How’s equal opportunity going?
In the mid 1980s, I was recruited as a junior manager in a large UK based corporate. I didn’t know at the time that I was part of their program to increase the numbers of female managers. When you are part of a change programme, it is sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. This male oriented corporate was committed to increasing the percentage of women in management and not just in the ‘soft’ areas.
Part of the program included creating a women’s network that had regular meetings with high profile speakers to educate and inspire. I remember one meeting, the speaker was the commissioner of the Equal Opportunities Commission and she informed us that to be successful, we needed to have in the diary set ‘me-time’ allocated. This was a new concept, not just to me, but to many others in the audience.
This is a great time to be a woman in management with the introduction of networks and mentoring schemes. They helped raise the number of women in managerial positions and navigate the new territory.
Fast forward thirty years and I can’t believe I’ve been alive that long.
In August 2019, I arrived back in the UK after five years away with fresh eyes on my adopted country. I noticed women in the media appeared very feminine, much more so than the 80s and 90s. I wondered what had happened to the women’s movement.
Had it stalled or gone backwards?
I decided to speak to women much younger than me about their experience of equal opportunities in their thirties. Just so I could compare, if one can ever compare.
I interviewed Penny* who worked in a male oriented brokerage firm within the financial services sector in naughties. As she shared her experiences, I knew sexual harassment was still going on from the stories my son had told me. Penny told me of repeated incidences where male bystanders would collude with the abuser by remaining silent. She told me of one such incident where the bystander went onto press himself on her later at the same event.
I was taken aback by Penny’s acceptance that men will be men and conversely, women will be women.
Are mothers and parents ducking the cause here?
In Australia, domestic violence is a big issue with TV campaigns educating people of the different types of abuse and how it starts… the verbal put down. The sneer. Gaslighting. Children learn behaviours that are common in the home.
For women to be treated equal, we have to educate our children and/or our spouse to what is acceptable behaviour.
We have to be courageous and, yes, it can be really difficult when in a relationship experiencing the cycle of abuse. See, that time in the 1980s had an enormous impact upon me. I decided to be a role model and raising my children to understand and expect equality. Have I been successful? The honest answer is that I don’t know. My son is in the male oriented financial services sector and he calls his partner a feminist. We can only do our best and hand the baton onto to the next generation.
Equal opportunity - where to next?
Men seized dominance several thousands of years ago and it has only been in the last hundred or so years that women have been raising the need for equality. It won’t take thousands of years but, it will take many more decades and it involves every woman to be a role model for setting out boundaries for acceptable behaviour. To knowingly settle on receiving ‘put downs’ and gaslighting effectively sentences the next generations to that continued behaviour.
It isn’t just about women though. Men have an important role too. When they see sexual harassment, put downs, gaslighting and the like, for them to stand up and say that this is not acceptable. We listen to our peers.
This article has taken a long time to write because the topic is so entwined with my life. It would have been easier to let it pass and commit to writing one next year. But when we pass on what appears to be hard, we pass on a gem. We pass on an opportunity for learning, for gaining new insight.
Let’s all stand for equality.
Let’s all stand for kindness and appreciation.
For these go much further in the long run than put downs, gaslighting and abuse.
Guest Contribution Karen Purves. International Women's Day 2020
Karen Purves is the author of "Gratitude Prompts", a coach and mentor to women who want to raise their game, to be the role model and beacon for others.
Karen is a nomad having downsized to a suitcase a year ago. She does talks and workshops in towns in south east England. She will gladly chat to you and can be found on social media under the handle @karenpurves
Photo credits: Claudio Schwarz @purzlbaum on Unsplash and Pixabay
*Penny is not her real name