Updated: Mar 9, 2021
As international women’s day 2021 approaches, we globally celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The Women we admire for making leaps and bounds to change social acceptance of inequality, we honour and show gratitude to those important woman figures in our lives who support and inspire us on a daily basis and rejoice in the progress our generation has made thus far towards cohesion and equality for all. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
Thinking about what international women's day means in todays society, I couldn’t help but reflect back on some of my personal experiences over the years where my gender, indirectly discriminated my opportunities, particularly in the workplace, and how prevalent these social inequalities, even though have dramatically improved over the years, still very much exist today.
As a woman who worked in a male dominated industry for 15 years, I certainly have experienced my fair share of the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, more times than I should have, and I know first-hand, just how detrimental the effects of said inequality can be.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘glass ceiling’, it’s a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that prevents a given demographic, typically applied to minorities, from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy. The metaphor was conceived by feminist in reference to the barriers in the career of high achieving women in the workplace. Research suggests that women are still 18 percent less likely to be promoted for the same role than their male co-workers.
When I began working in a corporate industry (some many moons ago), at the time I was not familiar with said gender gap, nor the inequalities and double standards that existed in the workplace between men and women.
Despite being quiet young, naive and inexperienced at the time, it was still very prevalent, during those early years of my career, the males in our office held more senior positions, progressed and advanced in their careers a lot quicker, had more opportunities for promotions, earnt higher wages in equivalent roles and reaped the benefits of the so called ‘double standard’ to that of their female colleagues.
Whilst I admit, I was definitely one of the fortunate ones who was afforded vast opportunities throughout my career, they definitely weren’t handed to me on a silver platter.
I worked my arse off for every little success and win, and twice, if not thrice as hard as the guy next to me.
Because everything a male did, a female had to do even better just to get noticed, to gain respect, to build trust and to prove her worth.
There were no shortcuts, and the road to opportunity and progression was certainly not an easy feat, in fact, some days, the hustle nearly killed me.
The additional pressure and expectations put on the women in our office to attain the same outcome of our male counterparts was at times, impossible to achieve.
On a daily basis, I witness inequality and double standards between the men and women. It was deemed acceptable for the males in our office to take longer lunch breaks / multiple breaks throughout the day, group social chats in the kitchen deemed as ‘work discussions’, group coffee breaks at the corner shop labelled as ‘informal business meetings’ or group site visits together popping in and out of the office as they pleased with no accountability for time or where they had been.
Whereas any of the females seen doing the same thing, were instantly labelled as ‘gossip groups’, ‘social chats’, ‘extended breaks’, ‘time wasters’ etc. We would be questioned if traveling to site together was necessary, that all meetings had to be scheduled in the boardroom under management supervision and coffee breaks (aka informal business meetings) only required one person to go.
With a male dominated hierarchy, the senior positions were habitually reserved for men, as the belief was, men were more equipped to handle male dominated teams given ‘the nature of the industry’. Yes, there were a handful of women in senior managerial roles, but they were far and few between and very hard to reach.
Women often filled the less gratifying ‘stereotypical admin’ roles and referred to as ‘the office admin’, and when opportunities arose, the men were usually the first consideration, even in cases where women worked in the same equivalent positions. Reviews often resulted in the males receiving higher percentage increases, additional bonus’s and perks and more impressive job titles.
Although I felt I was one of the luckier ones who was afforded opportunities in executive managerial roles, I sadly witnessed many of my female colleagues held back, with little to no opportunity for career progression, regardless of having the capabilities required for more senior positions.
Seeing such inequalities fuelled my drive, and I became fiercely determined to prove my value and worth and do it better than the person sitting next to me. But it was very tough at times, and it shouldn’t have been.
The reality is, gender disparities still exists and the conversation needs to continue.
I feel like the term ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ gets thrown around quiet frivolously these days and often with a negative connotation attached.
When you break it all down, quite simply, ‘feminism’ is about ALL genders having equal rights and opportunities. It's about respecting diverse women's experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths, and striving to empower all women to realise and access their full rights in the workplace and in society. That is something we ALL should be advocating and striving towards and why international women's day is so important to bring these issues to light for conversation.
I commit to challenge and call out inequality in all forms.
And to that young, naive, inexperienced women who started at the bottom in a male dominated industry determined to keep woman down, worked her ass off all the way to the top, through every challenge, setback, hurdle and disappointment, I am most proud of you for proving that change is possible.
Love Bella x