As promised at the end of what we hope you agree was an interesting, thought provoking and enjoyable day, here is a summary of our discussions.  Obviously, it isn’t possible to include everything everyone said during the course of the four hours or so we spent addressing this important and relevant topic but we hope you will think this is a comprehensive and accurate representation of all your views.


You’ll remember that at the end of each discussion session we asked you to write on a “post it” one word which in your view characterised  the period we had talked about.  The results of that exercise are shown in the orange boxes at the end of each section.


Happy reading!




In advance of the day you were asked to think of the one person who for you was a role model in the context of gender equality.  There was an approximate 50/50 split between those who named family members or teachers (both male and female) and those who named public figures (all female).  The named individuals are shown in the box below.



Societal Attitudes

It was widely believed that women were inferior to men and that they should be limited in their aspirations and it took a great deal of courage for either women or men to resist the pressures exerted by society.  These views effectively limited the opportunities available to women and lowered expectations on the part of both men and women.  Women were expected largely to adopt a passive role in all aspects of their lives and follow the lead set by men. 



Some participants were excluded from studying certain subjects (eg chemistry or physics) as they were deemed not to be suitable for girls and others remembered that girls were considered incapable of keeping up in the more intellectually demanding “male” subjects.  Attendance at Grammar school opened up horizons beyond those offered by Secondary Moderns although when entering “the real world” their accessibility proved highly questionable.



On leaving school girls were, more often than not, funnelled into undemanding, low level and low paid work (examples used were florist, typist, shop work) and the assumption was made that they would soon marry at which point their working life would come to an end.  Indeed, there were many organisations, the Civil Service included, who did not allow women to carry on working once they were married.


Impact of children

Without exception it was the woman who gave up work when children came along and, because society expected it, few challenged it.  Some returned to work when the children were older but usually in low level, low paid, undemanding and unsatisfying jobs because the family needed the extra income and they provided the flexibility needed to ensure they could be combined with childcare.


Predatory behaviour

This was very much a fact of life and so common that it went almost unnoticed and instead of complaining women found coping mechanisms and perfected the art of avoidance. 


The male view

It was felt that class was just as much a limiting factor regarding aspirations, expectations and achievements as gender.  Also, society’s belief that men had to be the strong ones, not express emotion and above all should not cry, had a detrimental effect on some men’s mental health.  Living in a family with all male siblings and attending a single-sex school sheltered boys from issues relating to male and female roles until they left school.




The images tabled demonstrated that considerable progress has been made as regards the range of careers now open to women, notably in the professions, science and the armed forces although some disquiet was expressed about women being on the front line militarily.  However, some felt that women were treated with less respect now than they were back in the 1970s.


It was felt that there continued to be an imbalance of power between men and women mainly because men are physically stronger and attitudes prevalent in the past remain entrenched in society despite the progress that has been made. 


A number of people deplored the increasing fragmentation of society and a growing polarisation of attitudes which is affecting people’s interaction with each other and exacerbating the gender divide.


It was suggested that even now it would not occur to some men that the traditional allocation of roles worked to women’s disadvantage and they see nothing wrong with how things have been in the past.


Equality at home

The strong general consensus was that women still do a much greater proportion of the domestic work than men and were far more likely to do other unpaid work such as caring for sick and/or elderly relatives.  Even where domestic chores are shared there are often “blue and pink” jobs.


Equality in the work place

Childcare responsibilities remain a major hindrance to women returning to work or progressing in their careers.  Senior positions still tend to be occupied by men despite research which indicates that diversity at Board level increases a company’s profitability. 


The statistics presented on the gender pay gap were generally not a surprise and concerns were expressed as to its impact on pensions now and for some time to come.  [Post meeting note:  a website is available for people to trace lost pensions – www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details.]


Societal norms

These discussions focused primarily on domestic abuse (DA) and the impact of social media.  Regarding DA, the statistics presented were felt to be understated because, due to a combination of fear and shame, many DA incidents probably go unreported.  Sharing views, knowledge and experiences of DA led to a deeper understanding of the issue amongst those who had been fortunate enough not to have come into contact with it.


The mainstream media, advertising and, more recently social media channels, were felt to be responsible for many of the unwanted attitudes and behaviours.  For many decades women have been objectified and sexualized in a way which, it was felt, almost gave men permission to treat women as objects, negate their feelings and abuse them.


More recently these themes have moved into the social media channels which are now widely accessed by (very) young people and the rise of sexist and misogynistic behaviour in schools was both worrying and depressing.  Many believe that young people spend too much time on their phones and that parents should do more to curtail this, although they recognised that often parents are unaware of what their children are viewing and have a limited understanding of the world they now live in. 



Some people felt that the apparent discrimination against women regarding healthcare issues stems from the fact that women have a tendency not to complain and carry on regardless, just “getting on with the job”.   The reported rise in suicides among young women is the result of social media content placing unrealistic expectations on women regarding lifestyle and body image. 


The issue of menopause caused some controversy, largely because personal experiences varied so widely.  Those who had “sailed through” the experience tended to be dismissive of calls for greater support and, in the workplace, didn’t feel that  allowances needed to be made when it came to performance / productivity evaluation.


Concern was also expressed as to the possible impact of the transgender debate on the availability of safe spaces for women.





There should be greater control on the use of phones by young people.  The large tech firms should be more tightly regulated and made more accountable for how their platforms are being used and who is using them and the blanket of anonymity, a facilitator of bad behaviour, should be removed. 


Better control over social media content would help restore respect for and value of women and reduce issues around misogyny, body image and the incidence of poor mental health.


The heavy use of social media channels to communicate with others is reducing opportunities and inclination to interact with others face to face.  Young people in particular should be encouraged to engage in person with other people rather than remotely / virtually.  Communication is crucial when it comes to forming societal mindset.



Study days such as this should be replicated in schools and colleges in order to encourage a greater focus on what gender equality means and how it can be achieved in the future.


There should be more education in schools on relationships and on finance.

Schools should be more assertive in imposing their authority.  Teachers shouldn’t aim to be their students’ best friend.


Institutional / policy change

The State should act as an enabler in matters such as childcare provision and harmonising the worlds of work and school to ensure they are not in conflict with each other.


The adversarial nature of our criminal justice system works against the interests of women and it needs reform but this is unlikely to happen as the preponderance of senior positions in the judiciary are held by men.


Domestic work should be paid (and valued more highly).


Greater use should be made of data to inform policy development.


Despite best efforts, predatory or abusive behaviour by men is not likely ever to be totally eradicated, so women will continue to need protection and support.  More schemes to keep them safe need to be developed and implemented.


Societal change

In all the groups there was a great deal of discussion about how today’s society needs to change.  There was a strong sense of materialism and instant gratification, the loss of community cohesion, the weakening of familial ties, the growing attention paid to “influencers”, lack of trust in our institutions and a diminishing sense of responsibility for one’s own actions.


Making a difference

However, recognising that these societal trends can only be changed by members of that society, you were asked to identify the one change you would make in your lives to address the issue you feel most strongly about.  There were loads of ideas on this one which hopefully meant that the day rounded off with people feeling motivated to counter some of the negative thoughts they had had in the earlier session.  This is  what you said.


In dealings with young people

·  be a positive influence on my grandchildren and other young people.  Help them build resilience and develop an empowered, positive mindset

·  insist young people actually converse and find activities for them which aren’t dependent on IT

·  consider working with the Empathy Action organisation to support and influence future generations

·  work with the younger generation to try to better understand social media and how they use it

Changing one’s own mindset

·  think more positively, listen and be adaptable

·  try to be more tolerant and less judgemental, even when everyone else rushes to judgement

·  work harder to understand diverse points of view and explain more of my own.  Keep an open mind.

In the wider community

·  look for a way to get involved in promoting equality and become more active in initiatives designed to bring about change

·  try to influence by example to make my community  more caring and inclusive

·  make contact with individuals who can help introduce change eg MPs

Within the U3a

·  make the U3a movement more aware of how we could influence change and improve gender equality

·  make the U3a more known to others

·  educate non-members of the U3a




Our thanks to you all for your active engagement in these discussions and for your willingness (and in some cases your courage) to share personal experiences both good and bad.  We hope you enjoyed the day and feel it was time well spent.


From your facilitators

Vanessa Bird, Stella Collins, Frani Hoskins, Rosemary Martin, Jill Ruddock

May 2024


This summary is also available as a pdf document here