City watchdog considers adding ‘self-identifying’ women to equality targets

·2 min read

Feminist legal campaigners have criticised new rules from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) which propose companies record their staff’s “chosen” gender, rather than their legal sex.

Businesses could be dragged into the row over transgender rights as the FCA, which regulates the City, considers rules requiring publicly listed businesses to declare whether 40pc of board members are women, and if not to explain why they missed the target.

The consultation adds that figure can include “those self-identifying as women”, and that a “self-identifying” woman should hold at least one senior board job.

Legal experts warned the planned regulations would leave corporations open to discrimination claims and could clash with current sex diversity reporting laws.

In a response to the consultation, Legal Feminists, a group made up of lawyers and barristers, said the proposal was “flawed, perhaps fatally”. It also questioned whether the role of a senior FCA executive at diversity lobbying group Stonewall represented a conflict of interest.

Sheldon Mills, a lawyer from Cardiff who serves as an executive director of the regulator is also the chairman of trustees at Stonewall, which has advocated for trans rights.

The group wrote listed companies could be “exposed to possible discrimination claims from employees as a result of seeking to comply with rules based on self ID”.

A spokeswoman for Legal Feminist said: “It is frustrating that, in seeking to promote an ideology, the FCA has produced proposals that don’t achieve their stated aim and expose issuers to legal risk.”

The change in the FCA’s diversity requirements would differ to reporting rules under the Companies Act, which requires companies to disclose “the number of persons of each sex” on the board.

Last year, the Government dropped plans to allow people to change their legal sex without medical checks. Activists say that transgender people should be allowed to more easily identify as male or female, known as “self ID”, without diagnosis by a doctor, arguing it would cut wait times and boost mental health.

A FCA spokesperson said its diversity data requirements would be “completely independent” of laws requiring companies to report the sex of board members. The spokesperson added: “The FCA will consider views received during the consultation and expects to introduce rules on the subject by the end of the year.”

Stonewall said: “We are proud to work with Sheldon Mills as our Chair of Trustees. Stonewall was set up to strive for a world where all lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people are free to be themselves, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.” It denied any involvement with the FCA’s proposals. The FCA said it was “proud” of Mr Mills’ work.

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