Portrait of four women standing with arms around each other

Celebrating Women

Interviews with three leading women in Accord about their journeys and highlights from the TUC Women's Conference.

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Celebrating Women’s History Month 

Every year, Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day give us an opportunity to look back on the contributions women have made to our society and our organisations, and to take stock of where we are now.

Three-quarters of Accord’s members are women, and we recognise the enormous contribution they make both to our union and to their workplaces. From ordinary members to lay reps to elected officials, women are rightly at the heart of everything our union does.

And there’s no doubt that women workers are better protected if they belong to a trade union. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was delivered off the back of a strike by women workers at the Ford factory in Dagenham.

Less than a decade later, when mostly South Asian women workers at the Grunwick photo processing plant stood together against low pay and degrading treatment, the trade union movement rallied around to show solidarity.

More recently, women trade unionists played a leading role in the #MeToo movement, calling out violence and discrimination in workplaces and working together to find solutions.

At Accord, we continue to work to deliver positive change for women. In recent years, working with and for women members, we’ve delivered improvements in a range of different areas.

We’ve worked with employers to tackle the cause of the gender pay gap, although there’s still a way to go. We’ve pushed for greater pay transparency to ensure that the issue of unequal pay can’t be swept under the rug. And when we have found cases of pay or pensions inequality, we’ve supported women members to challenge it.

We’ve increased the visibility of menopause in our workplaces by developing the Menopause Promise and training our own Menopause Advocates. And we’ve improved LBG’s wellbeing offer with a pilot that supplies free period products to colleagues.

This work has been led by our women members, reps and officials. So, to mark Women’s History Month, we’ve interviewed three leading women in the union about their journeys and the challenges we’re still fighting to overcome.

Accord is always looking for more women to take part in our democratic structures to help us protect women workers and achieve diverse and equal workplaces. If you’re interested in learning more, speak to your rep or get in touch with [email protected]

Lydia Mulligan
Lydia Mulligan, Accord Assistant Regional Officer

Lydia Mulligan, Assistant Regional Officer

Tell us about your career and how you got started in the union?

I've worked for Lloyd's banking group for 17 years. I started out in a Halifax Branch as a banking consultant. I did that for a long time and thoroughly enjoyed it because I super love people. But then, as my children got a bit older, I wanted to progress in my career, so I went to head office to be a business banking manager.

I've always been with the Union. When I joined 17 years ago, the rep came around and said, “you need to join us”. I had no idea what I was joining. But as work progressed, and there were a few issues here and there, I used the union and was like “Whoa! This is fantastic. This is brilliant.” And that’s when I became much more in love with it.

So, when this secondment came up, I ran towards it.

What does working for the union mean to you?

I’m all about people. I like helping customers but I’m more about what’s right.

I believe that the main reason for taking a job is to earn income so you can have a sustainable life. But in striving to support our families, we don’t deserve to be treated in any way shape or form. That’s just not OK.

The world’s full of people who have home problems, family problems, addiction problems, mental health problems. It can affect the way you treat people and the way they treat you. The union’s so important because it supplies the support and advice needed to help if you feel poorly treated. Sometimes it can be a conversation, a phone call, or a good old sit down. But either way, members can be reassured that someone there’s looking into the situation for them and offering fantastic support.

So, it’s about being present and showing that the union is doing a lot in the background for all of us.

Who first asked you to get involved in the union?

A woman called Fran O’Dowd. She was brilliant, an absolute inspiration to me.

What do you think are the big challenges facing women at work?

If I’m honest, it’s the ever-changing culture of Lloyds Banking Group. They’re always changing structures and opening hours. And as women, we have extra jobs when we go home. We have to make sure the house is tidy, the dinner’s done. It doesn’t stop when you go home. So, at work you want structure and routine. And when they change things all the time you’re all out of sync.

And what about the challenges facing people of colour at work?

I know the group are looking at inclusion and diversity, which is good. But I feel they need to do more because, being honest, I don't see many people of colour in managerial roles. I know they're trying their best to change that, and that's brilliant. But it can be challenging. You do sometimes feel you’re back in the stone age.

But they’re going in the right direction and when it comes to Black History Month and things like that I'm always asked if I want to contribute. And I appreciate that because it shows me that they're interested in my ethnicity and culture.

Last question. Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

My sister inspires me because she had a bad drug problem when she was younger and doesn't anymore. That’s something hard to overcome. So, my sister inspires me because she did that. And she's a nice person. And that is something that I aspire to be.

Allison Howie
Allison Howie, Accord Vice President

Allison Howie, Vice President

Tell us about your career and how you got started in the union?

I started with Halifax Building Society in September 1995 and joined the Independent Union of Halifax Staff on my first day. The first person that met me, apart from my manager, was the local union rep - Margaret Smith. My parents and grandparents were all very strongly pro-trade union, so I understood the benefits of trade union membership, and signed up at once.

A year later, I became my local branch rep and from then on just became more involved. I've been fortunate that managers I've worked with have always seen working with Accord as a benefit opposed to a negative, and I have always been supported with time to carry out my union duties. I’ve worked with great reps over the years, like Margaret Betts, Sandra Gilmour and Anna Murray, who mentored and supported my development. I became more involved with Accord Scotland and then took an elected position initially on the Scottish executive, before being elected to the PEC (Principal Executive Council), then in 2022 I became one of the Vice Presidents.

So, I’ve been part of Accord for a long time and enjoy being actively involved.

When you think about women at work, what are the biggest issues they’re facing?

It depends on what stage in your life you’re at. The old problems are still going to be here for a long while. Women are seen as the main care givers. Our time is seen as less valuable outside the workplace.

I'm in a fortunate situation because I don't have this problem at home. Household chores are divided equally, and I don’t have any caring responsibilities. However, you usually hear it’s the woman who runs the house, does the shopping and who provides most of the child care. It’s usually the woman who goes back to work part time, as if her career is less valuable.

We’re also in danger of dividing working women into two groups, mother and then menopause, but there's a large part of our lives in between that is in danger of being ignored. We are a huge part of the workforce, but we are still overlooked in many professions.

With that in mind, what advice would you give to a woman at the start of her career?

I think one of the most powerful things women need to remember is that it’s okay to say no. Agreeing to everything you’re asked to do, doesn’t necessarily mean that you're going to get pushed up the career ladder faster. Sometimes saying no politely will get you more respect.

What’s your vision for the future of the union? What would you like Accord to be doing from women in ten years' time?

I think we're doing a lot just now, which is great. We have a lot of strong women within Accord, both reps and employees. We have a high proportion of women in membership because of the industry that we work in.

I think we need to carry on growing our union into areas where traditionally we’ve not had a strong membership, and we need to attract younger women, people who maybe don't understand what a trade union does for them.

We've done a lot of great work with maternity rights. We've got policies and support in place for women going through menopause, which has hopefully removed the stigma of talking about it at work and colleagues worried that their symptoms will be seen as a joke, and we’re tackling period poverty too, which sadly exists in the workplace.

So, there's been much progress, but we need to keep pushing for equality. The gender pay gap is not going to disappear any time soon, so there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Can you tell us about a woman who’s inspired you?

It sounds cheesy but my grandmother. She was born in 1902 and raised her family during the recession by holding down two jobs. She then ran her own shop and worked ridiculously long hours.

She was a strong woman and didn't take any nonsense. She was a key role model for me when I was growing up, and helped to make me the independent woman I am today.

Alison Tthoburn
Alison Thoburn, Accord Regional Officer

Alison Thoburn, Regional Officer, London and the South East

Tell us about your career and how you got involved in the union?

I worked for Halifax for twenty odd years and in the last five or six years I was in HR (Human Resources). HR planned to move to shared services which I didn’t really agree with. I don’t like the shared services model, or that you must get HR by appointment on the end of a telephone. The HR Business Partner role became much more strategic and that’s not what I was in it for. I wanted to help people, I wanted to do traditional HR.

So I saw an advert that said the union was looking for officers. There was nothing available just then, so I got a job elsewhere. And then unexpectedly Paula Tegg (Accord’s Assistant General Secretary) gave me a call and asked if I was still interested in working for Accord. I jumped at the chance and said “yes please.” And I think that now I do more of what HR should do. I support colleagues.

What do you think are the most important issues affecting women at work right now?

Childcare, flexible working, returning from maternity leave. Those are the key issues that we help with. Flexible working is a massive one and it covers lots of things. Location, hours, working patterns, all that sort of thing.

Part-time vacancies are another thing. Getting people to advertise part-time is tough. Especially at higher levels, there’s little advertised on a part-time basis.

What advice would you give to a woman starting out in her career?

Be assertive and be resilient. And you’ve got to know your rights because a lot of managers don’t know and they’re dealing with HR issues.

So if you know your rights and you can be assertive with them, you’re a lot more likely to get what you need.

What’s your vision for the union?

I’ve been here fifteen or sixteen years. And the issues stay the same, they revolve. We need to fight for maternity returners, for proper flexible working, for part-time vacancies. There are job-sharing registers out there and we could do more to promote them and support people who are returning to work.

Could you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

One of the people I’ve met that inspired me was an employment law barrister, Naomi Cunningham. Working with her and seeing how passionate she was and how she picked out the most important points in the case.

She supported my member totally, to the point where she stood up to the judge in a way I’ve never seen before. Not every case is legal, but I learned a lot from the way she dealt with that claim that’s shaped the way I deal with cases now. You need to be able to identify quite quickly what the main points are and focus on those and take people with you on that basis.

In what we do there’s a lot of emotion, of course, and you can’t ignore that. But my job is to remain a little bit distanced from it and make sure those essential things come through so the member gets the best outcome they can.

TUC Women’s Conference

Delegates at the three-day conference, held at Congress House in London, discussed the cost-of-living crisis, gender pay gaps, job adverts, violence against women and football boots.

Paul Nowak gave his first speech to the women’s conference as TUC general secretary, where he quickly addressed the movements ‘legal responsibility and moral duty’ to tackle sexual harassment in workplaces – and in the movement too.

He said: As a senior man in our movement, I want every woman to feel her union is a safe and inclusive place to be. That means acting now to tackle sexual harassment and bullying. It means addressing the cultures that enable sexual harassment and bullying. And it means believing, and empowering, the victims and survivors of abuse.

Paul went on to discuss the TUC’s three key priorities to support women workers for the year ahead, with the first being to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. His second priority was to push back against attacks on the right to strike, saying the TUC will “stand by every worker who takes action regardless of legislation changes.” And the last priority was to secure political change.

Throughout the event there were debates, workshops and an international panel discussion on the impact of conflict on women and girls globally. Four members of Accord’s Principal Executive Council (PEC) also joined the sessions…

Allison Howie

Attending an event such as Women’s TUC brings into sharp focus how much work Accord has done to improve the rights of its members. From improving maternity pay, to working with LBG to develop a menopause policy and roll out free sanitary products, we are streets ahead of many of our sister unions in these areas and we should be very proud of this. The speakers on the International Panel were inspirational and described the difficult and often dangerous situations they worked in. It was a timely reminder to us all how quickly things can change and legal rights can be eroded.

Allison Howie
Lisa Sullivan

The Women's Conference was a great experience. The standout for me was when they held a Zoom call with women from Ukraine, Iraq and Turkey. They kindly shared their experiences with us. It was very moving to hear their stories and what they are still living through. It was also great to hear all the motions on such a varied amount of subjects; from sexual harassment all the way through to the menopause.

Lisa Sullivan
Charli Webb

I wasn’t sure what to expect at first – I was really nervous because I’d never been to a TUC conference or even been that far from home on my own. But, it really opened my eyes to what is actually going on in different workplaces and around the world. I really enjoyed myself, I learnt a lot and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Charli Web
Nicola Hunter

It was a fantastic opportunity to hear how women across both the private and public sectors continue to strive for equal opportunities – from their health, working conditions, promotions, pensions and pay. It’s great to see that Accord is ahead of the agenda for our female workers in comparison to the majority of other unions and employers.

Nicola Hunter