What kind of world do you want to live in?

My daughter has a wonderful friend who she’s known since infant’s school. She is full of character, passionate about fashion, has an amazing smile and has one of those hugs that just makes you feel like you could conquer the world.

She also happens to have an extra chromosome that means she has Down’s Syndrome.

I remember when I was pregnant with my son having a conversation with my midwife about the new blood test which told you whether you were at high risk of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome. We were debating whether we should take the test or not & my Midwife asked me what we would do if the test came back saying high risk-would we have the amnio? My husband & I had already discussed this & because of the extra miscarriage risk had decided we wouldn’t. “In that case” said my very sensible midwife “why bother having the blood test?”

Now I’m not criticising anyone who decides they cannot cope with a child with Down’s Syndrome. We all have to make our own decisions & I think we’re too judgmental as a society as it is but I do have an issue with how Down’s Syndrome is generally portrayed and even more so with how it’s presented by the medical profession. I genuinely believe this can mean women, at a highly emotional point in their lives, may not be as informed as they could and should be.

If you didn’t watch “A World Without Down’s Syndrome” by Sally Phillips when it was broadcast you missed an incredibly thought provoking programme. I had seen the media coverage of the new test available for Down’s Syndrome but I hadn’t given any thought to the potential repercussions. In Iceland where all women are offered pre-natal screening for DS 100% abort their children if the test comes back positive. That means there hasn’t been a child born with DS in Iceland in 9 years.  As the new test is made available in the UK we could be facing the same outcome.

Now if someone had said to me when I was younger “we can eradicate Down’s Syndrome” I would have seen that as a positive. It pains me to write that now but before we knew Katy and had a better understanding I only had society’s portrayal of DS to base my judgments on. That portrayal meant I saw Down’s Syndrome as a disability whereas now I see it as a difference.

I can almost hear you asking “But aren’t people with Down’s Syndrome more likely to have health problems? Aren’t they slower to develop intellectually?” Yes that is true but I genuinely believe we need to challenge what we see as “normal.” We all learn at different rates for all sorts of reasons & having a baby without DS is no guarantee they won’t have health problems.

Katy would be a different person if she hadn’t been born with that extra chromosome & you know what? Our world would be a sadder place for it. So if you, or someone you know, takes the test and is told the baby is at high risk of having Down’s Syndrome please be as informed as you can be before you decide what to do. Talk to families who include individuals with Down’s Syndrome, talk to the individuals themselves. At the very least watch this TED talk by Karen Gaffney before you make a decision:

As World Down’s Syndrome Day approaches I am thankful that my daughter has such an amazing friend as Katy & that Katy is all that she is-including that extra choromosome.



Grammar Schools: the answer to social mobility or elitism?

As Theresa May, an ex-Grammar School pupil as I am, considers allowing new Grammar Schools in the UK for the first time in 20 years I find myself wondering about the different views on Grammar Schools-do they increase social mobility or are they elitist?

Grammar Schools as we know them were originally set up by the Education Act of 1944 as part of making education over the age of 14 free. The idea was that academic youngsters, regardless of family income, would go to the grammar school & practical youngsters would attend the secondary modern school. The 11+ exam was designed to indicate which stream a youngster was best suited to.

And this is where it all seems to have gone wrong. As a society we have typically valued academic learning above other types of learning. This may be due to the association with higher paid jobs. Somehow we devalued “trades” and talk of “passing” or “failing” the 11+ further embedded the idea that someone who went along the secondary modern route was less able & less valuable than someone who went through the grammar route.

The focus of Tony Blair’s government on getting 50% of the population through University education emphasised the focus on academic learning being more valued than vocational learning. In 2016 we appear to be switching things round with the funding & marketing of vocational learning opportunities such as apprentices. The problem is we’re swinging the pendulum back the other way instead of balancing it. We should be investing in each youngster as an individual with the best type of education for them, whether that be an academic route or a vocational one.

So would the re-introduction of Grammar Schools help to solve this problem? I believe it is possible but only if we make other changes which only we, as individuals in our society, can make:

  • As a society we need to stop talking about “passing” or “failing” the entrance exam & start talking about different routes of learning with equal weighting & value.
  • We need to make sure youngsters from deprived backgrounds, who research shows are less likely to attend a grammar school, have support so they have the same chances as youngsters from more affluent families. I’m a huge believer in mentoring-having someone with connections on your side-and I’d like to see more mentoring schemes such as the ones I’m currently involved with in Cumbria with BEC Business Cluster, Inspira & Phoenix Youth Project

I don’t believe these changes are the responsibility of government, national or local, but ours as individuals and they matter whether Grammar Schools are reintroduced or not.

What do you think? I’d love to know whether you’d like to see Grammar Schools reintroduced or not & what your thoughts are on how we make sure children whose life chances are diminished from the day they’re born because of their family background get the same chances as children from more privileged backgrounds.



Disagreement-the key to good decision making?

I caught up on BBC Question Time this morning as my youngest (so far) grandchild napped on my shoulder. There was much talk of Brexit, the Chilcot report and the position the Labour Party finds itself in & a really interesting point was made about how Tony Blair ran his Cabinet & government. The Chilcot report showed that many decisions, not just the one to go to war, were made in individual meetings rather than full group cabinets. I can only guess why Tony Blair liked to do things this way but I would presume it was because it’s far easier to persuade people to your point of view if you’re speaking one on one.

As human beings we are more likely to stick with our views if we have people who agree with us in the group, it makes us feel stronger & more able to argue back with things we disagree with. That’s human nature. It’s also, when done correctly, a great way to make sure you make good decisions.

We all like to surround ourselves with people who think the same way as we do, who have the same values and beliefs. Frankly it makes us feel good. It also makes us feel right. And that’s the problem. We live in a world of varying shades of grey where there is rarely an absolute right or wrong answer. A world of nuances and shades. If we surround ourselves completely with people who think the same way as us, with roughly the same experiences as us we risk losing the ability to really see the world as it is. Some might say the political elite in London have done just this & are now in such crisis because of it.

The Brexit referendum was certainly an interesting time for me on Social Media. As I explained in a previous blog  I had decided, after much thought, to vote to leave the EU.  Many of my Facebook friends voted to remain & I respect that. I also appreciate what their different opinion brings to my decision making. I am still very comfortable with the way I voted because I know I saw lots of the arguments against that vote & thought them through. They may not have persuaded me to vote remain but they did get me to question my leave vote & I’m pleased they did.

If we stop listening to each other, if we stop discussing the things we disagree about, if we make really important decisions without taking all views into account then I believe we’ll make bad decisions. Ones we haven’t thought through & challenged. So let’s embrace the nuances of human value systems & discuss the things that we disagree about with respect for those who disagree with us. The world will be a better place for it I’m sure.

EU referendum

Should we stay or should we go?

Everywhere we look in the UK there’s talk of the EU referendum, from pages upon pages in the papers & long segments of the news to social media posts from those we’re connected to,  the EU referendum is never far from our eyes.

Now I started this campaign desperate for information to help me make a decision, I was totally undecided ( I’m still not 100% sure) but I quickly realised that trying to access unbiased facts was like searching for the Holy Grail. I found myself questioning my thoughts on all the areas being talked about, here’s the process I went through:

  • Immigration. I see immigration as a positive thing for our country. All the research shows that the most diverse businesses are the most successful ones and I believe the same holds true for countries providing we all treat each other with respect. Are there issues with immigration? Of course there are, no system is perfect & we should always try to work on those but we will never get a perfect system. That’s just life. So this would indicate a “remain” vote for me.
  • Economy. I have no idea whether our economy will be better if we stay or go. Frankly we’ll never know what the alternative vote would have given us. Ultimately I believe the success of our economy has more to do with our skills and attitudes as a country than whether we’re in the EU or not. So this is a neutral issue for me.
  • Sovereignty. Do we want our decision made in Westminster or Brussels? To be honest Westminster feels as remote from my life as Brussels does most of the time so does it make a difference for me? Do we lose some of our national identity because we’re in Europe? For me purely as an emotional decision this is a neutral with a lean towards Leave. 
  • Refugees. If someone is so desperate they will pay everything they have left to put themselves and their families on one of those tiny boats to cross the Mediterranean we shouldn’t be treating them like criminals. I believe we’ll look back on how we’ve acted in the refugee crisis with shame. Do some militants hide among them? I’m sure they do but does that mean we should abandon the thousands of true refugees because a small minority are a threat? Not in any society I want to be part of. We helped create this problem, we need to help solve it. I’m putting this as a neutral because neither the Remain or Leave campaign are dealing with this properly for me.

    A terrified child clings to a rock on the shore as a group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island after travelling by inflatable raft from Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece has overtaken the central Mediterranean route, from North Africa to Italy, as the primary one for arrivals by sea. From January to June this year, 68,000 people arrived in Greece, compared with 67,500 in Italy, accounting for nearly all the arrivals in the period.

    A terrified child clings to a rock on the shore as a group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island after travelling by inflatable raft from Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece has overtaken the central Mediterranean route, from North Africa to Italy, as the primary one for arrivals by sea. From January to June this year, 68,000 people arrived in Greece, compared with 67,500 in Italy, accounting for nearly all the arrivals in the period. (from www.newyorker.com)

  • Security.  Are we safer inside or outside Europe? Does being part of the system help us share useful information. I have to think it does, although whether we’re part of the EU or not we should all be cooperating on this one. Remain
  • The Apocalypse. Seriously while this is a big decision the world is not going to end & the sky fall in whichever way we vote. It’s such a shame that the national debate is such a negative one. I understand why, marketeers have known for a long time that fear sells better than any other emotion & so it’s being used to try & sell both sides of this debate to us. Positivity doesn’t have the same effect on us as human beings, which is such a shame.
  • My tribe. We all have a tribe, people who tend to think like us, share our values and beliefs. They are a huge influence on us & my tribe are overwhelmingly remain. The leave campaign, concentrating as it does on immigration,  feels less tolerant to me. What has shocked me though is seeing posts on social media from people I thought were tolerant labelling all “leave” voters as uneducated and intolerant thereby displaying an intolerance themselves. If we cannot, as a society, respect another’s right to disagree with us, and their reasons for doing so without being judgmental that worries me more than whether we stay in the EU or not. This is, to me, the most British of values-to respect and defend someone’s right to free speech whether we agree with them or not. 

After spending a long time thinking about these issues I realised I was asking myself the wrong questions. If we have this once in a lifetime opportunity to think about whether we should be in the EU the question I think we should be asking ourselves is:

“Is the EU the right institution for the world we live in?In a world where geography is so much less important that it ever was should we be building stronger links with countries because they happen to be located next to us or should we be building links with countries who share our values and aspirations?”

If we had known in 1973 that technology and the internet was going to produce the world we now live in would we still have voted to join? Knowing the world we now live in should we vote to stay?

Asking myself this question has led me towards a leave vote despite the attendant associations around immigration. Am I certain of this decision? No-the concerns around negative views on immigration of the leave campaign weigh on my mind. It may well be that I don’t decide until I enter the voting station and that’s fine, in the end I know I’ve given this decision a lot of thought and that’s what we all need to do for a vote as important as this.

Confirmation bias

Do you challenge your unconscious bias?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fervent believer in equality. Whether it’s gender, race or anything else you can think of I don’t believe anyone should have their opportunities limited. Or should I say…..

that’s what my conscious mind thinks. My unconscious mind, however, has been shaped by decades in a society where people’s opportunities have been limited because of their race, gender or social standing. In a telephone conversation with my daughter recently, who is obviously well aware of my feelings on gender equality, she mentioned a consultant & before I knew it the words “is that because he…” were out of my mouth. Both of us realised what I’d said immediately & the phone literally went silent before my daughter came back with “oh mam!!!” So I got to wondering just how bad things were in my unconscious brain.

Harvard University are doing some research and as part of that any one of us can take a test to see what our unconscious mind thinks about things like gender and careers, race, religion etc. As I’m probably most vocal about gender bias in the workplace I decided to take the test that shows your unconscious bias for male/female career/family.

I anticipated I would have a slight bias towards male & career, female & family in my unconscious mind, let’s be honest in the times I’ve grown up in it would be surprising if I didn’t. Imagine my anger at my unconscious mind when I discovered it was harbouring a STRONG bias toward male & career, female & family.

This really doesn’t fit in with my image of myself as a strong career woman who supports younger women to make the most of their opportunities.

So what good does it do to know this? Well now I’m aware that my unconscious mind is being such a pain I can be aware of it & challenge it when it influences my actions. I can also encourage others to do the same (kind of the point of this blog I guess!)

Here’s a great TED talk (you all know how much I love TED talks!) about gender equality & unconscious bias which I watched this week, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time I promise:


You can test your own unconscious bias, if you do I’d love to hear about the results, whether they surprise you or they’re what you expected. Let me know in the comments below.

Big Sleep

Which is colder: a Lake District Mountain or Manchester City Centre?

I have led a privileged life, I have never been homeless, indeed I’ve never been under threat of homelessness. Living in West Cumbria I’ve had little contact with anyone who’s homeless either as they tend to borrow a sofa for a night from a friend in this area rather than sleep in shop doorways and so are a hidden problem.

A colleague of mine, Eamon Rodgers,  spent last night sleeping rough in Manchester City Centre to raise funds for the Booth Centre, looking at the weather here I’m hoping it wasn’t quite as wet in Manchester. I mentioned his sleep out to a colleague who took part in the Cumbria Community Foundation’s Big Sleep this year who commented jokingly that sleeping rough in Manchester was comparable to sleeping indoors when compared to a mountain top. Having seen a photo from last year showing the frost on the ground I know what they meant!

It struck me then that cold isn’t just about temperature, that sitting in the middle of a busy, prosperous city in the lead up to Xmas, being ignored by passers by who are worried that you’re a professional beggar & going home to a mansion tonight or who just feel plain awkward (something I admit to myself) so don’t smile or talk to you would feel colder than sleeping on a mountain top where there’s no-one to ignore you.

When I organised TEDxWhitehaven last year with my son, Luke, one of our speakers was Steve Houghton-Burnett and his talk got me thinking differently. As we now approach Black Friday , an American tradition I sincerely wish we hadn’t imported, his cure, Rainbow Saturday, is also approaching. To find out more watch the video:


If you live near Manchester why not have a sort out of your wardrobe & not only give someone warm clothing for winter but also choice, something many homeless people feel they lost a long time ago.

As I said earlier I tend to feel awkward when I visit the cities & see homeless people but from now on I’m going to give myself a shake, remember how privileged my life is & offer to buy them a hot drink & sandwich with a smile.


James Bond and equality

As I prepared to go & see the new James Bond film, Spectre, at my local cinema yesterday I felt a little guilty. Why? Well there’s been a lot of talk in the press lately about James Bond and equality, his treatment of women and whether he suits our modern day views. As someone who firmly believes in equality should I feel guilty for contributing to the success of such a film?

As I sat watching it though I began to wonder if our view of society was colouring how we view the lovely James? Does the fact that we expect it to be the man that treats the woman badly affect our judgment?

Let’s be honest ladies James Bond is a sexy, attractive man but he isn’t husband material is he? He’s never going to be there to change nappies or do night feeds because he’ll be dashing off at a moment’s notice to save the world. The female characters in all the films, even going back into the 60’s & 70’s have, in my opinion, been strong women. They haven’t been viewed as such because they’ve been seduced by Bond but what if it was them who were doing the seducing?

What if they saw James Bond as sexy, attractive and frankly great for casual sex (not something I endorse I hasten to add!). What if we change our view of the plot and see them taking advantage of him & never really wanting a long-term relationship with him as has always been assumed? Did our expectations that it would always be the women who would want marriage and children make us see only one side of the story?

Let’s not forget too that James had a female boss in M, the character expertly played by Judi Dench. I would argue that of all the M’s in the history of Bond she was the most expert in getting thedench_2376525b best from him as a line manager. She knew when to trust him, when to pull him back, when to praise & when to push harder. I really loved seeing the role developed in this way and thought the way Judi Dench (such an amazing actress!) played a tough character but could still show the feminine traits that are so often under valued in the workplace was such a positive for the equality argument.

You may have guessed that I really like the James Bond movies. I don’t believe we should have a female Bond, I’d far rather see a strong female role developed with the same level of investment into the movie, stunts and special effects than see a female actress put into a role that was written for a man.

So what do you think? Have my thoughts got you looking differently at the Bond women? Or do you believe, as the papers have been saying, that the Bond character is anti-equality? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My much loved Granda with my daughter

Do men really not care about equality?

I love TED Talks ( you may have noticed I love them so much I organised Cumbria’s first TEDx with my son Luke.) so if I have chance I watch a TED talk at lunchtime. It’s a great way to switch off from work but still achieve and exposes you to lots of new ideas.

Today I watched former President Carter’s TED talk about female equality:

Now this is a subject I’m passionate about but I found myself disappointed with his final statement that men simply don’t care about equality as they are reaping the rewards of higher pay and an easier rise to the top in their career.

As it happens today is the second anniversary of my granda’s death. You can see him with my beautiful daughter at the top of this post. I was incredibly honoured to have him in my life for as long as I did, he was a huge inspiration to me. I can still remember going to visit him shortly before his death and telling him I’d got an exciting new job. The twinkle in his eyes was a joy to see and he was incredibly proud that I was making a positive move in my career.

Now my granda was born in 1923 so you would expect him to have a different set of values re equality yet he always supported and encouraged me in my career as well as my family life. My dad, very importantly as I know now, never gave me any hint as a youngster that there may be limitations due to my gender. My husband has always been incredibly supportive, whether it was in the decision to take a career break to look after our young children or in changes of direction in my career.  I have to honestly say, other than one manager very early on in my career, that all the men in my life have been completely supportive of equality. So is it a difference between the USA and UK? Or have I been incredibly lucky and been born into a family of men who collectively, despite not being blood related, have held the same values?

One thing I do know is that I have been lucky by accident of birth, there are countries in the world where the fight for women to make their own decisions is a much tougher one. The UK, while there is still work to be done, is one of the countries where a lot of progress has been made.

I’d love to hear if your experience backs up Jimmy Carter’s claim or if you’ve had experience that’s similar to mine? If you’re a man do you think he’s right? Is it too easy to say I support equality but then casually enjoy the benefits of it rather than challenge it? Let me know in the comments.

Dogs together resized

Selfies-a lonely road or a group endeavour?

Until last year I had never taken a selfie. This may be a generational thing, as my daughter is something of a selfie queen it’s obviously not a genes thing! So what prompted me to finally take a selfie? Probably like a lot of women my age it was the “No Make Up Selfie” campaign for Breast Cancer. For me appearing without make up wasn’t an issue as I’m often make up free outside work. Taking a selfie for the first time though? That completely stressed me out.

I mean how do youngsters know how to get that angle just right to be flattering? Any attempt I made was, to say the least, unflattering. My daughter couldn’t understand it, for her it’s completely natural. Anyway I did my charitable duty, managed to take a photo which didn’t make me look like the Gringe (just) and made my donation. You may notice I am not sharing the image here!

Dianne with RozFunnily enough though this was the start of something because I’ve been involved in many selfies since but not in the way you might think. You see none of these selfies have just been of me. They have always involved other people. Whether at family dos, business events or social events all the selfies have involved either other people or my dog (I know but she is marvellous even if she’s demented-see post below)

So that got me wondering whether the younger generation have just got this selfie thing wrong? As scientists debate the impact of selfies on mental health or visa versa  do youngsters just need to follow their parents lead and take group selfies instead of lonely ones?

I’ve always found taking group selfies great fun, from trying to pick positions to dropping the phone we always have a smile on our faces whoever I’m with. So perhaps this week, as it’s Mental Health Awareness Week  we should encourage everyone to find the fun in group selfies because we always have more fun with others.

What do you think? Are you a selfie queen like my daughter? Or are you like me & only do group selfies? Perhaps you’ve never taken a selfie? I’d love to hear your selfie stories.

Dianne with Roz

Seriously, this could only happen to me!

We all have moments in our life where we wonder how exactly did this happen don’t we? Those mornings where weird things happen & we think “this could only happen to me”. Well this morning was one of those for me. Let me tell you more.

The sun has finally come out in West Cumbria so this morning so, thinking about the shorts coming out & the tights going away, I decided I’d better do the world a favour & sort out the hairs on my legs. Ladies you know where I’m coming from here don’t you? Gentlemen, fear not it is safe for you to read on.

I should explain at this point that my beautiful dog Roz is unfortunately in the early stages of dementia, this can be horrible at times but can also, as today, provide some moments of hilarity. One of the symptoms is that the umbilical cord between her & I has become even shorter. If I’m peeling veg at the kitchen sink she will fit her body between my legs and the cupboards. If I’m wandering round the house doing stuff she’s wandering around with me.

So back to this morning & I quite happily pop the Veet onto my legs (for my gentleman readers this is a hair removal cream) & take a note of the time to give it the required 5 minutes. At this point Roz follows her natural instincts & rubs herself against my legs resulting in more Veet on her than on me. With an image of a dog with bald spots I grab a pack of wipes & reach for her collar. Seeing the wipes & the look on my face Roz decides the umbilical cord can stretch further than she thought & heads off down the stairs with me in pursuit, still covered in Veet! Bearing in mind:

  1.  for a dog with the human equivalent age of 96 she can still move incredibly fast when she wants to
  2.  the curtains downstairs were open

I am incredibly proud to tell you the story ended happily. The dog, as you can see here:


has no bald patches, though she is still sulking because I used wipes on her & no neighbours saw anything they shouldn’t have.

What “it could only happen to me” moments have you had lately? I’d love to hear about them.