Last week, Manchester High School for Girls, a school with a long and illustrious history with Emmeline Pankhurst and her family, was forced to do a U-turn over a speaker that they had invited to speak at a forthcoming prestigious ‘Founders’ dinner. The speaker was none other than Lawrence Jones, the CEO of various companies including UKFast.
If you’re wondering why that name sounds familiar, let me help you. UK Fast, and Lawrence Jones recently hit the headlines after the University of Bradford were compelled to return an award after attending a ceremony which featured scantily clad women wearing little more than corsets, performing Moulin Rouge-esque dance sequences. The company behind the event was UK Fast, and it soon became apparent that Mr Jones’ penchant for using semi naked women as part of his business ventures was not a one off. In 2016, a picture showing a female naked from the waist down was used to advertise a hotel that Mr Jones owns in Verbier. (Although there have been rumours that Mr Jones had taken the picture himself, there is no way of verifying this)
During communication between the school and concerned members of public, it has become known that allowing Mr Jones a platform to speak at the dinner was merely the tip of the iceberg; MHSG has many close links to Mr Jones and his company and were not afraid to outline these.
Thank you for your email regarding our Founders’ Lecture. Mrs Hewitt has asked if I would be able to respond to your concerns as a matter of priority today.
The aim of the Founders’ Lecture is to enable members of the Manchester High community to engage with topical debates and we feel that the gender imbalance in the tech sector is certainly worthy of discussion.
We could not agree more that it is important for young women to have positive female role models in the technology sector…In terms of our work with UKFast, over the past three years Arlene Bulfin, Director of People and Development, and Aaron Saxton, Director of Education and Training, have visited the school to deliver 15 Well Being sessions to different year groups. These sessions have not only focused on helping our pupils develop technical skills but have also highlighted the attributes that women have that the tech industry so drastically needs. Over 10 of our pupils have completed work experience placements at the company…
The company has also played host to two of our Year 12 Away Days which encourage students to explore vital 21st century skills such as resilience, pragmatism and the ability to relax. Students also undertook a series of team building activities aimed at helping them bond together, not just for support during their crucial Sixth Form years but into adult:
As with all external organisations/companies that we work with, we did research UKFast beforehand and have seen a business that has a 50/50 gender split at both board and senior management level and guarantees pay equality across all its departments. The business also offers crèche facilities, a flexible approach to childcare arrangements and both substantial maternity and paternity pay.
You may be aware that the business has recently launched the UKFast Education Trust aimed at consolidating its investment in STEM. It is this mission, to balance in equalities in the tech sector, that Lawrence has been asked to speak about at the Founders’ Lecture. The business will admit that it has learned many lessons along the way on its journey from a back bedroom start up and this story will be shared at the lecture.
The significance of the above email cannot be understated, especially as we are celebrating the 100 year anniversary this year of the Suffragettes movement that led to women finally being given the vote. Emmeline Pankhurst will forever be remembered as a leader of the Suffragettes, and for inspiring generation after generation of young women to carry on the struggle for gender equality. Even after the vote for women was granted, generations before us still had to fight for women’s reproductive rights, education rights, employment rights, the rights to be safe from sexual harassment, sex discrimination and gender bias etc. The list is endless, and the struggle never ending. All three of Mrs Pankhurst’s daughters were deeply involved in the suffragette movement, with Sylvia Pankhurst a notable campaigner against fascism.
Young, impressionable teenage girls who are entering the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) should be given all the help and support they need. However, the kind of message UKFast are promoting when using images of, say a naked woman standing behind a stack of servers, seems entirely at odds with their so called commitment to gender equality.
Did Emmeline Pankhurst and her family really sacrifice so much for our rights to see such close partnership between the school that she chose for her daughters to attend and a company that insists on using gratuitous images of naked women to sell products?
MHSG prides itself on its links to the Pankhurst legacy, as can be evidenced from the Pankhurst Bursary Appeal (…”to enable bright girls to fulfil their potential regardless of their ability to pay”) and various other references on their website www.manchesterhigh.co.uk. In fact, in March 2017, a dinner was held to raise funds for a statue of Mrs Pankhurst, with Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst herself, as a guest speaker. How can MHSG allow a known ‘misogynist’ such as Mr Jones a platform given the illustrious historical connections to Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughters and the Suffragette movement.
Although, MGHS did rescind their invite to Mr Jones to speak, WU have sent a letter asking the school to confirm whether this is a short term measure or a long term ban as UKFast are still continuing to use images of semi naked women for advertising purposes.
Perhaps, in light of the recent media coverage of Mr Jones, it is time for a review. And not a moment too soon, given we are still fighting a hundred years on for women to be treated more than the objects of men.