Our Spotlight for January Is Cat Dixon, New Chair of Stonewall

We are thrilled that the first in our new series of profiles is Catherine (Cat) Dixon, the new Chair of Stonewall. If that weren’t noteworthy enough, Cat is also holds a Guinness World Record for the fastest time circumnavigating the globe on a tandem bicycle. All that, and fitting in a major day job as Chief Executive Officer of CIArb, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.


Cat, welcome to the LBTQW hotspot! Let’s start with a brief description of your roles at Stonewall and CIArb.

As Chair of the Stonewall Board, my role is to provide strategic leadership, effective governance, support and oversight to the leadership team and to represent the charity to stakeholders. In my ‘day job’ as the chief executive officer of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) my role is to provide overall leadership and management, make strategic decisions, manage operations and represent the CIArb to stakeholders and members.

You are one of the rare and extraordinary people that hold a truly deserved Guinness World Record. Tell us about that and what inspired you to do it.

I always wanted to cycle around the world and thought why not try to break a world record! With my friend, Raz, we rode over 18,000 miles on a fully loaded tandem, through 25 countries, between 80 to 120 miles per day, and completing the circumnavigation in a total of 263 days, beating the previous record of 281 days. We rode unsupported, including through a monsoon and the fires in Australia in 2019. We returned just before the pandemic – leaving France on the last passenger ferry before the travel ban started and arriving back in the UK just before lockdown. It was an amazing experience seeing the world by bike.

What excites you most about your role at Stonewall?

I feel passionate about equity, inclusion and human rights. I believe that everybody has the right to be themselves (provided they are not hurting others) and I want to contribute to make this a reality for everyone. I have directly experienced hate and prejudice because of my own sexuality and I don’t want anybody else to have that experience.

What initiatives – generally, professionally, personally – are currently top of your agenda?

For Stonewall – campaigning in the run-up to the general election and beyond on hate crime, conversion practices, education, health/ social care and for LGBTQ+ veterans, and ensuring Stonewall delivers excellent services and is financially sustainable.

The CIArb is a professional body/membership organisation for people who resolve disputes. It has members in 150 countries with 43 branches globally – so my key priorities are, therefore, delivering excellent world class services to its members globally, growth, effective governance – plus we’re implementing new IT systems which need to be embedded across the organisation.

Your role as Chair of Stonewall has put you squarely in the firing line by those who disagree with Stonewall’s stance on trans rights. What, from a personal viewpoint, has been the most difficult aspect of this ongoing, escalating debate?

Personally, I believe in equality, respecting human rights and enabling people to be themselves. The most difficult aspect of the debate for me is the amount of misinformation and sometimes misunderstandings about trans people’s rights – including Stonewall’s position on it. 

We know that there is a real issue about violence against women and girls which needs to be addressed but this violence is not coming from the trans community. In fact, as a trans person, you are even more likely to experience violence and intimidation. What I don’t expect is a minority and sometimes vulnerable group to be singled out and their rights not respected because people are worried about, for example, who uses which public toilet (particularly as we have seen no evidence that this is a problem). We should therefore be united as an LGBTQ+ community on these issues but instead there are divisions, and this is even more concerning as LGBTQ+ rights generally are under attack. 

The Equality Act 2010 is a world leading piece of legalisation. It recognises sexuality and gender reassignment as protected characteristics. It also has something called the Single Sex Exemption, also known as the Single-Sex Service Provision, which allows certain organisations to provide services or facilities exclusively to individuals of a specific sex (for example cis-women), where it is considered necessary and proportionate.

Overall, these provisions seem clear and workable, and organisations have the skills and insights they need to operate them in practice, while making sure they support trans people too.

I am a lifelong feminist, and I understand why feminists feel protective of our hard-won rights. I know that, as LGBTQ+ communities, we have more that unite us than divide us and, in my experience, most lesbians are fully supportive of our trans siblings’ rights. 

From my perspective, it’s important to engage respectfully and, where we can, enable a better understanding and bridge gaps to build a more inclusive society. 

However, if the question is “Do you believe a trans women is a women?” – well, yes, I do – just as I believe a trans man is a man and as I believe that – as a lesbian – my sexuality and my choices are mine alone, and should be respected.

As an openly lesbian woman in the workplace and home, what is your personal response to the arguments that Stonewall has ‘forgotten’ the L and the B part of our community? 

I don’t believe that Stonewall has forgotten either the L or the B in LGBTQ+ and, if people feel this way, we need to do more to demonstrate that Stonewall continues to fight for all LGBTQ+ rights including lesbians and bi women. I’m really proud that our campaigning helped secure a UK Government commitment to change IVF rules that are uniquely discriminatory against lesbians and bi women looking to for a family, and we’re continuing to apply pressure to make that a reality in every part of the country.

We have seen a significant amount of media coverage about trans people’s rights. This in itself can give a misleading picture about what Stonewall is doing. In reality, much of the work currently being pursued by Stonewall is about safeguarding and securing the rights for all LGBTQ+ people including on hate crime, conversion practices, making workplaces across the country more LGBTQ+ inclusive, and securing justice for LGBTQ+ veterans, all of which have a big impact on lesbian and bi women.

You have worked in the public or third sector for most of your career, having qualified as a lawyer. What first led you to decide to follow this path?

The values and purpose of the organisations I work for have always been important to me. I was a solicitor at Eversheds which, at the time, was the largest national law firm. I decided that I wanted to work in industry (as an in-house lawyer) and became legal director and general counsel for BUPA and then the NSPCC. After BUPA, I had lived in Canada working as an Outward Bound instructor for women who were survivors of abuse, and it was then I decided that I would like to run organisations and subsequently became a CEO. I have led four organisations: NHS Resolution, that indemnifies the NHS (and deals with all claims against the NHS), the Law Society of England and Wales, a HE/FE College and CIArb. 

How, when and why did you come out at work?

I came out in the late 90’s – I was the Commercial/ Legal Director at BUPA. All the other directors were older than me and straight, mainly white and men (one other women). It was tough at first – mainly because there were not many people out at work, so it was isolating. Also, I didn’t want to be judged on my sexuality but on who I am and on my work.  I just wanted to be able to be myself – and, for the most part, I was. 

And how old were you when you had your first LBWoman kiss?

18! – I started as I meant to go on!

What are the five words that best describe you?

Determined, fair, collaborative, inspirational, and queer. 

What are your biggest challenges in achieving an optimal work/life balance?

What is work life balance?

Do you have something on your desk or where you work, which is personal – if so, what is it and why?

I have my World Record Certificate for the fastest circumnavigation of the world on a tandem bicycle. It restores my faith in humans, as riding around the world you experience (for the most part) the kindness of strangers.

What are your favourite pastimes when you aren’t working?

Cycling and more cycling – I’m a Ride Leader for BellaVelo Cycling Club a women’s club in London

Do you have children or pets? If so, what are their names and why did you choose them?

I have a cat called Luna – she is a British Shorthaired Blue – so Blue Moon – therefore Luna. It made sense to me.

What you are reading currently and what is your favourite book of all time?

I am reading Politics on the Edge by Rory Stewart – an indictment of today’s politics and politicians.  Lots of favourites – but I did enjoy Nightwatch by Sarah Waters – it is interesting how the lead character kept her integrity. 

What advice would you give to the younger you?

Don’t worry so much. Be yourself. You won’t look back on your life and wish you had worked harder. Life is for living. Be kind. I tell myself all this now – although I don’t always listen!



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Our Spotlight for January Is Cat Dixon, New Chair of Stonewall

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We are thrilled that the first in our new series of profiles is Catherine (Cat) Dixon, the new Chair of Stonewall. If that weren’t noteworthy enough, Cat is also holds a Guinness World Record for the fastest time circumnavigating the globe on a tandem bicycle. All that, and fitting in a major day job as Chief Executive Officer of CIArb, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

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