For the CEO transitioners, womanhood was embraced sometime after the wife and the corner office
Dylan Mulvaney’s corporate sponsorships, in return for acting out a caricature of a young woman, have attracted outrage across the world. Yet, spare a thought for the male “women in business” who’ve been attracting plaudits for their takes on womanhood for years now.
Have a look at Credit Suisse’s “gender-fluid” executive Pips Bunce, who dresses in conventional feminine attire for part of the working week. Bunce gained brief infamy after being hailed as a top female executive in a Financial Times list of champions of women in business. Few realise there are dozens of Bunces.
These men who identify as transwomen aren’t dominating social media like Mulvaney, but their influence is potentially far greater. Having firmly established themselves in male-dominated professions whilst living their best lives as straight, white, married men, they’ve transitioned in middle age, gaining parallel careers and plaudits as diversity champions. Frequently seen on the circuit of diversity and inclusion events, they offer themselves up, like Mulvaney, as a “two for the price of one” diversity hit — female and LGBTQ+! They think nothing of representing women or claiming unique insight into their lives.
Ideas on how to recruit more actual females seem less forthcoming
Then there is Bobbi Pickard, a transwoman and senior project manager at energy giant BP. Pickard is also an inclusion and diversity consultant (aka trans activist) and founder of TransintheCity, a lobby group.
Pickard gave the closing keynote at the Institute of Government’s “Advancing Women in the Workplace Event” last winter. This event was aimed, in the Institute’s own words, at “addressing the most pressing issues for female professionals in the workplace”.
Pickard claims to have insight into the workplace from “three main perspectives”. “First, looking at it from someone who previously lived as a supposedly straight white male. Then I get the perspective of looking at it as being a woman in industry and also as someone who is part of the LGBT community.”
Despite this claimed insight, many of Pickard’s talks on inclusion and diversity focus on advising corporates how to hire more people like Pickard, with “inclusion” advice such as changing the names of office toilets from male and female to “identify as male and identify as female”. Ideas on how to recruit more actual females seem less forthcoming.
In reality, having transitioned whilst working for BP as a married executive, Pickard has no more insight into what life is like as a woman in industry than the next businessman. Blokes who see themselves as “gender non-conforming” males, who handily have wives from whom they can borrow clothes and make up, do not have to grapple with any of the issues that act to reduce recruitment and retention of women: sexist behaviour, pregnancy, a culture that is incompatible with bringing up small children, sexual harassment, a career subordinate to that of a husband with greater earning power … the list goes on.
For IWD 2023, Pickard appeared in Charity Time’s International List of Women Making a Difference in the charity sector and in 2022 was named IMPACT Champion of Women in Renewables Asia for International Women’s Day. These accolades come on top of dozens of diversity awards and LGBTQ champions lists, including an appearance in The Guardian’s Lesbian Visibility Week list.
The real fault lies with those who choose to platform males
Pickard can be criticised for accepting these accolades, but the real fault lies with those who choose to platform males in lists meant to celebrate women.
Christina Riley is another late bloomer, transitioning at the age of 43. Already well established in the construction industry and, like Pickard, married with children, Riley is now hailed as an example of womanly success in a male-dominated world. Riley “hosted one of the largest women in construction diversity panel events in the UK” at the London Build Expo Conference in 2018. Three years later, whilst accepting an award for Role Model of the Year, Riley suggested problems of women’s under-representation in the sector were of less importance than other issues, saying: “There is greater visibility for women in construction today than there used to be. However, there is still so much more work to do, across additional issues such as ethnicity, disabilities and LGBTQ+ identities.”
Riley was one of three male speakers (out of a total of six ) at Women in Property (South West)’s 2023 International Women’s Day event. That’s right, folks: at an IWD event held by Women in Property, half the panel were male.
Isobel Sheldon, who identifies as a lesbian, transitioned in 2014 when already well established in a career in battery technology. In 2022 Sheldon was a panel member on AutoCar’s “Great Women in the Car Industry” event and in 2020 featured in Biz Innovation Magazine’s feature on women in business, tweeting: “Lovely to be featured in this article, helping making a difference with the electrification of transport at strategic level and showing female leadership is here to stay in business.” What Sheldon is actually doing is reminding women that males are always better, even when they cast off the stereotypical trappings of masculinity.
Samantha Jayne Nelson, Offshore Installation Manager, Shell, appeared in the 2020 global diversity list, which described Nelson as follows: “Representing both transgender people and women in the cis-male dominated field of oil rigs, Nelson challenges common workplace gender stereotypes.” You heard that right, Nelson is challenging gender stereotypes by insisting that women are nothing more than a collection of them. In 2020 Nelson tweeted, “I’m a woman. That I transitioned is just one small part of who I am. My life is no different (mostly) from any women’s, I share the vast majority of the same oppressions and experiences.” Er, no, you don’t. How can someone so deluded represent women?
Racing driver Charlie Martin transitioned at 38, already successful in the racing world. In 2021 BMW featured Martin in a piece on women who “truly shaped” the automotive world, and British Vogue showcased Martin in a piece about women shaping 2021 and beyond.
Dear reader, I have saved the best for last. Despite the invisibility and vilification of older women, as expertly highlighted by the brilliant Victoria Smith’s new book Hags, 74-year-old Petra Wenham’s debut appearance in July 2021 on the cover of WI Life, the Women’s Institute magazine, was picked up by most of the nationals in the UK. Having “lived as a woman” for three whole years, Wenham was lauded as, well, stunning and brave. Wenham is, of course, that special kind of woman — the male variety.
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