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Pankhurst school’s worrying links to ‘misogynist’ Lawrence Jones

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.

“Dear XXXXXX

 

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:

https://www.manchesterhigh.co.uk/news/?pid=3&nid=1&storyid=161

 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.

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‘Indecent proposals’ from Presidents Club gropers

Another posh dinner, another rather sordid tale of wandering hands, being treated like a piece of meat, indecent proposals with copious amounts of alcohol, requirements to wear navel slimming dresses, and a lengthy non disclosure agreement thrown in for good measure.

Welcome to the annual Presidents Club dinner, a prestigious event that boasts the creme de la creme of London high society and which this time included an auction prize of lunch with the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (himself quite partial to quite degrading attitudes towards women) and tea with Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. The Financial Times sent in an undercover reporter (female) to lift the lid on the sleazy antics of men with prestigious jobs but little or no regards for women. It makes for deeply uncomfortable reading. (Disclaimer: not all men who attended the men only shindig would have let themselves down in the manner reported but those who witnessed sexual harassment yet kept quiet, shame on you)

This weekend saw the UK’s second Women’s March, which I was honoured to help organise. The title of the March- ‘Time’s Up’ which called for an immediate stop to sexual harassment, silencing of victims, and a host of other forms of gender discrimination. It couldn’t have come sooner.

Newly appointed England Women’s football coach Gary Neville was forced to apologise today for sexist tweets from 2011. Over in the US, sports doctor Larry Nasser, who admitted abusing 156 young girls under his care, was given 175 years after admitted his depraved acts. In Pakistan, a national outcry over the rape and murder of a child, Zainab, is still reverberating through the usually staunch conservative society where discussions of rape and child abuse are always hushed under the carpets.

A few weeks ago I wrote about an awards ceremony organised by UKFast which featured women in corsets and a host of smutty jokes. One of the attendees, the University of Bradford, whose students had won an award, handed back the gong after feeling ‘uncomfortable’ during the ceremony.

Sadly, as proved by the Presidents Club dinner, the UKFast awards ceremony and I’m sure other low key events that never make it into the press , sexual harassment & sexist behaviours disguised as ‘entertainment’ or ‘for charity’ are not unique one-off events.

What is unique, of course, was the stance taken by the University and now, FT in lifting the lid on these ‘dinners’. Now that there is a similar outcry following the report published by the Financial Times, leading figures are coming forward to say they either didn’t ‘witness anything’ (Host David Walliams) or that they condemn the conduct towards the women forced to wait on the men at the event. It makes one wonder, if it hadn’t keen for the FT expose, would we be hearing about resignations (David Meller, trustee of the Presidents Club and now ex- non-executive board member at the Department for Education) the condemnations which have been ringing out all day? The answer is no, not very likely. This event is in its 33rd annual year- and I bet there are stacks of NDAs that have bullied women into years of silence through fear of the undeniable legal threats conveyed in the five plus pages the hostesses where forced to sign. Some of these young women were students trying to earn a bit of extra money.

Since going to press, Great Ormond Street Hospital have pledged to return all donations they have received while numerous other organisations have disassociated themselves entirely from the Presidents Club.

Are these outcries across the world symptoms of political correctness gone mad in light of the recent events surrounding MeToo, TimesUp and Women’s March movements, given impetus following Donald Trump’s victory and Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment coming to light? Or could this be a real watershed moment in recent history, compelling us to talk about the notions of consent, self control, verbal and non verbal messages that are transmitted by all genders every day and of course, mutual respect.

Growing up, I always believed that it was only in my culture that men and women were raised with different styles and expectations: men to go out and conquer the world, taking whatever and whoever they wanted while women/ girls constantly told to keep their heads down, accept everything from everybody without a fuss, don’t speak out, say yes at all times, sacrifice your own dreams and goals so that the menfolk can fulfil theirs… did I say ‘never say no’?

But now, having witnessed one of the most startling upheavals to modern day society in terms of sexual harassment I am both heartbroken and pleased to say, ‘no’ it wasn’t just us.

Heartbroken because this is a real endemic that has crossed boundaries, ages, religions, cultures and traditions. But pleased because we are all now discussing this openly, not just whispering behind closed doors and passing on coded messages to other, potential victims.

The issue of consent cannot be denied to satisfy self gratification. If she or he have not said yes, then it’s a no. Not the other way round, where if someone hasn’t said no, then it’s ‘open season’.

Today’s expose of the Presidents Club dinner and other recent scandals, are forcing the debate, and change, forward. Which in my opinion, can only be a good thing.

Soon, there will be no place for sexual harassers and abusers to hide.

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Toby Young: who is regulating our regulators?

When I began writing this piece, Toby Young was still in his position as a non- executive member of the board for the new Office for Students, a ‘body which is intended to ensure institutions in higher education are accountable’. However, despite the real public outcry since his appointment was announced, Theresa May had been steadfast in her refusal to fire him.

When a new cache of deeply inappropriate tweets came to light, Mrs May should have shown leadership by sacking the newly elected so called ‘Student Tsar’ but refused to do so because he “has done some exceedingly good work in relation to Free schools”.

We are always trying to show the next generation the right path, often by modelling the type of behaviour we want to see or calling out certain behaviours that are unacceptable. The lack of decisive action by the government resulted in diluting the severity of Young’s comments, sending the message to young and old alike that these types of comments are acceptable and merely ‘cheeky banter’. They were not. They were further examples of an endemic culture in which women are routinely objectified and other disadvantaged groups lampooned and ridiculed.  This is why May’s decision to give Young yet another chance on Sunday was wrong.

Going over some of Young’s tweets, you could be mistaken in thinking that they were written by a randy teenager with all the manners and social etiquette of someone who binge watches the Inbetweeners and is desperate to lose his virginity. Sadly, for Young and those who appointed him, he is a 54 year old grown man with an incredibly important position in the public eye who has shown that he possesses neither the emotional maturity or the intelligence that is required of someone whose main responsibility would have been to ensure our student population is kept safe. How could he have held to account our further educational institutions when he himself wasn’t even being held to account?

Young’s tweets clearly demonstrated his frankly appalling views on women, (especially their breasts), homosexuals, starving children and the term ‘inclusivity’ despite the deleting spree Young had clearly been on.

Even members of her own party urged May to remove Young; Nicky Morgan MP (the former Secretary of Education and Minister for Women and Equalities) stated many people “will find it hard to understand” how Young got the job while Shadow Health Secretary Jonathon Ashworth MP was more forthcoming: “these tweets are disgusting, offensive, sexist. She (May) should show some leadership, she should get rid of him”.

However, Young is not without supporters; academic Phillip Blond described Young’s tweets as ‘smutty’ and urged us to ‘forgive him’. Young tweeting that he had his ‘dick up (the) arse’ of a pregnant woman is not merely smutty but downright offensive, and promotes the culture of glorifying unwanted sexual advances and rape that we, as campaigners, are trying to highlight and eradicate.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has also waded in to support his long term friend, displaying his famous tact and understanding of the public mood: ‘Ridiculous outcry over Toby Young. He will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit. Ideal man for the job’.

Bad news headlines seems to follow Mr Young where he goes, from hacking into the computer systems at The Times as a news trainee and circulating sensitive materials to disclosing his seedy past as a drug user and pusher at the exclusive Groucho Club (conduct that resulted in him getting fired and expelled respectively).

Ever since his appointment had been announced, further details kept emerging, each more sordid and unpalatable than the last. Young’s own take was interesting: The reason for all this confected outrage, of course, is that I’m a Conservative and an outspoken supporter of Brexit. Because I’ve said and done some pretty sophomoric things in the past, the government’s opponents think they can use me to embarrass Theresa May.”

If ‘delusional denial’ was a physical place, Young was happily sitting with his shoes kicked off, pipe in hand, right at home.

Those whom we elect to shine a spotlight on any wrongdoing in our educational institutions, as well as the processes used to elect them, need to be held to a higher degree of accountability and transparency themselves. Otherwise, the system will collapse under the sheer hypocrisy. Where is the transparency or accountability in all of this?

The real lessons we have learnt from this whole furore is that it was the public that finally held Young to account when our current leadership clearly failed to do so. A recent petition to remove Young from his position gathered over 220,000 signatures in just 7 days. Questions also need to be asked of the process used to appoint Young to ensure there is not a repeat of the same debacle again.

With news of his resignation now trending, Young will probably come to realise that ‘joking’ about masturbating over images of starving children, the size of women’s breasts and naming #grandmasI’dliketoshag is no laughing matter after all.

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