The glass ceiling still applies, but it’s a glass ceiling with windows in it, as it were, through which some women have been able to crawl and others haven’t yet made it.Betty Lockwood
Betty Lockwood was a lifelong British Labour Party activist who campaigned tirelessly for women’s equality throughout her life. Lockwood was the first chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission and played a key role in implementing the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
Born in January 1924 in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, Lockwood came from a working-class background. Her father was a miner, and went through long stretches of unemployment while Lockwood was growing up; her mother worked as a weaver.
As well as coming from a poor background, Lockwood suffered physically. At 4 years old, Lockwood injured her foot badly. At 18, she had her leg amputated and was fitted with an artificial one.
Lockwood attended Eastborough Girls’ School until she was 14, when she had to leave for work in a clothes shop in her hometown. But later, after studying at night school for two years, she became a clerk for the local council.
Determined to obtain further education, Lockwood won The Mary MacArthur Scholarship for Working Women, which allowed her to study economics and politics at Oxford University. For the second year of her degree, Lockwood got a job working with the Labour Party as secretary to the party agent in Dewsbury. As such, she completed her degree by correspondence.
For the next three decades, Lockwood worked her way up the ranks in the Labour Party, becoming the Chief Women’s Officer in 1967. In this role, Lockwood was instrumental in increasing the number of female Labour MPs. In 1970, Labour had the lowest number of female candidates since 1924. Lockwood worked to turn this around and in the 1974 election, women fought for nearly a quarter of Labour seats.
The low status of women was quickly becoming a widespread issue during this period. In 1968, 850 women working at the Ford factory in Dagenham went on strike over unequal pay, which spurred Labour MP Barbara Castle to introduce the Equal Pay Act in 1970; it became law in 1975.
Lockwood saw that there was a need for a statuary body to implement the legislation and lobbied for a commission to be set up to enforce the law. In 1975, the then home secretary Roy Jenkins set up the Equal Opportunities Commission, which aimed to enforce the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act. Lockwood was appointed to chair the commission and preside over working towards eliminating discrimination in the workplace, promoting equal opportunities for men and women, and making recommendations to the government if amendments to the law were required.
Upon becoming Chair, Lockwood had to deal with a backlog of thousands of complaints and mockery in the national press. To make the commission a success, she insisted that the Equal Opportunities Commission must be a partisan organisation and appointed Conservative Elspeth Howe as her Deputy.
Energetic, warm and well-connected after three decades in politics, Lockwood made the commission a success and it survived until 2007, when it was absorbed into the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In 1982, Lockwood then became the Chair of the European Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.
Lockwood was also a huge supporter of preserving working-class history. In the 1990s, the Yorkshire Mining Museum (based in Wakefield, close to her hometown of Dewsbury) came under threat of closure as the Coal Board funding ended. Lockwood lobbied the government for funding to secure the future of the museum, which became the National Coal Mining Museum. Lockwood was Chair of the Board of Trustees for the museum until her death in 2019.
Lockwood was inducted into the House of Lords in 1978 as Baroness Lockwood of Dewsbury, becoming Deputy Speaker in 1990. In her first speech to the House of Lords, Lockwood used her platform to advocate for women’s equality, arguing that women should have the same rights as men to pass their nationality on to their children. During her tenure in the House of Lords, she continued to campaign and speak on women’s equality. She formally retired from the House of Lords in 2017.
A passionate believer in lifelong education and promoting access to further education for women, Lockwood was the president of Birkbeck College (1983 – 1989) and Hillcroft College (1987 – 1995). She was also a member of Soroptimist International, which works to champion women throughout society.
She married Cedric Hall in 1978 and he died in 1988. Baroness Lockwood died in April 2019, at the age of 95.
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