#Gender stuff that’s caught my eye this week

#Gender stuff that’s caught my eye this week

Here’s my semi-regular round up of gender related news items which have caught my attention of late.

Firstly,  we seem to have moved into a time when we now monetise International Women’s Day (which falls next week, Tuesday 8th March – how will you mark it?) – somewhat ironic,  given its origins in communist states such as Russia and China, no? I saw in The Observer that L’Occitane have launched this £4 pot of Ultra Soft Balm; they’re donating all profits to women’s projects in Burkina Faso – this, from their website:

L’OCCITANE has been working with the women of Burkina Faso for over 30 years to produce the shea butter used in our award-winning product collections. What started as a partnership with just 12 local women has now developed into an enterprise with over 17,000 women who produce the exceptionally versatile ingredient that both nourishes and protects the skin, even in extreme conditions.

Malala and her mother_Feb 16I was also interested to read a very rare interview with Pakistani schoolgirl and activist Malala Yousafzai’s mother, Toor Pekai – aged 44 and usually in the shadows when it comes  to press coverage about her daughter; even the recent film about Malala’s life and experiences focused on her father, with its title [my emphasis] HE Named Me Malala. But now Toor Pekai shares how she is learning to read and write and explains that Malala nags her to do her homework.

“If I get poor marks, she says to try harder.”

Still on Pakistan, Nicholas Kristof  used a recent New York Times column to write about his Pakistani friend, a former Taliban supporter who now risks his life condemning the Taliban and standing up for women’s rights. His journey is about the power of education — but with a caveat, for what matters is not any education, but the right kind. The article touches on how he evolved from pro-Taliban and anti-American to a voice for moderation and the empowerment of girls. He also has something to say about how Americans like Donald Trump inadvertently help the extremists.

“The most effective opponents of Muslim extremists are the many Muslim moderates whom we in the media often ignore.”

Three of my favourite things are anything which celebrates the achievements of women; fashion; and social history. On that basis, an exhibition which focuses on all three of those activities is very high up on my “Yes, please!” list. Last year, just such an event, Fashion on the Ration_cover“Fashion on the Ration”, was held at the Imperial War Museum in London and I spent half of my birthday wandering around it, looking at the various clothes and artefacts made, worn and modified by women during the Second World War. The exhibition has now closed,  but the Julie Summers’ book which supported it is still available and is a very interesting read (better in the analogue book form than the digital though,  as it’s got great illustrations). A similar exhibition, “Fashion and Freedom” focuses on women in the First World War and is due to open on May 13th at the  Manchester Art Gallery. It sounds fascinating – this link shows some of the photos and gives more details.

Back in the present day, a group of women in California have launched a project they’re calling The Elephant in the Valley – a safe and anonymous forum in which women can tell their stories about gender discrimination and bias in Silicon Valley.  Their hope is that sharing stories “will lead to the type of change that will make Silicon Valley a place of even greater innovation by making it a place of greater equality.”

And Accenture have released some new research in which they suggest that ‘digital fluency’ may be the key to improving workplace gender parity;  if we double the rate at which women become digitally fluent, defined as “the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective”, developed countries could see workplace gender parity by 2040 – 25 years sooner than the current World Economic Forum estimates.

Finally – who you gonna call? The all-female ‘Ghostbusters‘ reboot released its trailer this week, ahead of the film’s release in July. Nice quote from director Paul Feig:

“I seem to have a very feminine take on the world,” Feig said in a recent interview with The Mary Sue. “It is just who I am. I get sent scripts all the time, and when it’s a typical male character who has things together but is faced with a problem, I zone out. I just get completely uninterested. I’ve realized after years of watching movies, I’ve tired of the problems of men. I’m tired of seeing it portrayed.”

Next week, I’ll be blogging about International Women’s Day, women and power and talking to another awesome woman as part of my continuing #PowerofThree series of profiles. I welcome suggestions for interviewees for this series – please contact me if you’d like to bounce around some names.


Does the #genderpaygap start at pocket money time?

Does the #genderpaygap start at pocket money time?

To continue a gender pay gap shaped theme, here is a re-blog of a great article written by Dr. Suzanne Doyle-Morris of The InclusIQ Institute and republished here with her kind permission. (I’ve long been a fan of her work and her first book, Beyond the Boys’ Club, is listed on my recommended reading  page.)

Once you’ve read Suzanne’s article, keep scrolling down to see a joyous piece of film footage from 106 year old Virginia McLaurin.

We all like to think the gender pay gap is a workplace issue, but it seems gender based discrepancies start much younger. The Sunday Times commissioned their own research (£ for the full article) discovering that even the best intentioned of parents are paying sons more, £11.47 on average per week for 14 year olds, compared to £10.67 for their daughters of the same age for pocket money. It may initially sound relatively minor for children, but just like the pay gap amongst adults, it soon adds up. Those few pence every week total an £80 difference each year. However, it’s not just teens who are affected. Other research by the Halifax discovered boys aged 8-11 get £5.06 per week in pocket money compared to their sisters’ £4.85.

And these discrepancies are vital, as they impact how children relate to money. Various studies show the giving of an allowance or pocket money increases ‘monetary competence’. In tests, children with monetary competence spent less when given ‘credit’ and were more accurate in guessing the prices of familiar items. These are undeniably important lessons for any child to learn. It makes us at InclusIQ  wonder: ‘What are the messages we send by giving girls less’? Are we subconsciously preparing daughters for a lifetime of ‘making do’ with less money; a reality which eventually leads to higher rates of poverty amongst female pensioners?

Gender Pay Gap_he said she said

No doubt parents aim to be fair between their own children of either gender. However, this inexplicable discrepancy remains. It reminds us of the differences we see at organisations that are sure they pay people equally and based on merit. However, when we help them look at their internal figures, the evidence doesn’t quite tell the same story – particularly when it comes to discretionary pay. Internally managers always cite seemingly plausible excuses why these differences remain. However, rather than spend time on the creating excuses, we should be creating a fairer world for our current and certainly future workforce. That clearly starts with pocket money.

The Feel Good Story of the Week (other than Adele winning All the Brits) was about a dancing 106 year old from South Carolina. As she and her parents picked cotton and shucked corn in the fields, it never occurred to the young Virginia McLaurin that she might one day eat in the same restaurants as white people. And the notion that she would live to see the country elect a black president, and that one day she’d be invited to the White House and clasp his hands and dance with him for all the world to see? Impossible. And yet it happened — and was captured in a video released by the White House of McLaurin meeting the Obamas during a Black History Month celebration last week.

The Washington Post describes the moment Virginia got to see the footage of herself (complete with blue nails) dancing with the Obamas:

Then finally, deep into the afternoon on Monday, McLaurin got to watch the moment that had made her famous. Her eyes were fixed on the iPhone in her lap, as she sat in a backroom of Busboys and Poets restaurant near U Street —  in front of a mural of civil rights icons. Her mouth dropped open: There she was, dancing with her beloved president. She seemed almost as amazed by the technology that was allowing her to relive it all.

“Where can I get one of these?” she asked about the smartphone video. “I wish this was mine.”

For a few hours over lunch, she reflected on her life and those precious few minutes she had fulfilling a dream she didn’t even know to entertain until 2008.


Here’s the film footage. Just wonderful.

Mind the Gap: Explaining the UK #GenderPayGap

Mind the Gap: Explaining the UK #GenderPayGap

Gender pay gap_coin stackAs part of my continuing look at the gender pay gap, here is a sponsored article from employment law specialists Nationwide Employment Lawyers , who share an overview of the reasons behind the UK gender pay gap and the recently announced plans to challenge it.

* * * *

For years, the imbalance of pay between men and women has been a serious, but often ignored, employment issue. Finding ways to correct the difference is a discussion which encompasses wider forms of the employment disadvantage facing women.

The history of the gender pay gap

In 1970, the Equal Pay Act was legislated so that women would receive equivalent pay to men on condition that they perform the same job for the same employer. However, several loopholes have allowed employers to avoid accusations of unequal payment. This includes legal requirements that allow an employer’s payroll to be the only acceptable source of information for supporting claims of unfair payment.

This same data is also considered the only viable means of determining whether certain kinds of work was performed by women at all, allowing employers to allege that assistance from male employees has occurred, thus rendering female workers’ claims void.

Needless to say, access to such data has resulted in employers generally showing greater concern for their own interests, often refusing to reveal certain information in accordance with their legal rights. Furthermore, employers were (until recently) under no obligation to monitor the difference in pay between male and female employees, effectively allowing them to ignore the possibility of equal pay being denied to workers.

Pay discrimination can be obvious if men are directly paid less than women without excuse, but underpayment is often hidden through crafty guises like different job titles and/or descriptions for female employees.

Although women can bring their concerns before an employment tribunal, the tribunal payment change of 2013, which now calls for all claimants to shoulder the majority of fees themselves, has led to a decrease in such cases due to financial concerns. This has certainly led to many women being failed by the UK legal system.

How the pay gap is recorded

The pay gap is often dismissed as exaggerated or even a fabrication, but research by the Quarterly Reports of tribunal records found that 12% of all tribunal cases launched between 2012/13 involved claims of unequal pay, wholly nullifying any notion of falsehood.

Gender pay gap statistics are generated through comparisons of the opposing average hourly rates between male and female employees. The national population and all UK employment sectors are taken into account when determining this figure.

One common excuse for the pay gap is that greater numbers of women are working part-time, which makes for lower overall female earnings. However, this ignores the fact that official figures monitored by the Office for National Statistics do not take into account part-time wages when recording results for the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. These figures focus solely on the mean average full-time wage between genders, which takes into account the pay of higher earning employees to generate an accurate and fair overall sum.

Negative affects on women

Recent UK studies reveal that the pay gap harms women by affecting their lives in various ways:

  • Mothers are affected by the pay gap as less finances are available to support children, especially single mothers or those without a partner in employment. The result of this can be physical and/or mental exhaustion due to longer hours being required to compensate;
  • Maternity and pregnancy discrimination is interwoven with the pay gap, as the level of full-time pay for maternity leave is being increasingly reduced. This has been defended on the grounds that it seeks to support women wanting less maternity leave, but it is increasingly seen as being forced on all women. This is a huge contrast to men who can now receive financial support for undertaking shared parental duties.

Occupational segregation

One area of concern is the effect of occupational segregation, which involves unfair treatment of gender based roles. Men are paid greater amounts in jobs where they mostly work with other men, while women are paid less in roles where they work mostly alongside other women.

The single gender assessment of certain kinds of work is known as horizontal segregation. Stereotypical ‘horizontal’ roles for women include manual catering or cleaning work, and basic cashier and retail roles. This restricts female achievement and contributes to archaic attitudes to gender that regard female roles as somehow less valuable than men’s.

The opposite of this is vertical segregation where women work in positions alongside men –  but find opportunities for reaching greater positions restricted, due to gender related constraints causing them to be under-represented in high-paying occupations, adding to pay-gap statistics. It is necessary to abolish attitudes associated with both forms of occupational segregation in the quest to make pay equal.

Steps to solving the gender pay gap

 One way UK employment law is helping reduce the pay gap is by altering the law: as of 26th March 2016, businesses with a staff of 250+ employees will have to release information on the pay and bonus differences between their male and female workers.

All concerns outlined here, along with many others, need to be addressed and rectified before female employees and those close to them are free from the pay gap harm they experience.

Learn about how employment solicitors can help gender issues in the workplace.





This is a sponsored post from Nationwide Employment Lawyers . If you’d like to discuss how the Gender Blog can help support your business, please contact me


On having a minority for every occasion

On having a minority for every occasion

Man Who Has It All_1Awareness of the lack of diversity (racial, gender – the list goes on) in certain aspects of business (and life, really) has now gone mainstream to such an extent that it’s being parodied and mocked on social media.

First we had the genius Man Who Has It All on Twitter and Facebook, sharing such gems as:


Is it REALLY possible for men to juggle kids, housework, lack of sleep, dull skin & the first signs of ageing hair?


CONGRATULATIONS to all male EU leaders for getting there on merit alone. Very well done all of you.

Man Who Has It All_2

And then last week, a satirical website offering “token minorities” for hire – to sprinkle diversity into marketing material or a conference panel – went viral.

Rent-A-Minority lampoons the tech and media industries its founder says pay lip-service to the notion of diversity without making any meaningful changes.  The site was created by Arwa Mahdawi,  who works for an advertising firm in New York. She is half-Palestinian and half-English and told the BBC that she created the site because she was tired of seeing companies making superficial gestures to promote diversity.

“It’s very frustrating when you’re a minority yourself, because while you’re facing institutional hurdles, all the talk of diversity means a lot of people think you’re benefitting from positive discrimination,” she says. “What actually triggered me to set up the site was someone asking me – in a very matter of fact way – if being brown and female was an advantage in advertising, which is absolutely ridiculous.”

She also says that in her view, the problem is particularly pronounced in the technology and media industries. While companies’ marketing materials may feature a perfect ratio of minority faces, their boards of directors is often another story.

RentAMinority images
(c) RentAMinority

Mahdawi says she hasn’t had a genuine enquiry from any businesses yet, but has been contacted by a handful of individuals who may have missed the point, and want to register as minority guests, keen to speak at future conferences.

As with Man Who Has It All,  the spoof is so near to the truth that it’s quite painful. How long must we wait until the problem dissolves so that there’s nothing to parody and that we also don’t need the Lean In library of photo images, curated with Getty Images to give picture options which don’t play to the oh-so-familiar Woman Laughing at Salad trope?



Is the #GenderPayGap THE diversity issue of 2016?

Is the #GenderPayGap THE diversity issue of 2016?

Gender pay gap (c) Matt Daily Telegraph Feb 2016
(c) The Daily Telegraph

If my inbox is any indicator of the current level of interest in this topic, then yes, it is: there’s a strong searchlight currently shining on employers and looking at how salaries and bonus payments are decided – in much the same way, as, a few years ago,  there was a lot of attention paid,  in the wake of the Davies Review, to the issue of women on boards.

In advance of some forthcoming sponsored content from employment law firm Nationwide Employment Lawyers  who will summarise the details of the legislative approach to closing the gender pay gap,  here’s my round up of some of the current news stories on this topic.

New (UK) rules published last week revealed that employers will have to disclose far more data on pay levels than they had expected. Companies have been waiting for these rules with trepidation and some fear they will be hit with big lawsuits from female employees when they publish the data.  However, employers will not have to publish any information until April 2018, giving them more time to prepare than many had feared.

Companies with 250 employees or more (about 8,000 firms) will have to publish both their mean and median gender pay gaps for salaries and bonuses. They will also have to publish the number of men and women in each salary quartile. The government said it will use the data to produce sectoral league tables that rank whole sectors against each other according to their average pay gaps. As reported in the FT, a government spokesman said they had not decided whether to also publish league tables of individual companies.

Employers must also publish their gender pay gap on their websites. They will have to report every year and senior executives will be expected to sign off the figures personally. However, I find myself agreeing with Frances O’Grady of the TUC when she notes that:

“It is a real shame that bosses won’t be made to explain why pay gaps exist in their workplaces and what action they will take to narrow them.”

If you’ve ever wondered what the pay gap might look like as it relates to your job,  here’s an American (but I imagine the model is similar for UK roles) calculator from the Motto newsletter. And the New York Times reports that President Obama has announced a similar approach to the UK aimed at closing the American gender pay gap.

Meanwhile,  Adzuna, a job search site, has released data suggesting women in the UK are much more likely to be underpaid than men. Three out of five women could be earning less than their ‘market value’ compared to just two in five men, highlighting a clear gender divide. While only 17% of women surveyed earned over £50,000 per annum, almost double that percentage (32%) of male workers were paid at that level. At the other end of the scale, more women (20%) than men (13%) reported earnings under £20,000 per year. The research analysed self-reported actual salaries of over 20,000 UK workers to highlight salary variations across genders, 20 industries and 12 UK regions.

However, some companies are taking matters into their own hands: Intel claim to have closed their gender pay gap and Swiss bank UBS is reviewing its compensation to look for—and address—instances where male bankers are paid more than their female colleagues.

Reuters  have examined how the (US) gender pay gap hurts women’s retirement plans (clue: it means working for an additional ELEVEN years). And, in case you were wondering if this gap was due to having had a career break at some point, mid-career – nope:

“A woman who works full-time over a 40-year period loses $435,480 in lifetime income (today’s dollars) due to the wage gap, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), a nonprofit legal and advocacy group. Put another way, the typical woman needs to work 11 years longer than a man to achieve accumulated income parity.”

However, equal pay for millennials is a boost for equal parenting, trumpets the FT. So it’s all good for future generations – in theory, at least.

To all of this,  we can add the recent news stories in which we learned that,  not only do women tend to earn less,  they also have to pay more for the same items – here’s the BBC’s take on the gender price gap, where  we can see that, at its most simplistic, pink stuff costs more than blue stuff.










Hillary has (just) triumphed in Iowa – but who remembers Shirley?

Hillary has (just) triumphed in Iowa – but who remembers Shirley?

2016-01-04 09.51.27On our recent USA road trip holiday, we drove nearly 2,000 miles across four states – but I only saw ONE Vote for Hillary car bumper sticker (just about pictured here – and no, I wasn’t driving when I took this photo). Due to the curiously American habit of using one’s vehicle as a mobile billboard to proclaim various relationships, allegiances or preferences (“I Brake for a Double Latte” being a great example of the latter) I was able to monitor the growing tide of public support for assorted potential Presidential candidates as we drove around – and can say that, based on what we saw, Ted Cruz was doing pretty well amongst SUV drivers, shortly followed by Donald Trump.

(As an aside, I think it’s an interesting metric-cum-weather-vane as to how a state’s voters think when you look at their bumper stickers – so I wonder which US state is currently leading the pack with regard to Hillary support on cars? Has anyone ever measured this?!)

I’m a huge fan of the work of journalist and author Nicholas Kristof, co-author with his wife Sheryl WuDunn of books “Half the Sky” and “A Path Appears” as well as a roving op-ed columnist for the New York Times. He sends out a regular e-newsletter related to his columns and a recent edition referred to Hillary Clinton’s changed approach to referencing her feminism, commenting that:

“It’s a measure of how much the country has changed that these days Clinton is running as a feminist, after decades of skirting the issue. In 2008 she barely mentioned her gender; now it’s a refrain.

“This really comes down to whether I can encourage and mobilize women to vote for the first woman president,” Time quoted her as saying. She even said she’d be open to choosing a woman as her running mate.

Kristof expanded on this in the newsletter, opening up with:

“One gauge of this election’s weirdness: It may result in a female president, or in a president (Trump) who has been a champion of sexism. And on the sidelines, President Obama has weighed in with a call for a tax break for tampons. Women increasingly are affecting the national conversation, and change is afoot.

“I didn’t have space to get into it in the column, but there’s interesting research on the extent to which women leaders matter. For “Half the Sky,” Sheryl WuDunn and I examined female presidents and prime ministers around the world, and we found no impact on such metrics as maternal mortality, girls’ education or access to family planning. But there’s also an argument that the first woman leader in a country (think Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir) is often particularly tough and less focused on women’s issues, but that later women will be. There’s also evidence, particularly from India, that women leaders matter at the grassroots: Female village leaders are less corrupt and more focused on women’s concerns than male village leaders. And there’s some evidence that women in power create role models who change expectations about what leadership can be.”

Kristof also notes that:

“Conversely, maybe it’s also a sign of progress that young women aren’t particularly inclined to support Clinton: They’re less likely to see their space defined by glass ceilings.”

– and I wonder if that’s because, if you’re of a certain age,  the idea that a woman could be Secretary of State, or a CEO, just doesn’t seem so impossible?  I’m certain that this is a measure of a progress and a good thing,  but this recent article on the BBC about Shirley Chisholm,  who ran for the Democratic Presidential ticket in 1972 and is now somehow almost forgotten in American history,  was a reminder about how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go.

“She was a pioneer for her generation, a woman of many firsts – the first African American congresswoman. The first African American to run for president. The first woman to run for president.” Shirley Chisholm_1972

Back to today: I’m glad to see that Kristof’s paper, the New York Times, has come out and endorsed Hillary for the Democratic nomination and I look forward to seeing how she does in the campaign.

(This link will allow you to sign up for Kristof’s newsletter, if you’re interested).

Women (and men) who mattered most in 2015

Women (and men) who mattered most in 2015

Happy New Year!

Welcome to my very (very) personal list of the women (and a few men) who made a difference to me,  and maybe to you, in 2015.

Who else would you add?

In the wider world:

  • Laura Barnett: for writing my novel of 2015 and depicting fifty slightly alternative years over three slightly different women’s lives, all named Eva, in The Versions of Us.

    The Versions of Us
    (c) Amazon
  • Tea Leoni: as both Actress and Executive Producer in Madam Secretary, my binge watching choice of the year, with an honorary mention to Tim Daly for playing the trailing spouse and lead parent role with humour and grace;
  • Catherine Mayer, Sandi Toksvig and Sophie Walker: for founding the Women’s Equality Party in March 2015, crowdfunding their war chest and showing us that single issue politics can mean more than just bigots in blazers in UKIP. As an aside, I wasn’t able to attend the recent WEP event in central London but barrister Max Hardy went along and wrote a very interesting blog piece of his own about it and how it feels to be one of the few men in the room;
  • Viola Davis: for reminding us, as part of the ongoing discussion about diversity in showbiz, at the 2015 Emmys that “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity” and that “Talent and opportunity are two different things”  – not just true in Hollywood,  but in the wider world too – particularly when anyone in the corporate world insists that merit trumps opportunity in the workplace;
  • The gender pay gap has been much on my mind of late and clearly on Patricia Arquette’s too: she makes this list for calling it out at the 2015 Oscars;
  • Similarly, props to Jennifer Lawrence for her Lenny essay – a timely reminder to us all about asking for what you want, deserve and are worth;
  • My film of 2015 was the superb (and mysteriously overlooked in Oscar nomination terms) “Suffragette” – see my review here. In acting terms – Carey Mulligan is just incredible, but the whole production is a very female-centric one, and that’s still so rare as to be comment worthy.  If you need to wonder why I’m gushing like this, then you haven’t seen the film and so need to do so, immediately (the DVD is out in the UK on 29th February);
  • t-pirelli-calendar-2016-amy-schumer
    (c) Vanity Fair/Pirelli

    Amy Schumer: for making me laugh, very hard, during “Trainwreck” and for participating in the Pirelli calendar with a fantastic, vanity free shot which shows that modern beauty does indeed come in many forms;

  • And finally – Justin Trudeau, new man in Canada: for the best soundbite of the year:

And in my world:

  • Foluke Akinlose: for never pausing in her attempts to showcase the achievements of so many brilliant women of colour with the annual Precious Awards;
  • My friends: L and A, for always being there for me during what has often been a challenging year. And Kayleigh: my hairdresser, for working with me to sort out someone else’s horrible hair don’t (as executed upon my innocent head on 8th July 2014);
  • All the mostly, but not exclusively women, who follow my cooking, weight loss and eating photos on Instagram  (@lowcarbcleo) and who support me every day in my new low carb, healthier life.

Thank you all.  And here’s to an amazing, uplifting 2016.