This week, I’m watching: Mumbai High – the Musical

23 Sep

… and I urge you to do the same, if you’re at all interested in India, or education, or musicals, or how other people live; or even if none of those things float your boat but you’re at a loose end and can get access to the BBC iPlayer for the next month or so.

This one hour film,  recently shown on BBC4 as part of their wonderful India season (click on the “India” tag in the cloud to

(c) BBC

(c) BBC

the right of this post on the main blog site for my previous posts about India) tells the story of five children from the Mumbai slum of Dharavi – their backgrounds, homes, families, hopes and dreams (Raj wants to be a doctor, Mary wants to play football with David Beckham). It’s shot using a standard documentary format but is also interspersed with Bollywood/Glee style musical numbers where the children and their teachers sing, in multiple languages, and dance.

I once wrote that India, my favourite country in the world,  finds a new way to uplift you and yet break your heart every day – and this beautiful, moving, funny, emotional film encapsulates that.

Do watch it if you can – and let me know if it speaks to you the way it speaks to me.

Here’s a clip of Iffat, aged 12, telling us how she can speak six languages and gets 100% in all her subjects at school:

On women being paid the same as men for the same work

22 Sep

Earlier this month, I took to the stage in the Library room at Shoreditch House in London as part of a panel event to discussShoreditch House_090915 the gender pay gap. Behind me, a large screen showed a near life size (or so it felt) picture of Beyoncé, in a bikini, covered in money and bearing the caption:

“When will women be paid the same as men for the same work?”

The panel was moderated by writer and producer Deborah Coughlin and with me on stage were Hannah Swerling from ELLE magazine and Reni Eddo-Lodge, a freelance journalist currently working on her first book about politics and race.

Deborah took us through an overview of the facts and figures and then led a discussion around not only the impact of the current gender pay gap, but also around the broader issues surrounding women at work in 2015: do we need to change or does the world of work? Should we be Leaning In? Are quotas a good thing or a bad thing?

Hannah talked about ELLE’s campaigns to be part of a new wave and re-branding of feminism (including supporting next month’s launch of the film “Suffragette”); Reni (who is in favour of quotas and who spoke really compellingly and with great verve and passion about the positive impact that they can have on the careers of women of colour) put out a great plea for the working environment to shift in order to accommodate a 21st century workforce; and I talked about the more formal, office based workplaces in which I’ve spent most of my career and the challenges that women can face at different points of their lives, including my view that the gender pay gap isn’t just about career breaks and child raising but also – and perhaps more so – about an embedded and systemic belief as to the value of work that is rooted in gender based roles.

A couple of the other points that I raised included:

  • The need for transparency: only 270 of the 7000 UK companies which employ 250+ staff have so far done a gender pay audit – and only FIVE of those have published their results. So we need to lift a few more rocks and see what crawls out.
  • Reducing the pay gap: isn’t just about having more women at the top – it’s also about having more men at the bottom, ie achieving a more even distribution of men and women across the pay scale.
  • Lying can be useful: in the context of the practice known as “anchoring”, by which I refer to the cognitive bias that makes people focus On A Number once it’s been stated, leaving only a small space for other, higher numbers to come into play. Imagine discussing your salary of five years ago in a job interview; then try and get That Figure out of play. Aren’t you sorry you mentioned it?

Like a lot of people who spend time in the diversity space, I’m familiar with the event based trope of women stating that Something is Bad and other women in the audience agreeing that yes, It is Bad. I wanted to offer up a few solutions for practical actions, so here’s what I suggested as takeaways for anyone who wants to personally challenge and close up the gender pay gap:

  1. Know your own worth: research the hell out of your market sector (whether freelance or employed), find out market values and hold your ground when in pay based negotiations.
  2. Remind yourself: that men are apparently FOUR TIMES more likely than women to ask for a pay rise or negotiate a higher starting salary or signing on bonus. Consider your actions and think about challenging that number. Ask.
  3. If the above two points feel really uncomfortable as ideas for you: consider working with a coach on negotiation skills, confidence building or whatever else might make you feel more inclined to haggle and get paid what you’re truly worth. Regard the cost of the coaching fees as a major investment in Team You – you should easily earn back the costs over time.

 And, if we’re talking about changing the culture of the workplace,  here are a few ideas that I’d like to see companies/employers taking on board as part of their efforts to close the gender pay gap and build a more balanced workforce:

  • Consider bias awareness training for your recruiters and hiring managers: to both stop them asking inappropriate questions (yes, it still happens, notwithstanding the law) and to change their focus away from previous salaries and the values that may be placed on gender based skills, attributes and employment;
  • Commit to closing the gender pay gap in your company: embed this as a leadership objective, with actions, a timeline and penalties for lack of progress;
  • Look at the bonus culture in your company: much of the 24% pay gap between men and women in finance is rooted in the discretionary pay model; for instance, a Big 4 accounting firm is on record as giving some of the senior men who don’t make Partner a consolation bonus to stop them leaving; most equally unlucky women there don’t apparently consider leaving at this point and so don’t ask for or get a golden “aw, shucks, we love you really” bonus.

I had a really great time at the event, loved taking the questions from the audience (as long time readers know,  I can talk about this stuff all day and all night long) and meeting people afterwards – a process that is still ongoing, as I have several future meetings set up, including one to have coffee with the man behind the Token Man Twitter handle,  who asked why there wasn’t a man on the panel?  A very fair and valid question and one to be somewhat addressed in a future post, which will be on the very ‘now’ topic of engaging men as diversity champions.  As I said whilst on stage:

“No minority group in history ever achieved major, systemic change without the help and support of the majority group.”

On the gender pay gap: do you work for free?

31 Aug

Sometimes you meet someone and a throwaway remark turns into a full on conversation and a really solid connection.

Last year, I was at an event, got chatting and happened to mention the time at which I arrived at a very senior leadership team meeting (of twelve biased men and true) to present my deeply optimistic proposed diversity strategy, only to be greeted by the Chair with the profoundly unhelpful words:

“Here she is – it’s Diversity Barbie!”*

(* not the worst thing I’ve ever been called at work, but certainly not the best of gate openers, either).

My new friend suggested that it would be a great title for my memoir (I can see the pink cover now …) and thus was our connection forged.

We’ve kept in touch and a few weeks ago, I was delighted to be asked to join a panel that she’s convening to discuss the gender pay gap – coincidentally, a topic to which I’ve given a lot of thought of late, given the amount of recent press coverage discussing the issue. For instance, take a look at this article from The Atlantic, in which the idea that asking female interview candidates about their current salary point is mooted as an act of bias – does it have the (possibly unintentional) result of just further double glazing the glass ceiling of pay gaps?

(c) The Fawcett Society

(c) The Fawcett Society

Anyway, I’m looking forward to discussing this topic,  given that, as the Fawcett Society states, “the gender pay gap remains the clearest and most dramatic example of economic inequality for women today.”

The UK government is now pressing ahead with plans (or, as PM David Cameron rather lyrically put it, casting “sunlight on the discrepancies”)  to force large firms to disclose data on the gender pay gap among staff in companies with more than 250 employees;  the PM believes that this will eliminate the gender pay gap “within a generation.”

Which would be A Good Thing, when we consider that (all info below courtesy of the Fawcett Society‘s website) :

  • The UK passed equal pay legislation in 1970 and the USA in 1963 … but working women in the UK and the USA are still paid a fifth less than their male peers (22% in the UK, per The Guardian link above, or the equivalent of working for two hours a day FOR NOTHING);
  • 62% of those currently paid below the UK Living Wage (as at August 2015, £7.65 per hour) are women;
  • Primary causes of The Gap include – the motherhood penalty, leading a higher proportion of women to work in part-time, lower skilled roles due to childcare responsibilities. Then, on their return to work after a career break, reduced opportunities for career progression may force women to take up less senior and lower paid roles;
  • Occupational segregation – as the Fawcett Society confirms, “jobs traditionally done by women, such as cleaning and catering are typically undervalued and paid less than jobs traditionally done by men, such as construction and engineering. Women make up 78% of those working in the low paid sector roles of health and social care, whereas 88% of those working in the highly paid STEM industries, are men.” 
  • Outright discrimination – it’s been over forty years since the Ford machinists took the industrial action depicted in the film Made in Dagenham – but both direct and indirect discrimination still persists in the workplace.

I need to do more research, but I’m looking forward to the event next month.

And here’s my proposed mini bio:

“Cleo is a diversity and inclusion professional who maintains a successful senior corporate career alongside a freelance writing, blogging and social media habit at She has worked for companies which include PricewaterhouseCoopers,  Credit Suisse, Australian engineering conglomerate WorleyParsons and AXA and is the recipient of a 2011 World of Difference award from the International Alliance of Women for her work in supporting the economic empowerment of women and girls around the world.

“She believes that impact is more important than intent, often wears pink and would like to ban the word “banter” in the workplace.” 

Ellen DeGeneres’ new GapKids line blows away gender stereotypes

20 Aug Featured Image -- 1694


Love this story – it has all my favourite ingredients: authenticity, blowing away gender stereotypes, clothes and Ellen. Best line:

“The clothing collection and accompanying ad campaign “encourages girls everywhere to be themselves, do what makes them happy and take pride in who they are,” according to a statement by GapKids.”

Hope we get this range in the UK.

Originally posted on Fortune:

“Be you.”

Ellen DeGeneres breathed new life into that old cliche at Sunday night’s Teen Choice Awards, telling her fans to be proud of their individuality. “I want to make sure that everyone knows that what makes you different right now, makes you stand out later in life,” she said. “So you should be proud of being different, you should be proud of who you are.”

DeGeneres has long been a proponent of embracing your true self—from being one of the first big celebrities to come out as gay, to infusing her unique, goofy spirit into the Ellen Show, to launching a lifestyle brand that sells clothes that mirror her own “non-gender-specific” style.

Today, DeGeneres rolled out her latest individuality-touting endeavor, GapKids x ED, a collaboration between DeGeneres’ ED line and the Gap. The clothing collection and accompanying ad campaign “encourages girls everywhere to be themselves, do what…

View original 597 more words

#WE: celebrating the Women’s Equality Party online today

19 Aug

WEP membership cardMy shiny new Women’s Equality Party “Founding Member” card arrived last week, just in time to join in today’s online celebrations for #WE and to get #WeAreWe and #WEPnesday trending.

The card arrived with a matching WEP sticker and we were asked to “put the sticker on your phone, take a picture in the mirror and post the picture on Twitter and Facebook as the clocks strike noon. If WE all post at the same moment – WE will be noticed!”

I have zero talent for taking selfies, with or without stickers, so I did my own take on the suggestion:

WEP launch selfieAnd indeed, we are being noticed – #WE is trending, alongside the announcement of the latest recruit to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing celebrity roster.

Great people to follow on Twitter for more WEP (@WEP_UK) details include founders @catherine_meyer, @sanditoksvig and leader @sophierunning – and there’s lots more detail about the WEP (the what and the why) on my blog post from last month and their website.

On ruling against banter

15 Aug

Professional contrarian Katie Hopkins is currently appearing on a little watched TV channel called TLC, sort-of-but-not-quite (because Mark Dolan is really doing it) hosting her own chat show called “If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World”. This rather laboured format sees Ms Hopkins and her guests propose assorted laws which they’d implement if they had the power to do so – thus, the studio audience can vote on such proposals as:  only men should propose marriage (to women), “if you’re not groomed, you’re doomed” and, a particular favourite of Katie’s, anything to do with being overweight, because she’d actually like to ban the existence of people with a BMI of 25+.

Along similar lines and when I was recently asked to draft my own updated 100 word bio in which I was asked to indicate a light hearted point of view, the idea that I would also like to ban Something came to me.

And the Thing that I would like to ban is the use of the word “banter” in the workplace – in one particular context.

I’m not in any way a killjoy and of course chat, wit and humour between peers is a great thing and is often what people miss when they move jobs, change offices or even work from home.


My “gripe” is that is that the concept of “banter” is  often used as a dismissive term to disguise the fact that people use it as a shield to hide behind when they’re making remarks (at work, specifically but also in social media posts, emails, text messages or on a football pitch) which others may find offensive. So sexist, racist or homophobic comments are cloaked as “banter” and then when the recipient of said remark objects, they’re often told “it’s just a bit of banter” and are accused of having no sense of humour, taking themselves too seriously or (the horrors) being politically correct.

“Sheer bant”, as my friend’s teenage daughter refers to it, between friends/peers = no problem, but as a device to allow people to say what the hell they like to others and pass it off as “banter”? No.

And,  if we don’t hold people’s feet to the fire and call them out when they come out with utter rubbish and hastily re-badge it as “banter”,  how will we ever effect change in our language, customs and behaviours?

The People Stuff blog covered this from an HR perspective last year – take a look; Gemma makes a lot of sense.

(Image (c) @the100)

Banter_(c) @100

“Here’s the thing. Banter is never, ever a defence or an excuse for discrimination, bullying or harassment. Not in the employment tribunal, not anywhere. … Instead of the banter justification, I would instead advocate using the complete pillock defence. As in admitting you have behaved like one. Followed by a grovelling apology. You can’t undo harassment or bulling once it has taken place. But you can avoid pointless legal expense, or the implication that you just don’t care about equality, by leaving this particular word where it belong. With The Inbetweeners.” 

#WE: I’m in.

27 Jul

#WEP logoTo possibly the surprise of, oh, pretty much nobody,  I’ve just joined the newly-minted Women’s Equality Party as a founder member. After a year out of work,  I haven’t yet started earning again (that comes next week,  when I start my new job)  but somehow,  paying to support and join a party which has women’s equal participation as its sole manifesto feels likes something that I want to do now that I’m in a position to do so. I felt so frustrated and disillusioned with the way in which the main political parties approached gender issues during the most recent UK election that being a positive part of a different way forward feels like something that I can really get behind.

One of the things that I didn’t predict happening when I moved out of London in 2013 was how very isolated I would feel, politically. I’ve gone from living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, in a Labour held constituency with female and Asian candidates on not only my own constituency’s candidate list but also on the lists of the adjacent constituencies,  to being an invisible resident in a location where every single candidate who was fielded here on May 7th 2015 was a white man.  My general voting approach,  if I’ve been after a tactical plan rather than voting for the majority candidate,  has been to consider voting for the female candidate on the docket – but here,  for the first time in my entire voting life that I can remember,  there was no female.  I did get quite excited when I saw that the Labour candidate was called Kim – but no, Kim was a bloke too. I did vote for him,  as it happens,  along with a few hundred others but it made no difference,  either to Kim, the constituency profile or of course,  the majority Government.

So. A new way forward.  Although I loathe everything they stand for,  UKIP have shown us that being a single issue party can be a platform on which to build success and a profile and what could be a bigger single issue than bringing about more equality for 51% of the population?

Repeat after me: “Women are not a minority …”

Here’s the link to the BBC story on the party being set up by Sandi Toksvig in May. And here’s the #WE party objectives:

Our objectives

#WE are pushing for equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life. 

#WE are pressing for equal pay and an equal opportunity to thrive. 

#WE are campaigning for equal parenting and caregiving and shared responsibilities at home to give everyone equal opportunities both in family life and in the work place. 

#WE urge an education system that creates opportunities for all children and an understanding of why this matters.  #WE strive for equal treatment of women by and in the media. 

#WE seek an end to violence against women.


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