To continue celebrating female success as we approach International Women’s Day, this week MOLLY GRAY delves into politics. In between fighting Covid and representing Truro and Falmouth in parliament, MP Cherilyn Mackrory speaks about her unconventional journey into politics, how gender bias has affected her, and how the House of Commons is crying out for women.
Cherilyn Mackrory studied politics at university and found herself with an internship in the House of Commons shortly after graduating. You may think that this does indeed sound like a straight road to becoming an MP, but the expense of London saw Cherilyn give up her internship for a job in IT on a dealing floor – a very male-dominated dealing floor.
Being only in her 20s, Cherilyn received many comments from her male co-workers, and was even approached by a colleague with a scheme to make money by claiming false allegations of sexism. The man told her they would split the settlement, but of course his plan never came to be. Cherilyn told me she “laughed it off”, and that her time on the dealing floor was “a big learning curve”.
It was in this same job that Cherilyn noticed for the first time that women were not treated equally. When the company was taken over, Cherilyn came to realise that people in equivalent jobs were earning up to three times as much as her, so she approached her new boss for a pay rise.
After being refused, Cherilyn quit and went travelling. She reflected: “What I should’ve done, in hindsight, was stay and now you could take them to court. It didn’t even occur to me that I would have had a case. I think that’s probably the first time that I really felt that I was young and that I was female and that I couldn’t stand up to what I was trying to stand up against. They were all men and I think I’d have just been laughed out the room.”
Cherilyn’s grounded nature comes from her upbringing. Her father raised three girls and the ethos was that if you work hard, you can achieve what you want. She said: “He raised us to be really independent, really free-thinking, able to stand up for ourselves, but we didn’t realise that’s what we were being raised to do, we were just growing up. Not once did we ever think we couldn’t do anything in life.”
And due to hard work and determination, Cherilyn became an MP. After moving to another IT job in Bristol, and then retraining to become a sports therapist, Cherilyn realised that her first love was that of politics. Whilst the House of Commons is still very male-dominated, those in power recognise the need for change.
Cherilyn commented: “If you’ve got women in the cabinet at the moment it’s because they deserve to be there. But we need to encourage the good women to get into parliament in the first place.”
However, the abuse that MPs get could be a factor in the lack of women going for the job. Cherilyn is classed as lucky amongst colleagues for not having received abuse from people online. Some colleagues have had people threaten to kidnap their children, made death threats towards them, and even stood outside their homes, which has resulted in prosecutions. Cherilyn said: “There’s a huge amount of women that want to become MPs but this is a deterrent for women.”
Female MPs have also got to consider their family when pursuing their political career. Cherilyn lives in Cornwall and commutes to Westminster after the Monday school run, returning on Wednesday night ready for the school run again on Thursday.
However, she admits that it would not be possible without her supportive husband: “If we’re going to talk about gender stereotyping, my husband’s a fisherman, so how many Cornish fishermen do you think will be doing half the childcare a week? But he does and he loves it and it’s been great for their relationship.”
Alternatively, some women live in Westminster and travel to their constituencies. However, does this idea hold Cornish people back? Whilst there is a stigma that the best jobs are in London and that you have to leave Cornwall to make a career, the MP is proof that this isn’t true, but recognises that this is an issue and hopes that she can change that: “I think absolutely every Cornish child should have the ambition to be able to do whatever it is they want to do. If that means leaving Cornwall to do the job of their dreams, fine. But what my job is, is to try and bring more good quality jobs to Cornwall so if they want to stay in Cornwall and do a good quality job then they can.”
Though we spoke of the problems with becoming a female MP, having to juggle family life and the danger of online trolling, there are several reasons why we need female MPs, in particular to fight the corner for women, including those who have lost a baby. After suffering her own loss, Cherilyn now chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for baby loss. Women can be reluctant to speak on this, but Cherilyn told me that “it’s good to know that you’re speaking for people that haven’t got a voice,” adding that it “feels like a real achievement.”
Cherilyn says there is a lot of work to do on women’s health, and who better to represent us than women themselves. “We can only do better the more we flood parliament with more quality women. I will do everything I can to encourage any girls or women that want to do that.”
- Read Molly Gray’s interview with another female leader in our region, Professor Anne Carlisle