recognition

So part-time work for professionals hardly existed, flexibility wasn’t understood, working at home was frowned upon and childcare was just as expensive relative to pay as it is now. Nor was there much social expectation that you would work if your husband had a good job. Part-time working was mostly confined to low paid jobs and designed with mothers in mind – shift work to fit school hours etc.  to suit the needs of the employers e.g. retailers. Flexible working regulations were not made a statutory right until the Employment Rights Act 1996 and even after that the culture in many professions made a request career suicide. I was incredibly lucky to be a journalist and also to be working on a newspaper where the editor liked and supported women and mothers– and he allowed me to work on the paper on a freelance basis three or four days a week. 

 My own approach to returning to work was this. I knew that taking my salary alone and allowing for childcare costs meant I worked for very, very little. In fact the nanny I employed at certain times took home more than me after I had paid her. But I knew that I didn’t want to be a full time mum at home and wanted to be in the workplace, and secondly I thought it was important to keep my human capital value up (I was still quite young) and that years away would decrease it.  

My view which I encourage all working mothers to have, specially those worried about the lack of extra income they will bring home, is that the cost of childcare should not be measured as a percentage of the mother’s salary alone, but of both parents. It is child of two people… I don’t think this is taken into consideration enough and unless it does it will skew a mother’s decision. There is of course also the wider social impact that available affordable childcare benefits the economy and society generally. We need well- adjusted children and we need women/mothers in our workforce. We saw this point being made on banners in the protest on Saturday.  

There have been enormous changes in employment in the past thirty years. As well as an increase in mothers in the workforce there has been a huge shift in attitudes and expectations. A March of the Mummies wouldn’t have happened in 1990.  Changes in society that benefit women have been fought for and won by women… they are never handed over freely. So we must keep making our demands  for a world of work which suits our lives too. Those of us old enough to see some backlash to women’s progress know that we must not take our wins for granted.

The script is probably too small to read but I ended the article above with this… “ The Government’s reluctance to make permanent large scale changes by providing tax relief or creating nurseries leads to the suspicion that the move to  get women back to work is just a temporary solution to an economic problem. What some campaigners are asking is, once the demographic gap is filled, will women be sent back home again?” These words may sound ridiculous now but we believed that as it had happened before it could happen again.

Working from home isn’t always a good thing

A year or so ago I sat next to a young woman at a seminar and asked her what she did. ‘I’m an actuary’ she said. Impressive.  She told me she was leaving her firm, despite its good reputation because she wanted to find a company where she could actually go to the office. ‘ I am nearly thirty and single and I don’t want to be stuck in my small flat all day’. She had my sympathy.  But for many youngsters who graduated during Covid, they have known no different. And still now for some going into the office is fraught with anxiety. But they also do not know what they are missing.

As a graduate at an investment bank many moons ago, I remember the excitement of starting out with a few others. We were sent on courses together and all worked in the same department. We were mentored, worked in an open plan office and had exposure to fund managers for whom we did research. We had morning meetings at which we may have had to speak and certainly needed to listen to others. And the best bit was going to the wine bar (eighties!) after work and meeting lots of other people too.  I simply cannot imagine doing my job from my shared living space as a whole generation have had to do. But there is no excuse for this to continue.

There was an interesting piece in the Times a few weeks ago about the decline of the graduate scheme. There were a number of reasons but one of them was that working from home had changed much of the point of it.

‘“I was on my own, working from home at the beginning. I didn’t even have a desk, and they’re supposed to pay for desks,” he said. “So working from home  [was] to work from bed. I was just miserable.” Civil Service Fast Track graduate’

Another graduate, at Deloitte, said she often worked from 7.30am until 11.30pm, with little support. She worked from home most days, with no contact with other graduates and no way of knowing if her 16-hour days were normal for those on the scheme.

Diversity consultants have always promoted working from home as “a good thing”.  I have done lots of workshops on flexible working in which a day or two at home featured as one possibility among many. But working from home used to be a hard sell even when the internet made it eminently possible. There was a suspicion that people would take advantage of being at home and not work as hard.  So a large number of working mothers chose instead to do a three or four day week in the office taking the cut in salary.

It’s funny isn’t it how things change. Eighteen months and more of everyone who could working from home doing so has given senior male management a taste of the benefits of it.  Now you can earn a full time salary and do a couple of days or even more at home, which is great but not great if it is the entire workforce.

I suspect if the experience of lockdown during which women/mothers did the lion’s share of the domestic work and home schooling is reflective of the domestic division of labour, that the male experience of working from home may be a bit different from that of a mother with three children.  Most senior or even middle managers are probably in a position where they have a decent place in which to work – a spacious flat or house. And many of them have liked it so much that they haven’t wanted to come back to the workplace full time.

But it is a different kettle of fish for the youngsters who unless they are still at home with mum and dad will not be in a big airy house in the suburbs but in a crowded shared flat perhaps like the young graduate quoted above working from his bedroom.   This is perhaps acceptable in an emergency but it is no way for youngsters to learn the world of work, however fast that may be changing. It can surely not be coincidental that we are seeing soaring rates of loneliness among the 24-35 year age group.

Organisations  are also beginning to address whether working from home is good for their profits and efficiency.  “The drive for more staff to return to the office was prompted by concerns about drops in productivity.”

What has also happened is that secure in the knowledge that they may only have to commute once a week at most, some people have moved miles away from their workplaces and are now unable to return full time even when asked.  I spoke to a young woman who used to work for me. She had moved from Surrey to be with her boyfriend in Leeds. I naively assumed she had had to leave her job at the local council. ‘Oh no she said, I work from home and travel down once a month.’  

My research and work has focused on the development and change of workplace cultures. I can categorically say that without in person presence for a majority of the working week, there is no opportunity for cultures to develop let alone change.  Online presence is a very poor cousin to in person interaction.  Basically you cannot form relationships through a computer screen. Humans are ultimately social creatures who require social connection. Any kind of collective work, the sharing of ideas, innovation, team work, mentoring,  sponsorship – all of these require forming relationships.

Currently  most people in hybrid working are choosing to work in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday.  No working parent before Covid would have dared suggest this and we advised against it. Of course everyone would want that! A long weekend!  But no, the protocol went like this – request some flexible working with your manager and between you work out what worked best for the company and for you. It had to work both ways.  Something has gone very wrong when where you work on which day is dictated by employees. 

But there is no point in making the youngsters come back to the office if there are no senior or middle managers there. As one young man said to me “I always go into the office as I prefer working there to being in my flat alone. It is never full but on Mondays and Fridays there are hardly any people there.” Senior management – this is your responsibility.

A disingenuous response from the Church of England to the Cass Report

Now that evidence of the GIDS scandal has been formalised in the Cass Report, there are quite a few  who only a week ago were still accusing women of transphobia for even raising concerns, now hurrying to find agreement with the findings. With no doubt an eye on the general election Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting says he agreed with the report findings, pretending it told him things he didn’t already know.  His own role in making Labour party members lives difficult for their gender critical beliefs has been conveniently forgotten. This is infuriating for those who have been cancelled, abused and marginalised for standing up for women and children’s rights. However in his defence he has acknowledged a change of heart (although no apology as yet).

 Not so the Church of England, itself responsible for promoting the dangerous ideas that have led to children attaching all their problems on to their gender, via its anti -bullying teaching resource Valuing All God’s Children, through its 5000 plus schools.

The role of wider society and the social context in which this ideology has taken hold was discussed by Dr Cass with specific focus on why it was that three quarters of gender questioning children are girls. The role of schools is significant. As the group Safe Schools Alliance notes “We are particularly concerned by the way that schools, aided and abetted by the teaching unions, have promoted an ideology that bypassed all safeguarding practices”

Some of us have been waiting for a public announcement from the Church Education Office. It didn’t come but through much searching I have found a short statement hidden away on the website. Here it is:

“We agree with Dr Cass’s conclusions that, as far as any form of social transitioning is concerned, a very cautious approach is necessary, and should involve full collaboration and consultation with parents and medical professionals. Something we have always maintained.”  (my bold)

My blood pressure took a spike when I read this!  Where, I ask, did the Church maintain this? The section in the guidance which speaks specifically of social transitioning says,

  “Trans young people may require specific support in order to feel comfortable at school, for example, schools may need to make changes to toilet facilities or a trans young person might require support to change their name or the pronoun by which they are referred to by staff and classmates.”(Valuing All God’s Children 2019)

There is nothing in this document that asks that parents and medical professionals should be involved in this process or to say that any approach should be cautious.

Only in January this year there was a news item about a four year old boy who was allowed to join a Church primary school as a girl without any of the other pupils being told.

One of the Church’s let-outs has been to blame local authorities and the schools themselves for their policies but it is high time it took some responsibility and accountability and grappled properly with this important topic.  Brilliant organisations like Transgender Trend and Safe Schools Alliance have had school resources alternative to those of Stonewall and Mermaids readily available but for some reason the Church chose to ignore them. Instead VAGC is straight out of the Stonewall playbook, even having the exact same glossary.

 I and many others have been writing to the Church of England’s Education Board for over four years and our concerns have been dismissed. It seems that the Church has consistently failed to understand the implications of being a mouthpiece for these lobby groups. Sadly for many youngsters, the damage has already been done. It is not enough to rewrite the guidance in the light of the Cass Report. What the Church should do immediately is to acknowledge it was wrong and issue an apology for having left this resource in schools for so long (since 2017), even as alarm bells were ringing. By not doing so it is sending out the signal that it doesn’t take the medical abuse of children seriously.

Time – one of the last barriers to women’s equality at work

The tragic death last September of a female partner of law firm Pinsent Masons  has re-ignited a debate on stress and work/life balance in the professional services sector and beyond.  Vanessa Ford, known professionally as Vanessa Heap, had been working 18-hour days and throughout her holidays to complete the sale of Everton FC to a private equity firm. Her body was found hit by a train and last week the coroner’s verdict was suicide. She was married with two children.

A junior solicitor said a typical work day at Pinsent Masons “is 08:30 to 19:00”, while a senior female solicitor said the work/life balance was “the best thing” about the firm. “I rarely work past 19:30 pm and have never worked a weekend in 5 years there. It’s probably as good as you can get in private practice”, she said.  However, another female senior solicitor said “[I] regularly work until the small hours trying to juggle a family”.

 People who are used to working a normal 9-5 day may be aghast that regularly finishing at 7.30pm is described as positive, but for those working in law firms, particularly in M&A, this long day is standard. And it isn’t just law.

 My PhD research, some of it which found its way into my book Women’s Work Men’s Cultures (Palgrave Macmillan 2011), revealed that long hours were a major factor inhibiting women’s progress in organisations. Not much has changed!  Although since Covid there is much more flexibility in where you can work i.e. home working is now common place, this hasn’t been accompanied by a lowering of workloads.  As one female lawyer puts it “we are also all so much more ‘on’ and available than I had seen previously in my career.” Working into the late hours at home is arguably as damaging to one’s health as working late in an office. Whilst this applies to both men and women the impact on mothers is particularly hard.

Twenty four years ago, a senior manager in a bank challenged the long hours by claiming that 14- hour days amount to sex discrimination.  Investment banker Aisling Sykes, 39, was sacked as vice president for spending too much time with her children, and won her claim for unfair dismissal from US bank, JP Morgan, but lost her claim that 14-hour days amounted to sex discrimination. The tribunal ruled that because she was so highly paid her employers were entitled to ‘make certain demands in respect of hours and place of work.’

The case was important because it was an attempt to use the law to construe a requirement to work long hours as a means of indirect discrimination. However it appeared that the high financial gain exempted the bank from any responsibility to ensure a working environment conducive to working mothers. I don’t believe this case has been overruled although refusing a request for flexibility working may be construed as indirect discrimination.

This ruling revealed the gendered subtext to the apparently neutral phenomenon of long hours, which is still prevalent today. The fault was seen as the woman’s – how can she expect to work those hours with four children? The long-hours culture often goes unchallenged, being justified as it was in the above ruling on the grounds of high salaries or client demand.

At first glance, a long-hours culture might seem to be gender-neutral. There are no innate talents and skills in men that cannot be matched by women – stamina and energy are equally shared out. But it has an indirect effect on women in the workplace in as much as women still take primary responsibility for childcare and household management, and so the burden of working long hours adds to the pressure they already have of managing both family and career. It is difficult to contest or challenge gender in this mode because it is tantamount to challenging the structure of the job itself. But this is what is required if we want to see women and men working together at the top of organizations.

This disparity was made especially clear during lockdown when schools were closed and parents had to home school their kids as well as work. It was women who took on most of this home schooling and their careers suffered for it.

At senior levels, the ability to give time is now the primary differentiating feature between men and women employees. That case twenty four years ago showed how the quid pro quo for high salary, high status jobs is working very long hours. Generally men can give more time to paid work than women, both because they are often exempt from domestic responsibilities, and because their time is often made available by women’s unpaid work. Time is a precious resource which is recognized in the recently coined phrase ‘time poor.’

Men can only spend more time at work if they do less domestic work at home, and as their pay increases so does their exemption from the domestic sphere. My research, like others, showed that as job level and income bracket go up, so did the hours, thereby making that step to the top harder for women with families. Indeed in my research senior women were three times more likely to be childless than men (Women’s Work Men’s Cultures Ch 5)

Arlie Hochschild’s classic study of a US company, The Time Bind, shows clearly how time is used in a competitive way among aspiring managers. A senior executive was quoted as saying:

“Time has a way of sorting people out in this company. A lot of people who don’t make it to the top work long hours. But all the people I know who do make it work long hours. By the time people get to within three or four levels of the Management Committee, they’re all very good, or else they wouldn’t be there. So from that point on what counts is work and commitment.

Senior managers may put in more hours but they also need help to organize their lives and a partner at home is invaluable. Women and men are renegotiating their roles with regard to work and home. Organizations are a part of that. Their employees’ family situation is no longer something that companies can ignore or pretend does not exist. Working mothers will have a real work–life balance when their husbands/partners do half the total housework and childcare and women are paid on a par with men. The best advice to give ambitious women is to choose their partner carefully.

Young women are entering the world of work and have high expectations for their careers and how they share family responsibilities with their partners. Relations between men and women, spouses and partners may have changed a lot over the past twenty years but while workplaces expect excessively long hours – regardless of where they are worked – and men continue to expect women to take on the majority of the ‘other side of life’ it is mostly women who will continue to burn out or drop out.

New Public Sector Equality Duty guidance – December 2023

The week before Christmas Kemi Badenoch’s team were busy. As well as publishing draft guidance for schools on how to deal with students wanting to socially transition, her department has published updated  guidance on public sector equality duty. Any of the many public sector organisations which are members of the Stonewall champions should take notice. As indeed should any of the corporates and professional service firms who may have inadvertently followed what Kemi Badenoch called “Stonewall’s law” when she faced questions before the Women and Equalities Select Committee earlier in December.  The guidance clarifies what exactly the nine characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010 are (which every diversity professional should know) as well as how the guidance should operate in practice.

“The duty requires decision-makers to understand and take account of the consequences of their choices, having due regard to the aim of eliminating conduct prohibited by the act, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations. At the same time, the duty is not a rubber stamp. It is a legal requirement. Making decisions without having due regard to the duty can be unlawful.”

What is a public sector equality duty? There is both a general duty and a specific duty

The general duty requires public authorities, in the exercise of their functions, to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other unlawful conduct prohibited by the act
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share and people who do not share a relevant protected characteristic
  • foster good relations between people who share and people who do not share a relevant protected characteristic.

Private sector companies may not be under any legal obligation to adhere to the duty but they are obliged to comply with the Equality Act 2010 and that means ensuring that the right terminology is used in their policies.The guidance reiterates that the relevant protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

And to clarify exactly what the characteristic of gender reassignment means it is “Someone has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if they are proposing to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone a process or part of a process to reassign their sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex. Authorities should take care to undertake their assessment by reference to the protected characteristics set out in the act. They should not use  concepts such as gender or gender identity, which are not encoded in the act and can be understood in different ways.”

This is reiterated at the end of the guidance where certain myths are laid out and dispelled, the last one being

Myth 8: “I must consider other demographics beyond the protected characteristics.”

 Unless there is a clear correlation with a protected characteristic, considering demographics that are not protected characteristics will not help you to comply with the duty. In fact, it could obscure compliance in your supporting records. Examples of demographics that are not protected characteristics include:

  • class
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • caring responsibilities
  • single parenthood

In a separate letter to public bodies’ heads Kemi Badenoch wrote:

“I would like to be clear that there is no ‘hierarchy of rights’ under the act, therefore we should not hold one protected characteristic in higher regard than another.”

Many public sector organisations, particularly those on the Stonewall Scheme, have replaced sex with gender. Gender is not a protected characteristic. Nor is gender identity. This guidance makes it very clear that neither are not acceptable.

It is useful to request to see an equality impact assessment on any policy either directly if they are published  or through a freedom of information act request if they are not, where you think that there may be a conflict between certain protected characteristics. The guidance gives a couple of good examples – closing a library and closing a care home but here are some others: introducing a policy of mixed sex wards in hospitals, which may have an adverse impact particularly on women; a local authority removing separate ladies and gents toilets and replacing them with one mixed sex toilet, which may have an adverse impact on women; the introduction of Clean Air Neighbourhood scheme which may may have an impact on the elderly and disabled. Very often these assessments have become mere tick box exercises but this guidance emphasises that there is not only a duty on a public body to apply the aims of the duty but a legal requirement.

What is non-binary?

Last week I heard what is becoming a fairly familiar story to many parents.  A fifteen year old boy announced to his whole family, including his grandparents, on the last evening of a half term holiday that he was changing his name (to an unusual female one) and from now on his pronouns were to be they/she.  Everyone was stunned. There had been no warning whatsoever. However it transpired that he wasn’t the only one… another five youngsters in his year had done the same thing.  His parents managed to have a look at his internet history and found reams of websites and social media sites on transitioning. Eliza Mondegreen, an academic who researches the online trans and detrans communities tells Stella O’Malley  in a Gender: a Wider Lens podcast  that we cannot understand young people’s desire to be non -binary or trans without studying what goes on online. I think she is right. In the podcast series The Witch Trials of JK Rowling (episode 3) in which  the impact of social media on language and culture of the youth trans community is analysed one youngster says “ I hadn’t heard of non-binary until I came across it on social media”. 

This may be described as youthful rebellion but this isn’t one that the young have dreamed up themselves and can have more far reaching consequences than being a punk or a goth ever had.  Kids have been carefully served on a plate an ideology that insists that their bodies do not necessarily determine whether they are male or female,  and that they have an inner gender identity which according to the teachings takes priority over biological sex. Those of us who still believe in material reality know this to be nonsense.

Non-binary is very much a young person’s choice of identity. Thanks to the 2021 Census we know that 85% of all those choosing to identify as non-binary are between the ages of 16 and 24. And there were only 30,000 of them in England and Wales (although as we now know even this number may have been exaggerated because the concepts of gender identity and non-binary were poorly understood by segments of the population)

Of all the identities on offer non-binary at first glance appears to be the most appealing and the most non-committal.  (However there are those who start off as non-binary, use it a stepping stone and go on to want to fully transition to the opposite sex and there are an increasing number of girls who demand mastectomies).  And now like the boy above, announcing mixed pronouns adds a bit more nuance  – non-binary with a hint of female hence the double pronoun they/she. But even just being non-binary gives you the golden ticket of being trans.

No one was describing themselves as non-binary until about five years ago. Even in academia which heralded in most of the gender identity ideology that is now flowing through our institutions, using they/them is fairly recent.  “The practice of using pronouns in a non-binary way has not featured much in academic writing – the first paper on it was published in 2017, but has become more accepted online and on social media, with people now listing them in their Twitter bios.”

Apart from a confused number of rebellious probably gay youth another group ‘coming out’ as non-binary are celebrities.

“I’m not male or female, I think I flow somewhere in between. It’s all on the spectrum,” said Sam Smith, speaking in a March 2019 I Weigh episode with Jameela Jamil.

Emma Corrin, The Crown star ‘came out’ as non-binary in 2021 by updating their pronouns on Instagram. “because my journey has been a long one and has still got a long way to go” she said.
Later in an interview she said, “I think that we are so used to defining ourselves, and that’s the way, sadly, society works, within these binaries. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I exist somewhere in between and I’m still not sure where that is yet.”  Join the club Emma.  We are all on a spectrum of femininity and masculinity but we don’t have to essentialise it.

Stonewall tries to define non-binary but succeeds in only telling us what it isn’t, followed by a tautology .

“Non-binary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely. Non-binary people can feel that their gender identity and gender experience involves being both a man and a woman, or that it is fluid , or completely outside of that binary”

For this definition to even begin to make a modicum of sense we must believe in the subjective notion of gender identity, another concept that defies rational definition, but which is the crux of all current transgender theory.

Feminism has said for decades that gender is a social and cultural construct and changes in time and place. It has never been fixed. Sex is fixed.  Being gender non-conforming means not conforming to expectations of what the current dominant modes of masculinity or femininity are, the stereotypes, that may be via physical expression or conveying atypical characteristics of behaviour and character. Prince was gender non-conforming, David Bowie was gender non-conforming, the New Romantics were gender non-conforming and thousands of feminists are gender non-conforming. This really is nothing new.

What is new is the terminology, and the insistence that this signifies you are somehow outside the categories of male and female (sex) and  that this subjective feeling must be recognised and acknowledged publicly by others. Despite the very small numbers and the young age of those who call themselves non-binary,  there are calls from lobby groups to legislate specifically for this group and organisations are accommodating new language and providing training on non-binary discrimination.  In Scotland the government feel so strongly that the lives of non-binary people need to be improved that last year it published an action plan.  As Debbie Hayton said in the Spectator in response to this announcement “Why? Who told these children they were non-binary – in a separate category to other children – and why is the Scottish government playing along with it? Children need to be told the truth: that there are two sexes, and while they may be able to shun the social conventions associated with their sex, they cannot opt out of their sex altogether.”

It is hard to determine in what ways those young people describing themselves as non-binary are really any different from anyone else. Maybe because there are few outward signs, many who describe themselves as non-binary die their hair – pink or blue usually and may wear non stereotypical clothes for their sex.  Lest we should make the mistake of confusing gender expression with gender identity Stonewall is on hand to tell us what the difference is…

“In order to understand non-binary gender identities better, it’s vital to understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression. Gender identity refers to a person’s clear sense of their own gender. This is not something which is governed by a person’s physical attributes. Gender expression is how you express yourself and just like everyone else, non-binary people have all sorts of ways to express themselves and their identity. They can present as masculine, feminine or in another way and this can change over time, but none of these expressions make their identity any less valid or worthy of respect.” 

So, if I understand correctly, there are no external signals to tell you that this person in front of you is anything other than a man or a woman, they will have to tell you. And you must refer to them in the way they ask you to. At what point was this particularly concept debated? Recognizing the opposite sex is how our species has survived. No wonder pronouns are compulsory – it’s all they’ve got.

Guidance on data collection of sex and gender is published by Sex Matters

When I read in 2018/9 that the ONS was going to change the 2021 Census question on sex to mean gender identity, a highly contested concept not widely understood by the population, I was alarmed. As a social scientist and the designer of many surveys I knew that was a massive mistake and I started to investigate how on earth two key tenets of good longitudinal data collection, clarity and consistency of question could so easily be ignored for the Census, the gold standard of surveys. Political lobbying was the answer I found, but luckily for public records, historians, medical and social researchers and policy makers an intervention by a small unfunded organisation FairPlay For Women resulted in a judicial review. The ONS backtracked and retained the original question on sex whilst adding a further question on gender identity -although the wording of this question is now being reconsidered after the census results showed that it may have been poorly understood.

A few weeks ago it was announced that Professor Alice Sullivan (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society) is heading up a six-month review analysing the collection of research and statistics by all public bodies on sex and gender, with specific recommendations to be made at the end. This will make a fascinating read. And last week the organisation Sex Matters got the show on the road with its own guidance on data collection of sex and transgender identity. You can download it here.

Over the past five years or so many organisations have already decided to replace the question of sex with other wordings and continue to do so, often in the name of inclusivity, diminishing the reliability of their data.The Sex Matters team found that many organisations, instead ask for “gender” (or gender identity) and some offer a bewildering array of options, including non-binary (which is not a sex or recognised legal term) agender, man-identified, gender queer and others.

Instead, says Sex Matters, when asking about sex keep it simple! Simply use Male or Female (plus optional prefer not to say). When designing a question, the place to start is to ask what the information is for. Organisations may need to record information about people’s sex for many reasons, including:.

  • because it is required by law – for example, schools must record pupils’ sex 
  • for healthcare and medical records –for correct diagnosis, screening, analysis of test results, treatments, dosages and so on 
  • for operational reasons – for example, where a person’s sex is relevant to their job (such as a bra fitter or women’s refuge worker) or where there are sex-based rules about who can access a particular service 
  • for processing salaries, tax and pensions
  • for sports – to decide on eligibility for competitions and to assess and record athletic performance 
  • for safeguarding – where an organisation places staff in positions of care towards children and vulnerable people 
  • for social statistics – for example, recording and analysing economic data by sex 
  • for equality monitoring – for example, to avoid sex discrimination in recruitment processes or to monitor workforces in order to spot patterns of discrimination (and pay inequality)
  • in order to prevent, investigate or prosecute crime. 

In almost every situation, if you want to know a person’s sex, what you want to know about is their actual sex (apart from for tax and pension records, which are linked to sex as modified by a gender-recognition certificate).   Collection of data on sex has never been considered to be sensitive information but organisations can always include a ‘prefer not say’ as well as male or female.

If you want to know whether people have a transgender identity, you should ask this separately from the sex question. This should be asked with caution and responding should be voluntary as this is sensitive information. The guidance makes it clear that:

 “you should ask about this only if you have a good reason and have considered the privacy implications of collecting the data. It should not be collected routinely. Some potential reasons for asking people about transgender identity are: 

  • operational – to identify transgender people as a population with specific needs 
  • for social statistics – because you want to know how many people identify as trans in a particular population 
  • for equality monitoring – “gender reassignment” is a protected characteristic and you may choose to monitor it (although you should consider whether this is possible in practice. The numbers being very small and the inability to publish the biological sex of those who have a GRC makes this a difficult process). 

“Appearing inclusive” or “Wanting respondents to feel seen” are not good enough reasons to collect this data. Data-protection principles require that there is a lawful basis for collection, and that the information is used only for purposes that have been identified in advance. 

Crisis of Confidence in Diversity and Inclusion

The recent turmoil at the top of two organisations, NatWest and Stonewall  has focused attention onto the Diversity and Inclusion sector (D&I), and revealed tensions which have been brewing for some time. At first glance the retail bank and the LGBT Charity may not seem to have much in common but both have lost their leadership because their organisations may have promoted ‘inclusion’ to such an extent that they exceeded their business mandate and lost the confidence of their customer base.

Alison Rose, CEO of NatWest, owner of Coutts private bank was forced to resign after news broke that Coutts had closed the bank account of politician Nigel Farage because, it was revealed by a Freedom of Information request, his values or political views didn’t fit in with the bank’s ‘inclusive values’. This was followed a day or two later by the resignation of Peter Flavel, the CEO of Coutts. Shares in Nat West fell by more than 8% last week in an ironic twist given that Mr Farage’s custom was considered by those who closed the account to be a reputational risk.

Separately, Nancy Kelley, the Chief Executive of Stonewall has made a premature and hasty departure without explanation. Then on July 30th Chair of Trustees Iain Anderson made some remarks in a Sky interview which were followed hours later by a public retraction from Stonewall and an apology from him, leaving questions about the charity’s leadership.

The Nigel Farage/Coutts public debacle has revealed that the public do not approve of a bank straying into political and moral waters. As Warren Buffett said in a FT article a couple of years ago, “it is not the job of a business to make moral judgements”

But increasingly businesses of all kinds have been doing just that.

Organisations – moral agents of social change?

Over the past few years many corporates and public sector organisations have embraced elements of the diversity and ESG (Environmental,Social and Governance) agenda. However on occasion they have done so without reference to equality law and introduced policies not always supported by the wider population or even their own employees.

How did we get here? In 2002 Schneider Ross colleague Sue Ollerearnshaw and myself wrote a report called the Business of Diversity. In it we outlined the key business drivers for diversity like recruitment and retention, and found that there was also a place for social justice. Was it always necessary to show that adopting a policy would improve the bottom line? Sometimes implementing diversity policies also seemed to be the right thing to do, as many leaders told us.  Corporate social responsibility (before it became ESG) was taken seriously by large global companies and and at times included the diversity team. CSR translated into organisations being active and responsible in the communities in which they operated like having volunteer schemes, supporting local schools as well as undertaking environmental projects. These projects tended to be localised and particular to each organisation. Diversity was approached in the same way. Different organisations had different needs depending on the business, culture and location. Social justice, rarely articulated, then meant broadly that organisations had a part to play in the wider society around them. What organisations didn’t feel was they were themselves agents of social change and that that was part of their mission. It wasn’t. They just wanted to reflect good practice. This is where the emphasis and indeed the types of activities and policies have changed over the past twenty years.

The concept of social justice today has some very specific meanings, most of which are derived from left wing academia, not historically a friend of capitalist enterprise. It is heavily influenced by critical race theory (born in the US) and identity politics and has entered the diversity discourse via the concept of equity which has replaced equality. Equity refers to the fair division of resources, opportunities, and privileges in society. Criticism of this approach is that it creates a hierarchy of privilege creating division rather than emphasising commonalities. And others argue that it is not in organisations’ power or interest to guarantee outcomes rather than provide opportunities.

One strand of diversity has been particularly visible and dominant in recent years and that is LGBT or rather the T. This may seem strange given that the number of trans employees in any organisation is likely to be very, very small, in itself raising questions as to the rationale for its prominence. Special celebratory days, weeks and even months have given corporates an opportunity to advertise their ‘progressive’ credentials with reference to one group/identity or another. Enter Stonewall which since 2015, has advised thousands of organisations on how to be trans inclusive.

Time’s up for Stonewall?

But the LGBT charity and lobby group has also had a turbulent time in recent weeks. In early July Chief Executive Nancy Kelley unexpectedly announced that she was leaving after being at the helm three years. On July 2Oth Chairman of Trustees, Iain Anderson gave an interview to Sky presenter Beth Rigby which was painful to watch. Mr Anderson struggled to answer questions Beth Rigby posed about the conflict between some of the policies and demands Stonewall promote for trans people and women’s rights, particularly in sport. However, Anderson did give a small hint of a suggestion that Stonewall would be prepared to meet with groups challenging its approach (like the LGB Alliance with which it has refused a meeting on two occasions). You can watch the whole interview here

The following day a statement was issued by Stonewall correcting  Mr Anderson and in that statement Mr Anderson also issued an apology for upsetting the LGBT community. The statement is here

 This was descending into farce. That very afternoon Chief Executive, Nancy Kelley also left the organisation for good before her period of notice was up. In another blow to Stonewall the Labour Party has now done a major U turn on Trans Self Identification, one of Stonewall’s key goals. Who knows where that leaves Stonewall now? The LGBT charity has found itself being increasingly challenged on the policies it promotes to those who sign up to its Diversity Champions programme and rewards in its Workplace Equality Index. These includes the declaration of pronouns in emails and even at meetings, mixed sex toilets and the removal of gender based language like mothers and fathers. This has been rolled out in countless organisations via diversity and inclusion departments in the name of inclusion, regardless of the number of trans employees they have and without any consultation to other employees.  However recent years have seen some high profile companies leaving the schemes.

Organisations overstepping the mark

Coutts, via Nat West in its quest for inclusion has been a long term participant of Stonewall’s schemes until this year when it dropped out. It isn’t just NatWest that may be overstepping the mark in certain areas of diversity and ESG. Many FTSE 100 companies as well as professional services and public sector organisations have taken on the mantle of social change advocates.  One problem, as I argued two years ago here, is that although we in Diversity and Inclusion have often pushed organisations to go a bit further than the law in order to be a leader e.g. better maternity pay than statutory pay, many have now veered into territory that has political and even legal repercussions. And in doing so they have often failed to tie in policies with their own specific business needs and have not ensured that their workforce is invested in the values espoused. Many people have told me that they are too nervous to raise any concerns about certain policies for fear of being labelled right wing or a dinosaur or worse. This is not good diversity practice.

 Have we reached a place where Diversity and Inclusion has fallen into groupthink? Simon Fanshawe, author of The Power of Difference, says in a piece in the Times today that,

“Where to be ‘inclusive’ now apparently is defined as ‘you have to speak like this, think like this and behave like this. Or we’ll exclude you’.”

Where we might wonder is diversity of thought?

ESG including diversity was initially lauded as responsible capitalism by many people, including investors, who are now wondering if it has all gone too far, to the detriment of business profitability, and giving it the less kind title of ‘woke capitalism’. 

And now the government may be stepping in. Today (July30th) Kemi Badenoch wrote in the Times that

“It is not government’s job to write companies’ HR policies. However, it is our job to stop them doing harmful things based on a misunderstanding of the law. Our Inclusion at Work panel of experts from academia and business will develop resources based on evidence not ideology”.

 Let’s see what this brings. If recent days tell us anything it is that when people see the tide turning they usually turn round and swim with it.

Unfortunately growing criticism of the social justice agenda in organisations is in danger of damaging years if not decades of hard work during which diversity and inclusion had come in from the margins and gained a rightful seat at the business table. However the public doesn’t distinguish between this and the more extreme ‘politically correct’ or ‘woke’ agenda which is now being so publicly challenged.What a shame if the brilliant parts of D&I are caught in this wider backlash. Those who work in D&I need to take up the reins and be much clearer about which parts belong inside the business and which are better campaigned for outside.

Not always a celebration of difference

The debacle of Mohammed Nazam Conservative mayor of Keighley, West Yorkshire, is a diversity tale of our times. It illustrates the fact that inclusion is not always easy or possible.

Councillor Nazam firstly upset his own Muslim community by taking part in a Pride event and had to apologise to them, saying it was a ‘lapse of judgement’. He then faced uproar from those offended by his apology and so had to apologise to the LGBT community for apologising to the Muslim community.  But as he said “all elected Muslim representatives” would have needed to apologise to the Muslim community for attending such an event.

 I say it is a tale of our times because unlike the image of diversity as being a pretty mosaic of differences, in reality it is often a messy mix of contradictory beliefs and attitudes, power struggles and competing demands.  Religion, sexual orientation and gender reassignment are all protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and have been in tension from the start.

Christians rarely enjoy popular support when they object to some of views of the LGBT community but it is a much more sensitive issue when it is Muslims who are objecting. The protected characteristic of religious belief had Muslims in mind when it was introduced in 2006. Those of us who worked in organisations immediately post 9/11 understand why as there was a fear of backlash against Muslims in general.

So there is more hesitancy in condemning them for any views they may have against LGBT issues. Much of the opposition to the teaching of gender identity and LGBT lifestyles in schools is coming from religious groups. There wasn’t outright condemnation of Muslim parents who protested outside Parkfield primary school in opposition to the teaching of the No Outsiders programme, despite talk from some that they needed ‘educating’. 

Mostly we try and avoid any conflict but sometimes in diversity we have to meet these challenges head on. When equal opportunities was renamed diversity and when the EHRC replaced the different anti-discrimination Commissions there was concern among specialists, that some groups  would be relegated to fifth division and others would stay in the premier league. 

 I think the way this particular episode played out is clear – the mayor’s offense against the LGBT community was greater, because it was for this ‘error of judgement’ that he was suspended from the Conservative party and then he had to resign.

Letter to the silent majority

Many of the women in the UK who are speaking out against issues like gender self-ID, the loss of female language and the transitioning of children are women who have spent their working lives campaigning for women’s rights. More often than not, the media call these women, women like Professor Kathleen Stock, Joan Smith, MP Rosie Duffield and author JK Rowling ‘controversial’ and even ‘anti-trans’ although all have expressly stated their support for the rights of trans people to live a dignified life free from discrimination.  I wonder whether you have asked yourself why these women are being so vilified. Are they and others who have been no-platformed and cancelled really hateful? Do you think they deserve this? The abuse heaped on them serves as a warning to other women and so far this has worked pretty well. Because there is a resounding silence by many who should be talking about this issue.

I want to set out why it is that many women, including myself, have been concerned and feel compelled to speak out and risk incurring the wrath of the activists, the silence of colleagues, the cancellation of work and even the loss of jobs. And to ask those of you who have not taken notice or preferred to stay silent to reflect on some of the points I make.

It is only in the past ten years or so that anyone in the public would have noticed that the category of sex was being replaced by the word gender and then more recently still by the words gender identity. Since time began there have been two sexes, male and female and they are determined by biology. Humans are a sexually dimorphic species. However there is a growing tide of opinion that it is actually gender identity, a subjective feeling which determines whether you are a man or a woman. Gender identity is defined as ‘a person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male or female or something else'(Stonewall). When set out like this it does seem quite far fetched doesn’t it? Yet organisations throughout the West have adopted this belief and this language in the name of inclusion.

How this has happened is the subject of a separate post but suffice to say it is impossible for a tiny minority (96,000 people said they were either a trans man or a trans woman in the 2021 Census and one quarter of these were under the age of 24 so not a powerful group in themselves) to have the power and resources to enable such a wide scale change in society as we are now witnessing. There are several overlapping interests at play – financial, political and cultural which has resulted in this profound social shift.  For a clearer understanding of the money and interests (mostly American) stoking the fires of trans activism I would recommend Jennifer Bilek’s 11th hour blog and  Gendercriticalblog by @StillTish

Trans is defined by Stonewall as ‘an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth’. There are now many different types of trans people who “may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.”  This is a very different and much broader set of people from the estimated 6000 transexuals for whom the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and even the Equality Act 2010 provision on gender reassignment was passed.

The fact is that prioritising gender identity over biological sex as we are being asked to do and permitting de facto self ID leads to a clash with the rights of women. This may be uncomfortable to acknowledge but I really don’t see why it should be. The whole project of feminism requires a universal understanding of woman. This is and always has been an adult human female.  Because we live in a society in which women have only recently enjoyed the same rights as men but still suffer from sexism and misogyny it is important that we have this common understanding. In some areas of society women require their own spaces – toilets, sport, refuges, hospital wards etc. and the law currently allows for this. This is for their safety, dignity and fairness. Trans lobby groups are demanding that men identifying as women be included in these spaces, because “ trans women are woman”.  By allowing men to claim to be women for all purposes women lose these protections. Currently the Equality Act has provisions for when even trans women with a GRC (gender recognition certificate) can lawfully be barred from a women only space including sport but such has been the power of the lobby that this is too frequently not happening.

It is no coincidence that most of the women who have been vocal in speaking up about the loss of women’s rights are older. Like me. We know that these rights were hard fought for. For example, women only got the vote in 1923, were admitted to Cambridge University in 1948. Women had to fight to get the word woman included in public discourse instead of it being subsumed in men, to get public single sex toilets so they could go out (late 1920’s), to be able to play sports (many women’s Olympic events  have only emerged in the past thirty years)  to make sex discrimination illegal 1975 (before that women could legally be refused mortgages and bank accounts) to get equal pay (1975), statutory maternity pay (1986), make rape in marriage illegal (1991) All these rights were fought for and many delivered through the law. They were not given freely; in fact there was considerable opposition to most of them.

The feminists that fought for these rights enjoyed by the young women of today also paid a price. It wasn’t fashionable to be feminist then. Forty years ago, feminists were frequently caricatured as man-hating, ugly and unwanted. So it is particularly galling for many older feminists to be once again outcast– often by the young women who are benefiting from the freedoms they fought for. But mostly it has to be said by men and this time men on the left, historically allies. We know that women’s rights only recently given can also be reversed. Backlash comes in unexpected ways. It can come via religion and ideology and works best when a good proportion of women support the ideas. There are plenty of examples of women, particularly young, who support this ideology even as it goes against their own interests.

Many women are angry at the loss of women only spaces, like toilets, domestic violence refuges, and rape crisis centres, women only sports and female language. It is also upsetting to realise that women are thought so little of that they were not even consulted when the demands, made on behalf of this tiny group, were granted and implemented by so many organisations in the name of inclusion.

When deciding whether to permit males who identify as women to enter female only spaces, surely the most important consideration is what the women who use the spaces feel. In situations like prisons and rape and domestic violence shelters these women have already been traumatised by male violence. Even the presence of a male body can be triggering. Women were not asked.

When considering the inclusion of biological males in women’s sports surely the most important consideration is for the thoughts of the female athletes who will have to compete against these males. Women were not asked.

When assessing proposals to allow men to self-identify as women without medical checks or a diagnosis of dysphoria, the group most affected would be the female population of 35m (51%) women. The Equalities and Women Select Committee of 2016 under Conservative MP Maria Miller which included feminist Labour MP Jess Phillips consulted with many trans groups and recommended the proposals. Women were not asked.

When it was decided to refer to the 51% of women in the population as cis women, a sub category of women to distinguish them from trans women (0.1% of the population) in order to validate their identity no debate occurred. And women were not asked.

When deciding that the existence of some women who identify as men (0.1% of the population) required the removal of all feminine nouns like woman, girl, and cervix no debate occurred. And women were not asked.

When using gender identity instead of sex to collect data for crimes it would have been reasonable to discuss the pros and cons of doing so when it came to reliability and validity. We now have some sex crimes committed by males who say they are women being recorded as female crimes.  Women were not asked.

When the Ministry of Justice decided that courts and witnesses had to refer to those charged with offenses according to their gender identity and not their sex so that a victim of rape would have to say ‘her penis’ in court, women were not asked.

When deciding that the existence of a handful of females who identify as men but stop their testosterone to enable pregnancy (if they haven’t had hysterectomies) requires the erasure of female words like mothers and breastfeeding, surely it is women who should be consulted by the many organisations professing to be inclusive and supportive of women (NHS and many NHS trusts). Women were not asked.

When it was deemed acceptable for children to be taught that they may be born in the wrong body, that boys playing with dolls may mean they are girls, that men can be women and you cannot tell from an appearance whether someone is male or female, it would surely be appropriate for parents to be informed about this training. They were not asked.

Observers should ask why these genuine concerns are dismissed as hatred and ‘wanting to erase trans people’ or are met with shouts of transphobia and ‘no debate’. We want to retain the rights that older women fought for, the right to define ourselves and the right to protect our children from an ideology we think is harmful to their well-being. 

 It says a lot about the current state of misogyny in this country that women’s rights and interests have been ignored and dismissed so easily. I think the public is now waking up to the consequences of this ideology and the tide is turning. If you agree with what I have written will you speak up?

Sexual harassment then and now

I worked in the City in the early 1980’s. The language was pretty awful, verbal harassment was a daily occurrence in certain areas (trading and broking) and what men got up to after work and even at lunch times (School Dinners was a favourite, or even a visit to Shepherds Market) just wouldn’t be tolerated today. Or would it?

When I went to my first investment analysts’ dinner, held at the Grosvenor House hotel, my boss took me to one side and said’ whatever you do, don’t get in a lift with any man on your own after 10pm’. I was rather taken back, after all these were mostly analysts and fund managers, well- behaved compared to the rather more wild traders and brokers, so I thought in my ‘experienced’ twenty- two year old head ‘ what nonsense!’. But by about 9pm I looked around the room of about five hundred men and forty women and understood his warning. Someone I had considered very upright and proper had already lurched at me as I passed him in the corridor. Alcohol affects all of us but very often the mix of men away from wives, large amounts of alcohol and the presence of a few women can lead men to behave without inhibition and it is not a pretty sight. Years later when doing some research  on male socialising (almost impossible to do as a female researcher and so I relied on men I knew to tell me what went on), one man told me  ‘ All I can say is that women don’t want to know how  a group of drunk  men talk about women when they are not there. They would be shocked.’ 

It is disappointing then that this behaviour continues forty years on, as news of sexual harassment and even alleged rapes at the CBI emerge. My research shows that most often it is one or a handful of men who are badly behaved and serially harass women. But organisations which do not deal with them i.e. get rid of them when complaints are upheld, are guilty of collusion. And this is what seems to have occurred at the CBI

Sacking the offenders, when they may bring in a lot of business or occupy high profile positions is a real test of how seriously leadership take the issue of sexual harassment, and how seriously they take their responsibility to female employees.

The haste with which big corporates run from the reputational damage incurred by stories at the CBI isn’t surprising but may in some cases be rather hypocritical. It wasn’t long ago that several hundred business men attended a male only dinner of the President’s Club at the Dorchester and behaviour there wasn’t exactly anything to boast about.