It would seem that those lovely folk at the University of Bradford, my alma mater, provide not only a world class educational service, they also strive hard to fight misogyny and deep rooted sexism.
The story unfolded last week when the University won an award for one of the categories in the Digital Entrepreneur Awards, described as the UK’s longest standing national technology awards by the Guardian. However, when representatives attended to receive the award on behalf of the University, they were shocked to see scantily clad women dancing in skimpy corsets and a slew of sexist jokes directed at the guests by the evening’s compere. This was clearly not something that the University’s external affairs director, Mark Garratt, had expected nor wanted to see. “We thought afterwards and we couldn’t possibly keep the award. The whole ceremony didn’t sit comfortably with what, as a university, we are trying to promote”. The award was duly returned to the organisers.
So who is behind the ceremony and why does it matter that he decided to hire dancers in corsets for an evening of celebrating success in the Tech and IT business world? Step forward Lawrence Jones MBE, a successful businessman and someone keen to promote an image of a caring, father of four family man who also likes to use images of women naked from the waist down to promote his businesses.
‘Neanderthal in a suit’ Lawrence Jones MBE poses happily in front of his UKFast business
According to Mr Jones’ website, he is the ‘founder and CEO of cloud technology firm UKFast. In 17 years he has lead its phenomenal growth from a start-up in a spare bedroom to a £300 million enterprise. Today, Lawrence continues to mentor and inspire huge numbers of people including professional athletes, musicians and fellow entrepreneurs. Lawrences’ blog is read by more than 200,000 people every month.’
Various other sources describe him as Wales second richest man with an estimated fortune of £330 million and counting while his website boasts an array of positive headlines such as ‘If you can do, teach’ and ‘Who are your role models?’ No doubt the MBE and images of family outings have helped to give Mr Jones a veneer of respectability but is this carefully crafted image just a ploy to disguise the fact that Mr Jones is nothing more than a misogynist, old fashioned dinosaur masquerading as a caring and forward thinking boss, proud family man and over all good guy?
Mark Garrratt, Director of External Affairs at the University of Bradford, felt unable to keep prestigious Tech award after being confronted by semi naked dancers
Writer and runner up in the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK IT 2017, Naomi Timperley may argue that he is more the former than the latter. In 2016, she came across an advert in the tech bible ‘Business Cloud Magazine’ for UKFast showing a women wearing just a top while carrying a pair of skis under the strapline ‘YOU + ME APRÈS’ and bravely, decided to speak out about what a naked arse was doing in a tech magazine. Needless to say, she was not moved to the top of Mr Jones’ Christmas card or skiing holiday guests list and was instead subjected to a lot of ‘intense scrutiny’ from Mr Jones.
The controversial ‘naked arse’ in tech bible that underlined UKFast ‘chauvinistic’ attitudes to women
If only Ms Timperley had come across one of Mr Jones’ 2010 blogs in which he described his ‘perfect’ UKFast Girls, she may not have been that shocked;
26 April 2010
Who are the UKFast girls and what is their purpose?
The UKFast girls work incredibly hard. They are all super intelligent, fun characters with big personalities with the caring gene which means they make the perfect hostesses.
I find it helps having fun people around. The girls help break the ice at events and play an invaluable role in so many areas of the businesses. They all double up in some capacity or other – be they a PA, sales person, account manager or even senior manager. By hanging around with the girls we develop strong relations with each other cementing a bond which is necessary when working under pressure.
UKFast girls are also expected to always greet people with a big helpful smile, and proved to be a big hit at the premiership rugby this year.
Mr Jones has also posted a very helpful picture of a group of young, attractive women wearing bikinis and relaxing in what looks like a hot tub with a single young male after a morning spent skiing while ‘helping to host the 2010 UKFast Hosting Summit in Verbier’s prestigious venue, The Lodge. I say ‘helpful’ if you are of the opinion that women should look good, nod politely and smile while they pamper to your every need. I can’t make my mind up at what I’m more shocked at; blatant objectification of women or the way it has been so normalised by the IT/ Tech industries.
Another gratuitous image of young women in bikinis posing with a young man in a hot tub, promoting UKFast
Another picture, now removed, from Mr Jones’ blog shows a group of young women in hotpants at another competition under the title ‘The Hottest Hosting Provider- Lawrence Jones CEO of UKFast’. One of the barely clad women is Gail Jones, the wife of Mr Jones and Managing Director of UKFast. No doubt having a female MD posing in a pair of hot pants is probably Mr Jones’ attempt to show what a ‘champion’ he is for women’s right and progress in the Tech world.
MD & wife of Lawrence Jones, Gail Jones poses with a group of no doubt very intelligent, clever & articulate women to promote UKFast. In hot pants.
Everything that UKFast Girls stands for is wrong and inherently sexist. Even by the standard of the current climate of #metoo and the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, this level of misogyny towards women has been staggeringly jaw dropping.
Had the University of Bradford kept the award, this would have sent a deeply worrying message to not only female students but also the male students too; that the University not only promotes the objectification of women, but endorses it too by sharing platforms and accepting accolades from sexist business leaders.
The University I attended, in the heartland of multi-cultural communities of Bradford, is a magnet for young, impressionable students from families where traditional roles of men and women have been established and reinforced well into adulthood. These students, both male and female, needed to be shown that women are not just there to look attractive and satisfy the whims of men. And the University certainly did that. The handing of the award generated national headlines and forced Mr Jones to remove some of the more ‘out there’ images from his personal blog (women posing in hot pants being just one of them)
The world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has always suffered from a certain, ‘men only’ image problem and many girls are put off or simply not encouraged to enter these professions from a young age.
Those who do enter, find themselves either having to prove themselves again and again or to put up with outdated and old fashioned views from ‘Neanderthals in Suits’. This needs to end. But the battle needs to starts much, much earlier, in primary schools, in secondary schools and in the homes and communities of young girls. Parveen, a mother to a six year old daughter and three boys, reflected on her daughter’s future plans; “I want my daughter to be whatever she wants to be, whether a doctor or an engineer. She is just as good clever, if not smarter, than her three brothers.”
Another campaigner for gender equality, engineer and construction manager Rana Shama Nazir, believes that we need to encourage more young girls into male dominated, STEM professions from a young age ‘to build their confidence and help society be more accepting of it’.
Can we safely assume that we are turning a corner against sexism and misogyny in the usual male dominated workplaces? It is hard to say what the landscape will look like in the future after the current sexual harassment scandals subside. But in the meantime, we should be incredibly grateful towards the University of Bradford for making a stand against sexism and misogyny. We may have lost an award but we have sent a powerful message to both young students and to all the ‘Lawrence Jones’ of this world.