International Women’s Day 2017 is all about #BeBoldForChange and of course, I am all for it. Most people around me are. They might even jump on the hash-tag or actively fundraise and do something. Interestingly I imagine a lot of them would shy away from describing themselves as feminists though.
International Women’s Day rallies the troops with: “Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world.”
I wonder how many people reading this feel that really, there isn’t much need for this here in London and things are pretty much equal for men and women. Do you believe women are treated fairly and have the same access to career opportunities?
That hasn’t always been my experience and I’ll bet if you asked women around you or really thought about it yourself, you will see it probably isn’t the case.
In primary school when I was around eight-years-old I was struggling in maths. At parent’s evening my teacher explained my struggle in the subject and also said to my mum; “at least she has a pretty face [so she will do ok]”.
My mum obviously hit the roof and complained to the school. Yet, those words couldn’t be unsaid and I fear they are indicative of mind-sets of the time (that wasn’t even THAT long ago – the 90s!)
Imagine a man being referred to as “the bombshell” in a meeting with both internal and external stakeholders. Yes, it happened to me just two years ago and as it was a client who said it I didn’t bat an eyelid. With hindsight and now more confidence, how I wish I had called him out. It was patronising, undermining and frankly, terribly embarrassing for me.
At just under five-foot with blonde hair and a baby face look (people often mistaken me for being 10-years younger than I am) I am subject to intense scrutiny for my appearance. I wondered if it would be the same for a man. I have spoken to both very tall and short men I know of the same sort of age and in similar job roles and actually, no, they haven’t experienced anything like this.
In an appraisal a few years ago I was once told that they found me to be “very masculine” in my approach. After probing, I discovered they meant direct and ambitious. What a shame that these qualities, the same qualities that saw me smash targets and gain buy-in from senior management, were regarded as masculine and not gender neutral.
Perhaps most devastating of all the gender discrimination I have faced was when I discovered I was being paid significantly less than my male counter-part. I was essentially more senior as I had managerial duties, I achieved greater results and after doing a little digging, I found out I had far more experience than him.
This is not unusual. On average women are still paid around 19% less than their male counterparts. We are just as capable and yet because of our anatomy we are not paid what we deserve. Doesn’t this infuriate you?
My experiences are not even the worst I have seen or heard, but they are mine and that is why I have shared them with you. Ask around and it won’t take long to uncover horror stories around this subject.
Recently, I was surprised when I saw a well-respected female professional in the London advertising world post on LinkedIn telling people to “get over” being a female creative in the industry, that it isn’t worth talking about and what is the issue anyway? Work hard, stop complaining and showcase your talent and you’ll get there. She stated she held this position as she had managed to work her way to the top as a black woman. No mean feat in advertising where even now diversity is lacking.
I am white, middle class, university educated, I have access to opportunities and inspiring mentors, but just because I haven’t had it as hard as some who have succeeded despite tremendous challenges doesn’t mean I should “get over it”. Getting over it isn’t going to help, because there is a problem and if you don’t talk about it we are allowing it to be normalised.
I have a son and I don’t want him grow up in a world where it is ok to treat women like they are worth less simply because of their sex. Is this what you want for your mum, sisters or daughters?
As professionals if we don’t shine a spotlight and challenge others aren’t we part of the problem? I am not going to “get over it” I am going to call it out and I am going to strive to be different.
I recently started Charlotte Says consultancy and I have just taken on my own member of staff. I hope to be an employer that advocates a change in attitudes and puts my money where my mouth is.
Consider the difference we could all make if we did the same.