Helen MacNamara painted a picture of a homogenous, unpleasant top table. Experts says this lack of diversity can matter beyond the workplace itself
Helen MacNamara, the UK’s second-most senior official at the height of the Covid pandemic, lifted a lid this week on a “toxic environment” at the heart of Downing Street, in which female civil servants became “invisible overnight” and were routinely spoken over or ignored. A picture emerges of an unpleasant and unequal workplace, but experts say that the apparent exclusion of women from decision-making is also likely to have impaired the UK’s response to the pandemic.
At the most basic level, a lack of representation at the table excludes gender-related insights and expertise. MacNamara highlighted specific issues that were overlooked including the lack of provision for domestic abuse victims during the first lockdown, concerns about oversized PPE not fitting and endangering female frontline staff and unnecessarily restrictive rules around pregnancy care and childbirth. She said the WhatsApp group for her children’s school – typically the domain of mothers – provided a barometer of public sentiment from which leadership appeared disconnected.
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