We now see a mixed bag of allegations against Top Shop chairman Sir Philip Green. They range from calling female staff “sweetheart”, “love” and “darling” to far more serious allegations of bullying and racial abuse.
This is ridiculous. Bullying and racism should not be accepted in any shape or form in the workplace. There are laws against them.
However, claimants weaken their testimony when they bag together the harmless, if old fashioned, use of the term “love” alongside far more serious allegations.
Should the Cornish stop calling everyone they meet “my lover”? No, of course not. It is just regional dialect and people should get over it and focus on the unacceptable allegations.
For women over the age of 40, sexism was rife when we were in our twenties. In my early career, my boss (married with a lovely wife and two young children) constantly pestered me.
In those days you had to overcome it with humour and a firm slapping down. I told my boss that I wanted to get on in journalism, but wasn’t going to get there on my back. His response was: “That’s ok, you can go on top.”
I missed out on several promotions and better job offers because I refused to “go on top”. Women have a right to say no.
When I first joined the Yorkshire Post as deputy city editor in the late 1990s, I was surprised to come across a more novel form of sexism. Many people assumed I was a man because only men had ever held the post of city editor or deputy city editor at the Yorkshire Post.
One chief executive called my former city editor and boss Eric Barkas to ask him to attend a function at the House of Commons. Eric wasn’t in the office so I answered the call. It went like this:
“Can I speak to Eric Barkas.”
Me: “I’m afraid he’s not here at the moment.”
“Do you keep his diary, love?”
Me: “No, I don’t, but I can look up the date... No, I’m sorry he’s out of the office that day.”
“Oh. Well, can Ross Snowdon attend?”
Me: “Yes, I’m free that day.”
“No, I don’t mean you love. I mean Ross Snowdon, the deputy city editor.”
Me: “You’re talking to Ros Snowdon.”
Long pause. “Oh, but you’re a... you’re a... Oh.”
I thought the whole thing was hysterical and told everyone I knew about it.
Another Yorkshire chief executive likened me to Maggie Thatcher. He told me I looked and sounded like a woman, but I acted like a man when it came to writing up his company’s results.
Oh yes, every time I came across such blatant sexism, I liked to add a little sting in the tail when I wrote up the firm’s results.
Another Yorkshire company arranged a meeting and then told me nothing new whatsoever. I tried to explain that I needed a news hook. A news story has to have something new in it. They didn’t understand, so I asked them what they thought the intro of this story should be.
The response was: “How about you call your boss and ask him to write the intro if you can’t do it?”
The sad thing was they didn’t even realise they were being sexist. They just thought a man should be the city editor of the Yorkshire Post as a woman wasn’t up to the job.
These days are far better than in my early career. Back then, we had little choice but to grin and bear it.
However, we need to get a grip here. We weaken our case if we lump together serious misconduct with everyday colloquialisms.