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.

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 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 week it published an action plan.  As Debbie Hayton says 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, 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.

There has been a persistent effort in the Western world to disrupt the categories of male and female sex and replace them with the ill-defined concept of gender identity for more than thirty years and there is a powerful global movement which has succeeded in getting this concept – gender identity – embedded into national government institutions, charities and organisations in many countries, when very few were paying much attention. Sex is based on biology, is observable and objective; gender identity is a subjective feeling. We are being told that biology no longer necessarily determines whether you are a man or a woman, but gender identity does. Gender identity is defined as ‘a person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male or female or something else'(Stonewall). Indeed several leading politicians have confirmed this with Ed Davey, leader of the UK Liberal Democrats stating recently that it was clear that some women had penises.

This isn’t a grass roots movement. 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.  This will be the subject of a separate post but for a clearer understanding of the money and interests (mostly American) stoking the fires of transactivism 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.

A powerful lobby led in the UK by Stonewall has grown up claiming that this disparate group is the most marginalised and vulnerable group in society and we should adjust society to accommodate their demands, framed as rights.

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. A clarification of the Equality Act 2010 may be forthcoming, following an interesting debate among MPs on June 7th.

So far (until recently when a rapist claiming to be a woman was going to be put in a women’s prison in Scotland) women’s concerns have firstly been ignored and secondly dismissed.

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. A recent startling example is that of US football star Megan Rapinoe.

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. 

The Lesbian Project

I have been acutely aware of the lack of focus on lesbians in LGBT research and policy for quite a while. Twenty years ago when researching the role and efficacy of employee networks for a large bank, some lesbian employees told me that they chose to attend the women’s network rather than the LGB (as it was then) one because “our issues are very different from those of gay men and we don’t always have that much in common with them.” Back then it was gay men who dominated these groups and who were likely to be more open about their sexuality and also be in more senior positions in the organisations.

Since the addition of trans to LGB in 2015, followed by a plethora of other identities and sexualities, the interest in lesbians issues has arguably dropped further down the ladder. Even in the 2021 Census figs the question on sexuality was are you gay or lesbian? These are rarely asked about separately in surveys.

So it is welcome news that two prominent British lesbians, Kathleen Stock and Julie Bindel last week launched the Lesbian Project, a new organisation, dedicated to the understanding and enhancement of lesbian lives in the UK. Its patron is Martina Navratilova.

In a piece in the Observer   Stock explains why it’s needed: “The data on lesbians is not good enough. How do lesbians feature in the UK labour market? How are they faring in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships? How does the lesbian experience of motherhood differ from the heterosexual one? What are lesbians’ specific health needs?”

Arguably LGBT groups like Stonewall should be undertaking this research but they are not. Indeed a piece of research in 2019 by Professor Michael Biggs showed that the word lesbian appeared only 16 times in five years’ worth of Stonewall reports.

There is concern among older lesbians That it just isn’t cool to be lesbian. That it is better today for young women and girls to come out as non-binary,  queer or even trans. The Lesbian Project want to reclaim the word and put some pride back into it.

The fact that a very high proportion of girls referred to Gender Identity Services for their gender dysphoria are actually same sex attracted is further proof that this timely. It might be that these girls feel it is more socially acceptable to be trans than to be lesbian. Indeed in Hannah Barnes’ brilliant book Time To Think, The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children she reveals from her interviews with ex staff that there was certainly an amount of homophobia (and lesbophobia) around the service. Sexuality of children presenting with gender dysphoria was rarely explored.

“Same-sex-attracted females are not going anywhere, but public understanding of them is disappearing and younger lesbians in particular are paying the price – however they identify, and whatever they call themselves. We think our task is urgent. We are keen to get started.” Says Stock

You can read further background and detail of the Lesbian Project here

And listen to Kathleen Stock talk further about it on Woman’s Hour here

Resistance to women’s equality in the workplace and wider society

Are we seeing the beginnings of a backlash against women’s equality?  Two in five Britons think efforts to champion women’s equality are so robust that men are being discriminated against, a major new study has suggested. The research, carried out by King’s College London and Ipsos, found that 53 per cent of men but only a third of women take the viewpoint.

In an article on the same study  in the Telegraph  it was reported that just over one half (52%) of GenZ and (53%) of millennials felt women’s rights had gone too far and  broken down by sex this was 55% of men and 41% of women.

Kelly Beaver MBE, the Chief Executive of Ipsos, UK and Ireland, said: “Our ongoing research into gender equality shows that we have made significant progress with nearly half of people now agreeing equality will be achieved within their lifetime. “

“However, there are signs that the public are starting to push back on this progress to date, which is potentially worrying, but it may also be a sign that real change is happening in society and change can often make people uncomfortable and resistant.

The role of resistance to women’s equality both in the workplace and in wider society doesn’t get a lot of attention but it has been there from the start.

Over the years working with mostly senior men in workshops about male culture and its impact on women in their organisation I became accustomed  to feeling the resistance in the room. It was usually expressed by exaggerated  displays of boredom, looking  distractedly at phones ( which I then insisted were turned off  in my workshops), non-participation or downright hostility (the latter being the easiest to deal with!) I understood. Having one’s viewpoint and behaviour challenged is profoundly uncomfortable and as human beings we are always resistant to change. The best route I found and still do is to use humour.  

Cynthia Cockburn wrote a book in 1991 called “In the Way of Women: Men’s Resistance to Sex Equality in Organisations” that was very influential in my own thinking. In it she showed, through four case studies, the myriad of ways in which women’s equality was resisted.  I echoed this theme in my book Women’s Work Men’s Cultures: Understanding Resistance and Changing Organisational Cultures. Within organisations we can view many of the barriers to women’s progress in the workplace as forms of resistance.

“Cultural impediments arise in discourses and interaction and influence what women and men think feel and do”  (Cockburn)

Many of the intangible barriers around informal socialising, humour, banter can be interpreted as ways of saying to women “you don’t really belong here”. The higher the status the job (the better paid) the more likely it will be defended by barriers.

The pushback against identity politics and what is frequently called ‘wokeism’ has not helped women’s equality work either as commentators often ignorantly put all kinds of diversity initiatives into one basket – the good and the bad – and  positive gender equality initiatives are unfairly included.  

Organisations reflect wider social values too and there I see a backlash to women’s progress manifested in a number of ways (See Susan Faludi’s book Backlash in which she  recorded the historical  resistance to women’s equality). There are different means of  resistance; they may be religious, legal or merely ideological. As legal and physical force is used less in the West – unlike in countries like Afghanistan and Iran – ideological means are the most common. We are all influenced by wider culture and those who have the most resources to influence the cultural environment will dominate what we see and hear about a subject.

I see resistance and backlash to women’s progress currently expressed through:

  • the increased sexualisation of women and young girls which serves as a reminder that we are in the end mere bodies for men’s enjoyment.  
  • This sexualisation and objectification of women is evidenced through the  huge increase and availability of pornography much of it showing violence to and degradation of women  and
  • through the increasing acceptance of prostitution by validating it as ‘work’.  Prostitution de humanises women and reduces their bodies to objects to be sold to men for their pleasure.
  • the diminishment of the importance of biological sex as the dominant social category.  If the sex class of women can be diluted down enough to include men then that class is delegitimised and meaningless. Feminism requires a coherent definition of women as has been in existence over centuries hence it is weakened.

Awareness of backlash and resistance helps to fight against it, whether this is in organisations or wider society. It can come in the form of common sense –e.g.  the idealisation of motherhood following the second world war which encouraged women back into the home or even appear part of a progressive movement like the sex work is work discourse. But the result is the same – the status of women is lowered and progress can be halted

A short reflection on men, women and war

Last night we watched Journey’s End, the film production of the play written in 1928 by R.C. Sherriff. It is about group of British soldiers awaiting their fate in an Aisne dugout during the end of World War I. I hadn’t seen it before but I remember my son studying it at school as did my husband.  Everyone feels horror at the catastrophic loss of life in this war but it stirs something else in me as well. A mixture of anger and impotence. War is very male. There were no women in this film. The lack of women fighting and being killed can somehow make it hard for a woman to criticize war. This isn’t so much a criticism, as a reflection. To record my thoughts and feelings when I see scenes of war on the news or in a film. I don’t want to accept it as part of human life, to be impervious to feeling outrage at what horrors humans (men) inflict on others. No doubt it was shown because of it being the first anniversary of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, yet another destructive war about land and who owns it, never mind the people.

I said to my husband this morning that I didn’t understand  why war was and remains such an integral part of our world. His first response was that it was human nature. Is it? If so, I replied, it is part of male human nature perhaps but I don’t think it is part of women’s. Of course women take part in acts of inhumanity in war and out of it, but war and endemic violence has really always been a male domain.  As women we are included as part of a ‘nation’ or ‘religion’ or ‘tribe’ that may defend or attack but generally we are not in positions of power and didn’t choose war. Sometimes we are told that men are fighting on our behalf.  Most of the time women look on in horror as their sons and husbands are killed and they and their children are caught up in the violence and impact of war.

 My thoughts this morning went to Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938) in which she replies to three requests for a guinea: one to help preserve peace, one to further women’s education, and the last to encourage employment for professional women. She links all three and asks

“What sort of education will teach the young to hate war?”

“For we have to ask ourselves, here and now, do we want to joining that procession or don’t we? Where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?”

And she concludes,

“Our country”, she will say “throughout the greater part of its history has treated me as a slave; it has denied me education or any share in possessions”. “For”, the outsider will say, “in fact as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”

I am familiar with this concept of women being outsiders from my work on organisational cultures.  It often seems that we women are travellers in a male world.

Today with our Western penchant for safe spaces and claims that language can constitute violence, war is still part of our public discourse. It is still a big industry. Should we send fighter planes to Ukraine? We manufacture arms for profit and export them. We build nuclear weapons. War we are told is necessary sometimes to protect and defend our way of life, which seems an acceptable rationale. It is easier to justify war when there are potential totalitarian depots like Hitler, Putin perhaps even Xi Jinping, for whom human life is of little value.  These evil individuals are responsible for many atrocities. But it takes more than one man to take a nation to war. When I look at the rows of men standing around modern day leaders I am at one with Virginia Woolf. These men do not represent me, they don’t speak for me.

So that is what I wanted to write. That as a woman in this world I often feel an outsider, especially when looking at war and its pointless violence. It makes me angry but also sad.  

Society must share the blame for GIDS scandal

We cannot put all the blame for the unfolding scandal at the Tavistock’s Gender Identity Clinic (GIDS)on to its leadership. It must be shared by every individual or institution that has promoted or even endorsed the ideology of gender identity and the trans child. That includes those who have kept quiet.

Next week a much awaited  book, “Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children  is published. It lays bare the story of GIDS the only children’s gender identity clinic in England and Wales that was ordered to be closed down by Dr Hilary Cass in her interim report last year.  

 In last weekend’s Sunday Times Hadley Freeman has written up her interview with Hannah Barnes, its author. Freeman describes the book as,

 “a deeply reported, scrupulously non-judgmental account of the collapse of the NHS service, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with former clinicians and patients. It is also a jaw-dropping insight into failure: failure of leadership, of child safeguarding and of the NHS.”

News that all was not well at GIDS first emerged in the media in 2018 when an internal report listing concerns about the treatment of children was leaked to the press. However there was very little debate or commentary in the media,(apart from Janice Turner and Andrew Gilligan in the Times and James Kirkup in the Spectator). It certainly wasn’t the subject of radio talk shows.

Instead the public were treated to TV dramas, ‘I am Leo’ and ‘Butterfly’ (2018). Both programmes showed that affirming a child’s belief that they were the opposite sex was not only kind but crucial to their well- being. Mermaids, the charity devoted to the trans child  was enjoying positive attention from the media and many corporates like Starbucks were happy to provide sponsorship for it. Indeed Starbucks won the Channel Four diversity award for its TV commercial What’s My Name

Stonewall was at peak popularity having added the T on to LGB in 2015 and was going into schools promoting the concept of gender identity via its anti-bullying training. Schools also joined their Champions Scheme and received their trans tool kit, which included the advice to affirm a child’s desire to use their choice of pronouns and names but if requested by the child to keep this from the parents

Meanwhile organisations, both public and private mistakenly thinking that this was the next big diversity issue after gay rights, were vying to be in the top 100 employers in Stonewall Workplace Index.

The tide was going one way and most felt compelled to swim with it.  One leaked internal report accusing GIDS of poor clinical care  and criticising its use of puberty blocker on kids under 16 could be put down to a disgruntled employee, despite the fact that  that employee was Dr David Bell a senior clinician and staff governor at the Tavistock. But this was a controversial subject and most journalists and editors stood well back.   

Further bits of news trickled out over the next year or two as Dr Bell and other concerned staff, many of whom had faced bullying when they voiced their concerns, left the clinic .

In 2019 Professor Michael Biggs analysed the unpublished research findings  into the effects of puberty blockers undertaken by the Tavistock some years earlier  and this was both published by TransgenderTrend, the group set up in 2015 by Stephanie Davies- Arie  to counter the trans child narrative and reported in the Telegraph. The data showed that mental health problems continued after taking puberty blockers, 74% of patients were female, the study did not look beyond the age of 16 and all the children went on to take full cross sex hormones. So not a wait and see phase, as Director Polly Carmichael kept stating, at all. Certainly there was enough to sound alarm bells in most adults ears.

Then in Autumn  2020 there was enough concern, particularly around the increase of teenage girls presenting as dysphoric , for NHS England to commission an independent  review of GIDS, led by Dr Hilary Cass. Yet even its damning interim report published a year ago leading to the imminent closure of the clinic didn’t have that big a reaction and lobby groups pushed on with their insistence that child transition should be affirmed and  encouraged and worried parents ignored. The emergence of some de transitioners (not discussed by activists) and the case of Kiera Bell particularly did draw some attention that the affirmative model of treatment might result in life changing medical conditions which could not be reversed, e.g infertility, and regretted.

But it was the recent constitutional crisis caused by Scotland’s decision to pass the GRR, followed by the case of the Scottish rapist, that opened up the issue to the kind of public scrutiny only dreamed of five years ago. It has given permission to all kinds of journalists, who previously ignored the topic to cover it.  That so many of them  seem to be so ill informed is still quite a shock to me. As if people like the Labour MP Rosie Duffield and JK Rowling have been making a fuss about nothing and it didn’t need any more inquiry. Hadley Freeman herself left the Guardian because she had been banned from writing about any trans story and has shown herself to be one of the best writers on the topic now she is at the Sunday Times.

Even the most hard nosed activists are unlikely to publicly insist that rapists are women – even if they fail to articulate a denial. They know that the public will not accept them being in women’s prisons. This was not meant to have come to the public’s attention. Neither are they saying much about the scandal of child transition. It isn’t too far a stretch now for people to realise that it is the concept of gender identity and it being deemed to take priority over biological sex that has resulted in both these two unfortunate outcomes. Looked at closely the ideology that being male and female is down to an innate inner feeling falls apart.  It has been one of the characteristics of this movement… the ideology doesn’t make sense and doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, hence there has been a refusal to debate, a great deal of shaming of anyone who dared to question it, and change went on behind closed doors. A light has also been shed on the power and influence of the trans lobby although there is more to go on this.

At the end of her article Hadley Freeman asks “How did an NHS service medicalise so many autistic and same-sex-attracted young people, unhappy teenage girls and children who simply felt uncomfortable with masculine or feminine templates, with so little knowledge of the causes of their distress or the effects of the medicine?”  

This is a scandal on a national scale and whilst it is very evident that GIDS put political ideology above good clinical practice, blame lies beyond the NHS. The ideology of the trans child (and I acknowledge that there have always been a small number of those but not on the scale we are now seeing)  has been endorsed and promoted by universities, schools, the Church of England, large corporates and well known brands, councils and government departments. Perhaps people are now beginning to see the link between the rainbow flag celebrations of gender identity ideology and the real life material consequences that follow it – the unnecessary medical transition of vulnerable young people to the opposite sex.