Lesley Abdela discusses sex discrimination pre-legislation



Lesley Abdela talks about open sex discrimination in the workplace before the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975.

Do you think that sex discrimination in the workplace still exists today?

Do you feel that you, or someone you know, have been denied education or employment on the grounds of your/their sex? Who, when, where and why?

Image details
Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 © HMSO
Decisions cartoon © Jacky Fleming www.jackyfleming.co.uk



So I started looking for another job. I applied to a job – this is before the Sex Discrimination Act, just before then – to my shame at that era, I sort of knew things were going on in Women’s Liberation, but it wasn’t as though I was against it, it just wasn’t part of my thinking very much. I applied to an ad which I was totally qualified for, because quite a lot of the advertising world at that stage you needed to have background in grocery experience, the equivalent of Unilever, which I didn’t have, I had Dorothy Gray Cosmetics, Courtaulds fabrics, Bowaters papers, but I didn’t have what we now call the supermarket-y type things. But this ad, I fitted absolutely all the qualifications, so I whacked off an application. And of course I forgot Lesley can be a boy or a girl, man or female. And about a week or so later I get a phone call from somebody who says, ‘Could I speak to Lesley Abdela?’ And I said, ‘This is Lesley Abdela’. ‘Oh, oh, thought you must be the secretary. Oh, this is a bit awkward. Did you apply for this job we advertised?’ and I said, ‘Yes’. ‘Oh, well we were going to invite you to an interview but we didn’t realise you were a woman and I’m awfully sorry but our client wouldn’t like a woman’. So I said, ‘Who is your client?’ and they said, ‘The army recruitment office’. Now I could perfectly well have done that, but it was so beyond their ken that they could have a female. But in those days they were allowed to openly say it. And then because, you know, you make a lot of contacts and J Walter Thompson, which was the big agency in Berkeley Square, and I got invited for an interview. And they said we’d really like to have you, we’ve heard about the work you’ve done and blah, blah, blah and somebody’s spoken about you highly, etc. But we just have one problem here, we have a policy in this agency of no female account executives, you would have to be assistant, whatever it was. And I said, ‘But that would be a step back’. And they said, ‘I know, but we’d really like to have you, but it’s just it’s our policy’. So I didn’t go. But if you think about the consequences on from that, because you’re at your peak, you haven’t got children yet, you’re in your mid twenties or early twenties, you can work all the hours they want. That was the climate within which my generation were sort of doing this transition stuff. You sort of felt a bit annoyed, not enough to go and throw up the barricades, because it’s sort of, well that’s how life was. I mean isn’t it absurd? Now, you know, I’d have sort of gone to the newspapers, I’d have gone to television, I’d have gone to the radio.
Lesley Abdela discusses sex discrimination pre-legislation
13 March - 10 April 2011
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
© British Library
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British Library

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