It seems like barely a day goes by when I don’t hear people talking about how there aren’t enough women in this industry or that industry. It’s actually starting to really annoy me. I’ve always believed in the ethos that to achieve something great I have to work for it. Nothing has ever been handed to me, I’ve always had to earn it, and what a great feeling it is when you achieve it! It’s one of the things I openly acknowledge my parents did right with me. There are plenty others, this is just one example. But now it feels like maybe all the hard work wasn’t necessary, maybe I should have nothing more than the fact I’m a woman on my CV, to gain a good job. I don’t want to be part of a quota, I want to get a job because I’m the best applicant at the time, not because everyone else who applied was a man. It feels horribly patronising and demeaning, like telling me I’m successful because of how I look.
I have my limitations, plenty of them in fact! I could easily bore you for a straight hour with all my flaws and my issues, it would be the best night’s sleep you ever had. No really, I’m not joking! I’m rubbish at Maths so I could never been an accountant, and I’m fine with that. As a woman I accept I’m physically weaker than the average guy. I’m ok with that one too. Women generally are better at multi tasking then men, they are good at planning and problem solving too. You have to be to work out how to get the kids fed, taken to school, a hasty Book Day character costume jumbled together and a car pool rota all drawn up, while also cramming up on your meeting notes before 9am. I believe this is why we usually excel at coursework because we have time to think and plan, but most importantly chose a good time when we are at our most productive, and get on with the job. Anything can happen on the day of an exam; a delayed bus, memory fatigue, a good dollop of hayfever and no antihistamines at hand, that’s all it takes, or at least it was for me!
So, thinking back to work, is it such a problem that women are not 50/50 in number in all career roles? Maybe women just prefer set areas and focus more on those. For example there are more women primary teachers than men. Mechanics are likely to be men rather than women, again fine. I love my car but I certainly don’t want to open the bonnet and talk how many cc’s it has and the miles to the gallon, I just don’t care. The chances are good when you move house that the removal team who will help load up the van will be men. In my company we spend a lot of time working in Scandinavian travel and the women in Sweden and Iceland are the organisers booking trips and doing the invoicing, the men are the ones being told where to drive to, who to pick up at the airport and what tours they are doing that day. Everyone is happy in their roles.
I also wonder whether it is every woman’s wish to be in a high flying job. In the same way as the expected return to work after having a baby, maybe some women don’t want to rush back. I worked with a woman who chose to take the first year off work to be a mum. I’m sure she was constantly being quizzed by other women about it. “What do you do?” they would ask. “Oh right now I look after this little one,” she would proclaim cheerily pulling her child nearer. “Yes, yes, but what is your career?” When the answer is forthcoming and their maternity leave is discussed; “A year? Goodness! I love my Jeremy to bits, but I would literally go crazy if I had to stay at home with him for a whole year! What about work? Aren’t you worried you will be replaced?” The assumption is motherhood is not a job. What other role has you working 24hrs a day without a restive break then?! At least a desk job has a set format of hours even if you find yourself tapping away at the keyboard for longer still. It’s not often most people will continue all through the night!
I can’t entertain the notion of every women wanting to be a high flyer. I have a good job, it’s not that I’m lacking in ambition. With the usual challenges I now run sales for an incredibly lucrative clientele in the travel market of which I am proud of. But I don’t want a job where I am on call 24/7 and stressed. Of course if I wanted a job when I would be driving in all directions around the country for meetings etc, there are options, but I don’t want this now.
I’ve worked in corporate environments and they have their perks. More people, more potential friends, better social opportunities, role progression and generally better benefit packages. But I also remember the drawbacks – managers who you only see when they interview you, hold the annual appraisal where you wade through 25 pages of competency assessment together and when you get made redundant. The constant meetings are also too much!
I can’t imagine having children and wanting to juggle both. The motherhood vs career guilt is something every mother has to face in any job. Karren Brady is a great advocate for women being able to have it all and working in what is deemed a male-dominated environment, showing how focused she is. But I am sure if you asked her if she was a good mother, there would be a delay in her answering. There would be the times she would be thinking about when she took one of the kids to school when they complained they were sick, and they did actually look ill, but there was that really important meeting, and Sod’s Law dictated it had to be the same day as the youngest got the sniffles and the raised temperature. I’m sure she is a good mother, and I’m not saying otherwise, but guilt must still come into it for her in the same way it does for every mother.
Similarly we are told as women we have to be tough, but women are normally responded to negatively if the school calls and tell you little Ellie is not well and needs to be collected. It is always the mother who is the first person to be contacted for collection. Rather shockingly in one of my previous roles one of our top managers had the usual dilemma of a sick babysitter on the day of several important meetings. In her case every day she toured the country visiting branches and holding these meetings, so this was only different in the absence of the babysitter. She could have cancelled the meetings, instead she chose to bring the children with her. When she arrived she thought it was fine to leave her 9 month old baby and 2 year old toddler in the car unattended for several hours. It had been heavily snowing so I think you can guess just how cold it was.
Our Facilities team argued with her and she relented and brought her children inside. The first young girl she saw who worked in the Facilities team got saddled with the kids while the manager went about the meeting. The poor girl was very young and afraid of these two children; no doubt wary if she meant a mistake it might be serious for the children and cost her her role. Thankfully all three fared fine. After, the manager bundled the kids back into the car and drove from Salisbury to Exeter to host the next meeting. Presumably the kids were left with someone at the Exeter office as well. I could never imagine leaving two children in a freezing cold car alone, while the snow continued to fall just to host a meeting. Her willingness to leave them there had Facilities not intervened, was the only thing we all remembered from the meeting and certainly generated plenty of conversations! It painted a rather negative attitude towards her.
If we really want a set career then go for it, there’s only us that can hold us back, but if alternately we are happy how we are, then that is fine too. It shouldn’t be considered if there are less than 50% of women in a company or industry then the industry is sexist or failing. Is it just me who thinks this?