Laughed at, then listened to

Sex Matters Anonymous: How I got braver.

I work for a serious company. Millions of customers, thousands of employees: we’re part of a massive global brand. We’re in the business of sorting out people’s lives and we do a lot of risk training to make sure we do it properly. 

So when I asked to meet with our Head of Diversity to discuss my concerns about Stonewall as a diversity partner I was nervous, but thought I’d get a hearing – we’re encouraged to speak up when we see risks of any sort, be that safeguarding, fraud or anything else. 

Let’s call our Diversity head Nick. Nice chap. Smiley. I explained that I feared Stonewall was giving us misleading advice (example: the Reindorf Review on the University of Essex, just published) and posed a genuine reputational risk (CEO Nancy Kelley had just declared women like me on a par with antisemites). 

Nick asked if I’d read our bullying and harassment policy. Because, he said (still smiling), we have zero tolerance for employees who are against trans people in the workplace. 

Hold on, I said. I’m talking about Stonewall. Are you suggesting that I’m bullying and harassing trans people, just by asking these questions?

Nick told me (laughing now) that in a way, I was. Because my statements were “ludicrous” and “ridiculous”, and I deserved to be seen as “a complete outlier in society”. Besides, I was being “picky about the law”, and Stonewall had won loads of court cases.

Really, I said, what are they, then? (Bring it on, I thought. I know exactly what was said during AEA v EHRC, for example, or Forstater v CGD Europe). 

He didn’t know. “I have no interest in rattling off court cases,” he said. And, in an almost kindly way, he told me:

“I am genuinely laughing at you. I can’t wait for the day, in ten years time, when people like you, with your silly ideologies, will be proved completely wrong.”

We left it there. I’d said my piece. There was to be no debate. As he informed me:

“There is no conflict of rights. None at all. I don’t think this is something we should be entertaining.” 

I was furious. Leave it, said my family. We went on holiday. Maya Forstater won her appeal. I came back, still furious (but now with legally protected furious beliefs). 

More than the trash talk, what hurt was the trashing of my concern for women’s rights and the company’s reputation. Because I really care about the work we do. And I am bloody picky about the law. So picky that I seem to be the only one who’s noticed that our Stonewall-drafted policies effectively make our toilets mixed sex without consultation or equality impact assessment (ditto for the protected characteristic proper to the disabled facilities), and elevate gender identity to a protected characteristic in itself.

So I contacted HR. And they listened. Two separate women listened to me. To be heard, really heard, is a great gift to give someone. The company, apparently already concerned about Stonewall and contacted by other staff, has commissioned an external review. They’re looking into the wording of the policies. Nick, I’m sorry to say, may be in a whole heap of trouble. But I am still furious. I filled out the employee satisfaction survey today. Would I recommend the company? At the moment, I’m not sure I could. 

This is part of an ongoing series of first person stories. If you have a story to tell get in touch [email protected]