On this year's International Women's Day we offer you two individual viewpoints on issues surrounding gender equality in the workplace.
By Hannah Patrick, Marketing and Communications Executive at Meyler Campbell
I have been so fortunate with my upbringing; I went to a single sex school where the belief was that girls could learn any subject and play any sport, and stereotypically masculine characteristics such as competitiveness and confidence were encouraged. Neither of my parents ever made me feel that being a girl somehow put me at a disadvantage, and so the thought never really crossed my mind. Having said that, I still lived with gender based assumptions, but I was just unaware of my own ignorance.
That’s why, when I sat in my first gender studies seminar at University, I had what might be described as an existential crisis. As my eyes were opened to some of the assumptions so deeply entrenched into our society I became aware of their omnipresence in my everyday life. Be that from the way my male friends acted versus my female friends or phrases that were part of our everyday vernacular but rooted so deeply in an underlying prejudice. It ignited a feeling in me that has not yet subsided, an anger that this inequality that I had thought of as a thing of the past was still alive and well, but perhaps slightly better disguised.
When I joined Meyler Campbell I joined an entirely female team in the office, as well as a company with a predominantly female leadership. I never batted an eyelid at it until recently when I spoke to a friend who works in a typically ‘male’ industry. She spoke about how she modifies her behaviour so that she doesn’t come off as too ‘girly’ and can be taken seriously, down to the food that she eats in the office and the clothes that she wears. Once again I realised my blissful ignorance. I do not admire the women of Meyler Campbell because they are women, but because they are intelligent, self-assured and accomplished leaders. However, on reflection I am so glad that I have had the chance to work for both men and women who I want to model myself on as I progress through my career.
I want to continue to educate myself on prejudices that I have been lucky enough to avoid thus far, however I don’t want to change the assumptions I have that form the basis of my ignorance. I assume that my male counterpart would be paid the same as me and that our ability to perform in a job is unrelated to our gender. I assume that although one day I plan to have a family, I will still have an exciting and successful career. I assume that if I pay my dues I can and will reach a senior leadership position. My assumptions are a product of the world that I have grown up in, which is a world that not everyone is lucky enough to experience. To me this only enforces the need to change the discourse around gender so that the generations behind me grow up with these same assumptions, and in time find a world that does not prove them wrong.
International Women’s Day means different things to different people; it can be a chance to celebrate progress and a day to call for change. For me, as a young women starting out in my career, it serves as a yearly reminder. Firstly, it reminds me to be grateful for my good fortune and the opportunities that I have had as the result of the women of history and the women of today. Secondly, it is a reminder not to stand for gender inequality, not to stay quiet if someone’s behaviour is prejudiced and not to forget that I have a voice and the freedom to use it.
In my opinion this day should not be seen as having negative connotations. Gender inequality is not an exclusive problem, it affects everyone and it involves everyone. The theme of International Women’s Day 2017 is the economic empowerment of women, access to education for all children worldwide, and the elimination of gender based violence and discrimination by 2030. It’s hard to imagine that these are not universal goals, but sadly that’s the reality of the situation.
I’ll end with a quote from Nancy Kline’s ‘Living with time to think: The Goddaughter letters’. Nancy read this section aloud at her event with Meyler Campbell in 2015 and it resonated so strongly with me that I haven’t been able to forget it:
"Women and men are, in any sense that matters at all, inherently equal: equally good, equally intelligent, equally loving, resourceful, smart, ambitious, able to lead, solve problems, think big, fix cars, raise children, write, care, bless the dead, run the A&E, mow the lawn, feel a feeling and get the skin off garlic in one motion. We are both genetically deeply connected to our hearts, to our fondest dreams of peace for the world, to our talent to write software, read genes and chip magically away at marble. If you just accept that men are not going to save you or give you meaning, because you do not need to be saved and because you came equipped with your own meaning, if you resist even a tiny pull to be resurrected by, outshone by or drop dead impressed by a man just because he is a man, you will do men possibly the biggest favour in the world: you will not be disappointed in them."
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