Mark Freed will be speaking at Women of The Square Mile on 15th May at Olympia London, participating with a panel all about the importance of allies. Mark kindly sent us his thoughts on the gender equality mission and why he chooses to be an ally.
Equality really isn’t all about women; women are the ones fighting for and demanding change, but men have also benefited. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – thank you to the women of the world for everything you have done and are continuing to do.
If the equality movement started just over 100 years ago, men have been the silent recipients of its benefits since then. Every generation of men in my family has benefited from the female fight, your campaigning, and demands for equal recognition.
My great grandfather was in service (a butler) to a Duke. In 1918, he gained the vote for the first time thanks to the Representation of the People Act, which gave non-property-owning men the vote (along with property-owning women).
At about the same time, my grandfather was a pantry boy in a large public school for the children of the upper classes. He was no doubt resigned to his status in society, he knew his place.
However, things were changing, partly driven by women’s rights and equality along with world wars. The pantry boy’s first son, my uncle, was perhaps one of the first beneficiaries of that change: he became a priest in the 1960s, and then founded and opened his own school for the sons and daughters of the wealthy. He broke through social barriers, thanks to changes in society, some of which were won by women.
My memories of my uncle are of a strong, powerful man who had a very different persona to his brother, my father. I wonder if my uncle had — like so many senior women who are reaching the top today — changed to be more like his peers or adapted to the circumstances and his surroundings to succeed. Perhaps, he wasn’t able to be his authentic self.
The workplace I entered in the 1970s is unrecognisable from today’s perspective. The all-female typing pools and switchboards have gone. The stereotypical all-male management team drawn from a narrow socioeconomic set is becoming rarer. We are moving — although perhaps not quickly enough — to a meritocracy in which you reach the top based on merit not your gender, where you were educated, your social background, or any other personal differentiating factor. This will no doubt benefit a significant number of men as well. In my own personal experience, women demanded and campaigned for equality, and I have directly benefited.
Things have changed outside of the workplace as well. Being in a position to divide the domestic work equally has brought me many benefits.
So, thank you for everything that you, your mothers and grandmothers have done for me, you have changed my life and made it so much better. Thank you.