Here is my column from yesterday’s Ham & High:
I got sacked from my first job.
It was a small design/advertising agency and one night during my six week trial period – one of the Directors asked if I would join him and a blue chip client for the show reel and drinks. Afterwards he offered me a lift home, insisted on stopping for a drink on the way home and as he dropped my at my mother’s house – made a pretty crude lunge at me. I told him where to go – and the next day I was fired.
I sobbed my heart out to my mother – who said it was just one of life’s lessons. Thank goodness these days (I hate to admit this was over thirty-five years ago) it isn’t just one of life’s lessons – it is sexism, bullying and discrimination – and we have laws against it!
But despite having pretty advanced equalities legislation – reality on the street means that women still find they are paid less than men; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of our community still feel defined by their sexual orientation rather than their personality or skills. Black and ethnic minority teenagers are still condemned daily by assumptions and prejudice.
One of my proudest moments so far in government was the launch at Number 10 of our action plan for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. We will be tackling homophobic bullying in schools. I am looking at the next steps for civil partnerships and I am currently working to produce a plan to take transgender equality forwards – the first ever by any government.
But perhaps the greatest shift is that this government sees gay rights not only as a domestic issue – but in an international context.
Homosexuality is still illegal in over 70 countries. It is why we will use Britain’s influence to push for a unified EU stance on LGBT rights and we will proactively question countries who retain homophobic laws.
We must also get our own asylum laws in order. I was delighted with the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay asylum – a ruling which endorses the coalition’s position of stopping the return of asylum seekers to countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or even death.
Last month I launched a consultation on the public sector equality duty. Public bodies have huge potential to create a fairer society through the way they deliver their services, the people they recruit and the training they offer. Up until now these bodies have been sidetracked by centralised targets – distracting them from the real goal –serving their local community in the best possible way.
Under our plans, these organisations will be free to focus on the community they serve. But in return they must be transparent. Public bodies will have to publish a whole range of equality data – about their staff – about their services. Complete transparency, putting people in charge of the public bodies they pay for.
Gender inequality at work persists – the pay gap itself, the paucity of numbers of women on boards and at senior levels across organizations and companies throughout Britain and in segregated work –where women’s work is often just paid less than men’s.
So we are working to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, to bring in shared parental leave and to get more women on boards – as well as having commenced the Equalities Act on October 1st – which simplified, extended and improves protection from discrimination.
There is no greater privilege than to spend every day fighting for equality. But it’s not just a privilege – it’s a necessity. Because when companies or organisations discriminate – it isn’t just the individual who loses their job who suffers – it’s all of us. We cannot afford to ignore 50% of our population whose skills and talents we all need.
Moreover, it’s just plain wrong.