Is everyday sexism really a legal issue?

My blog post and outraged response to the Guardian’s Dear Jeremy column back in May, remains one of my most read and shared.

Here’s a reminder if you missed it

Many of you have asked me if I ever received a reply. Well yes I did. But it was so disappointing that it just outraged me even more.

Fortunately I had a kick-boxing class to take it out on.

So here it is, the official response from the Guardian.

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From: Readers editor –

Date: 13 May 2015 at 15.21

Thank you for your email about the Jeremy Bullmore column, which was forwarded to this department. We received a number of emails about this column and have discussed them with both Bullmore and his section editors. Bullmore says that he does make clear that he is not qualified to deal with matters of employment law, and that much of the advice he offers every week is along the lines that mutual understanding leads to happier outcomes than immediate recourse to the law. 

However, he recognises the points you make in your email, and his section editors will be keeping a closer eye on the column in future.

Best wishes

Barbara Harper


Never has the hashtag #everydaysexism been more appropriate than now.

Does anyone truly need to be an expert or qualified in employment law to know whether something is sexist or not? Absolutely not.

So Dear Jeremy doesn’t think his reply is sexist and I’m afraid Dear Reader neither does his Editor. Whilst the role of a columnist is to give their personal view – and court controversy – I believe that in this case, the Guardian has a responsibility and a vicarious liability to comply with the Equality Act and ensure others do as well. I hate to say it, but this editorial team needs some equalities training.

This response is especially disappointing as it comes after Katherine Viner was appointed as editor-in-chief of the Guardian. The first woman to run the newspaper in its 194-year history. One assumes that the competitive selection process she won, beating 25 other candidates, didn’t ask her gender specific questions or assume she was less capable of committing to and doing a good job because she was female?

Commenting on her appointment, Viner said “I intend to lead a media organisation that is bold, challenging, open and engaging.

This particular reader isn’t seeing much evidence of that yet.

True equality in 2015 still seems to be aspirational rather than achievable or just the norm. We have to do much more about this if we are not to see whole generations of women under achieving because of the unconscious bias that is the foundation of the workplace.

If you’d like to do something about it, contact me.


Planning your Christmas party – don’t let it all go wrong

Whilst we appreciate that some will say that it is “only” November and therefore too early for a festive article, our local council has started decorating the town with Christmas trees and fairy lights and so, as far as we are concerned, the festive countdown is on!

A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) case of MBNA Limited v Jones (UK EAT / 0120/15/MC) is a good example of a staff night out gone wrong.

The Background Facts

MBNA Ltd (the “Bank”) hosted a corporate event to celebrate its 20th anniversary. All staff were told that it was a work event and that normal standards of behaviour and conduct would apply and any misbehaviour would be subject to the Bank’s procedures and guidelines.

An employee called Mr Jones (the “Claimant”) together with other employees had started drinking prior to the event. At an early stage of the evening, the Claimant was kneed in the back of his leg by another employee to which the Claimant responded by licking his fellow employee’s face. Onlookers considered the incident to be no more than “fun / banter”.

Later in the evening the Claimant was again kneed in the leg and at this stage the Claimant punched his fellow employee in the face. The corporate event then ended and the night continued with some employees going to a local nightclub. While the Claimant was inside the nightclub, his fellow employee waited outside and sent the Claimant a number of text messages threatening to (inter alia) “rip your ******* head off”.  However no further incident did in fact occur.

The Bank conducted a disciplinary investigation and brought charges against both the Claimant and the other employee. The Claimant was charged with, among other things, punching his colleague and behaviour which could harm the reputation of the Bank.

The Claimant claimed self-defence however he was was dismissed. His colleague, however, was not and received a final written warning in circumstances where it was found that the inappropriate text messages were made as an immediate response to the Claimant hitting him.

The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal, arguing that he had been subject to inconsistent treatment which was unreasonable. The Employment Judge agreed with the Claimant and found the dismissal to be unfair.  The matter was thereafter appealed to the EAT.

The EAT overturned the Employment Tribunal’s decision. In particular, the EAT noted that the Employment Judge had not, when considering any argument on disparity, expressly drawn a distinction between a deliberate punch in the face at what was designated to be a workplace and a threat afterwards that was never carried out.

Lessons Learned

This case is but one further example in a body of case law which has arisen as a result of behaviour and acts committed at social events and/or Christmas parties which are considered to be an extension of the workplace. It is most definitely the season to be jolly and whilst an employer can’t always stop bad behaviour, induced by alcohol or general festive exuberance, it can manage the expectations of staff so that everyone knows the standards of conduct that will be expected from employees at work social events and the consequences if these are not maintained.

While it may be too early to wish readers a Merry Christmas, planning the office Christmas party should act as a timely reminder to employers to ensure that company disciplinary, harassment and discrimination policies are in force and up to date.

And that everyone understands that they are bound by them. No matter how senior.

Have a wonderful party.

Do As You Would Be Done By – Working With Associates


For us the most important thing is to give our clients flexibility and the right expertise, no matter what issue crops up. It’s also about running a fluid business that can change and expand when it needs to.

We work with a group of trusted (and vetted) freelance HR professionals but we put simple systems in place to ensure that their work represents the standards we set for ourselves. We insist all documentation is stored on our secure shared drives, that all work or advice is quality checked and we hold regular case conferences. We also offer payroll, HR software and other integrated services that it is harder to replicate as a freelancer. We recognise that flexibility and professionalism are key… on both sides.

We also reward our freelancers for their efforts. If a freelancer comes to work for us and brings existing clients, we charge no mark up on that work, if they want to use our systems and bill through us. Maybe even benefitting from our P.I. insurance cover. It helps us grow our business and develop a rewarding supportive relationship with them.

If an associate takes a client

But what if an associate does go behind your back and work directly for a client? We know this happens and what it

should do is provide an opportunity to look at your own business and find out why. Is there a wider issue? Was your client concerned about cost and are they getting a better service working directly with an individual. Maybe your systems, response times or SLAs need reviewing.

It’s obviously in breach of your associate’s agreement with you to do this but perhaps they’ve taken the view short term work is worth more than developing longer term relationships.

So what would Amelore do? It might surprise you to know that we wouldn’t do anything at all. If either party had asked we’d probably have said yes anyway. At the end of the day personal integrity, personal brand and relationships are critical in business. We are all in business to make a living.

Our working motto is do as you would be done by. It influences all our relationships and approach. With clients, staff, suppliers and our business partners. That’s the Amelore way.

An evening with Sophie Cornish – in aid of Maggie Centres

What an amazing night!

We were thrilled with how our event went last week. In total (including raffle tickets sales and donations for our Culture crawl walk in September) we raised nearly £5,000 which is fabulous news but we also had a wonderful evening.

BBC journalist, Steve Knibbs interviewed Sophie and me. Although we have worked with each other and had just spent the weekend together (our husbands are brothers) we have never done an event like that before so we didn’t know what to expect.

Steve began by interviewing Sophie who delighted the audience by sharing some of the highs and lows of her entrepreneurial career so far.

As you know, has just been an incredible success story. The brand has experienced exceptional growth with TTV (total transactional value) in 2014 reaching £127 million, with year on year sales growth continuing to thrive in 2015. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Fake it ‘til you make it

Sophie told us how it all began with her business partner Holly Tucker. They took a simple online shopping idea and added a lot of energy and determination to bring it to life. They always knew it was a good idea, she said, but needed the money to get it off the ground. Taking from their own savings, maxing their credit cards and borrowing from friends and family. As many business start-ups know, you need the finance to keep it going.

There were many times they thought the adventure was over, but it was still important to present a positive united front.

Like the day she spent the morning going through the figures with Holly and realised they might have to lose some staff, then receiving a call from a national magazine and having to put on a brave face. You have to fake it ‘til you make she told the audience, something that really struck a chord with the small business owners in the crowd!

Behind the scenes

But the night wasn’t just about business start-ups, Sophie and I had really wanted to focus on people and brand values too, such huge parts of business growth and success. What did you find when you first went to NOTHS? Steve asked me. I was honest, it was amazing, it looks and feels on the inside just as it does on the outside.

Years ago I did an assignment at a famous department store and behind the scenes it was such a contrast. Cramped cluttered working conditions with broken desks and poor lighting. Walking into NOTHS was the complete opposite – like walking into Alice in Wonderland with Holly and Sophie just oozing their brand and loving what they were doing. It really showed and everything they did reinforced what they cared about – from how they advertised for new staff to their reception desk and the refreshments that they served their board members.

Beautifully branded advert for the CMO role at
Beautifully branded advert for the CMO role at


People and personalities

Something I shared on the night which has been huge with all our clients and was with Holly and Sophie is the importance of profiling personality. You will see in the book “Shape up your Business”, how complimentary Holly and Sophie were to each other. But also knowing their profiles we were able to hire a strong C-suite and support them managing each senior individual in a unique and effective way.

Whether I work with CEO’s directly or am coaching individuals it is the first thing we focus on as it gives you so much helpful information about how people work best, how to communicate with them, what type of work they thrive and flourish in and what their stressors are.

Feedback is valuable

Steve asked me about 360 feedback and whether it worked. I agreed that it had a place but was most effective if done via an independent 3rd party. Thing is that when we get the call to go in and remove a difficult senior individual they will almost always have great 360 feedback. No-one feels truly comfortable to give negative feedback and often it can be career limiting. That’s the truth of it.

Appraisals in general are something that we have been looking at closely as they cost lots of time and money and we aren’t convinced they really drive performance. Plenty of other things do including active career management. But not performance management in the traditional sense.

So here are a few top tips from us both – click on the link below:

Top tips from Sophie Cornish and Ruth Cornish

Top Business tips from Sophie Cornish and Ruth Cornish

Sophie’s Top Tips

  • Make a plan, set goals and stick to them… It’s key that you know where you want to go and how you plan on getting there. Listen to that voice in your head – the one that sees a need, and an opportunity to meet it, allow yourself the moments of inspiration and most importantly, act! Your time is now, listen to your ideas and make them count.
  • However much money you think you need, it will be at least twice as much. No one ever went bust with money in the bank, so to give your business the time, and the best chance, for success, never take your eye off that cashflow forecast. Get in money before you’re desperate, and you’ll negotiate the right deal.
  • Keep an eye on the current trends… It’s important to look at the wider picture and the emerging trends and influences that are shaping the commercial world and the world of your customer. It’s key to stay one step ahead and use new trends to your advantage. Your reaction to these can differentiate you from your competitors, will help you stay on the front foot and will ensure that your strategy continues to evolve accordingly.
  • Never let your staff get demotivated because… you need them more than you might realise. Your team is what keeps the business alive so don’t forget this – make them feel like they are truly part of the business and keep them engaged. Honesty and openness are key as is communication, remember you are all on this journey and it’s important to take them with you.
  • You don’t have to be an expert in everything. If you don’t have an expert skill in a particular field… then seek expert help because we aren’t all perfect! That’s what makes a team so wonderful, it’s a group of people with different strengths who combined can build something you could have never done on your own. When building, Holly Tucker and I were successful because we complimented each others strengths and collaborated in order to achieve.

Ruth’s Top Tips

  • Your brand is critical….whether you are an individual or a business. If you are an individual take care to ensure that everything about you from how you look to how you respond to others conveys the person you want to be. Businesses should take care to ensure that all internal practices reinforce their brand.
  • Get the right people and support…no matter how big or small your business, you need to get it right on the people front. If you really want to get ahead make sure you are not bogging yourself and others down with unnecessary HR bureaucracy, rules and regulations. Be an informed leader, especially when you hire managers with more experience than you. If you can’t change the people, sometimes you have to change the people. Not everyone who starts the journey, will be right to go all the way.
  • Get the right investment……. If you want investors take care to go through a very thorough process to pick those who will compliment you and not try and run your business for you. An investor should never ‘mentor’ a business owner as there will always be a potential conflict of interest. Be clear about what you need to share and what is day to day management is.
  • Personality, personality, personality……understand your own personality, that of your team and the business personality you want to project. All three need to work for your business to be successful. The quality of your team will be something that future investors or buyers of your business will look at – it will add or detract from the value of your business. Talk to Amelore about personality profiling.
  • Turn adversity into a positive opportunity…….. Often the things that go wrong in our lives are as valuable as the things that go right. Work with an experienced coach or trusted mentor if you want an external perspective, follow some of the exercises in the Shape up your Business book or talk to Amelore



Does the C-suite know what good people practices look like?

One of the million dollar questions in every business is whether the CEO and the senior management team know what good looks like. Because if they don’t how will they set standards and manage upwards to achieve better results? To compete? To grow? To survive..

There will be some areas of the business that they will feel more about doing this.

Product development

Customer service

Finances and financial performance

IT systems and core infrastructure

Marketing and PR

But often it is the area of people management, HR, recruitment, the workers, the workforce and the future of work that they will feel less sure about.

In the Harvard Business Review, July-August 2015 edition, Peter Cappelli wrote about “Why we love to hate HR…and what HR can do about it” and observed that “CEO’s and operating executives are rarely experts on workplace issues”.

Many companies say to us that what they have in their HR function is OK or fine or adequate. Many HR professionals talk to us privately about clear areas that could be improved and express frustration that the business doesn’t agree.

In the above mentioned HBR article Cappelli mentioned a Head of HR at a leading corporation who had survived lots of restructurings and was asked about the key to his success. His response was “I do whatever the CEO wants”.

That can happen to HR professionals. HR can become a function more adept at being defensive than inspiring. They go into survival mode and don’t energetically tackle key issues that need their drive. Issues around culture, investment in cutting edge technology, the changing face of the workforce, identifying the workers of tomorrow and ditching the employment practices of yesteryear.

Appraisals are a fine example of an HR practice that we’d say most HR professionals know doesn’t work. Can you imagine colleagues in Marketing or Finance persevering with such a practice? Especially if it cost huge amounts of time and money and critically, damaged their internal brand?

Individuals go into HR because they have vision, insight, energy and enthusiasm about the workplace and people practices. Many have transformational skills in the areas of coaching, recruitment, listening and reflecting that the business they work in doesn’t notice or value.

It is the job of any CEO to make sure they nurture and develop their HR team and if they need external support to help them identify what good looks like then that is a priority. The one thing the C-suite will be united on is the importance of people, innovation and competitive advantage.

Often the HR department is the last place they look or a function that is pared down to the bone, dramatically under invested in compared to other functions (that they understand better) or focusing on the wrong priorities.

Making that re-connection between HR and the business. Helping develop business cases for progress and change. Re energising that relationship.

Running workshops for the C-suite and HR to define what good looks like. Being part of that is what gets us out of bed every morning.