Raising my children for generation equality

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International women's day "is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."[1]

Earlier today I found myself remembering events from my career, as a trainee accountant and then as an employee of a listed company, that had me realising how I had experienced gender bias /discrimination multiple times. Whilst there have been a few, I'd like to share three:

1. In my early 20s as a young trainee accountant, I was sexually harassed and verbally abused by a client who, I guess, believed that his power, status, and Financial Director title made his behaviour towards me acceptable.

2. Years later, as a consistent top performer, I worked with a male colleague who said he would "make it my mission to prove that she is not the top performer." I don't know why my work performance bothered him so much, but it did to the extent that he was intentionally condescending, publicly insulting, and even started to spread malicious rumours about me.

3. As a "perk" for being the consistent top performer, I remember being invited to our department's strategy session by the then executive. A two-day off-site with the (all-male) leadership team. This was a big deal! I felt rather honoured to be invited to be honest, thinking (naively) that they wanted to hear my views on matters to be discussed. Turns out, my role was to take notes for the duration of the two-day session.

Naturally, each of these incidents affected me, albeit differently:

1. I remember thinking that it was my fault that this happened. I had never heard of sexual harassment at the time and so, whilst I knew his behaviour was wrong on so many levels, I kept it to myself and literally suffered in silence for weeks.

2. I hated going to work. Every morning I would wonder what new insult or bullying tactic I'd have to endure.

3. I felt humiliated and misled, yet I was made to feel that I should be grateful for the opportunity.

My confidence levels, my health, and my mental well-being were affected to varying degrees.

However, I also remember that I had supportive leaders, all male too, who stood by me and stood up for me in these situations:

1. The firm's senior partner, immediately upon hearing about the client's abusive behaviour towards me, called the client, read him the riot act, and demanded that the client apologise to me. I remember the same partner asking me how many days I had left to conclude the fieldwork for the audit and then met me at the client's offices daily until the audit was completed.

2. The senior audit manager declaring my work as thorough and without fault to the male colleague and stating there was no doubt concerning my performance. The male colleague was later given a written warning and resigned a few months later.

3. This one was a little different: being the business manager to the chief executive (CE) of the largest business units meant that I took lots of (fantastic) notes for the executive committees he chaired. He made me see the value of being the note-taker – a role he had proudly volunteered to fulfill when he started out in his career ... he was a qualified actuary at the time. My notes helped when it was time to write exco and board reports; when it was necessary to write business unit reviews for various quarterly governance committees and the annual financial statements, and when there was confusion regarding the context of discussions that had taken place that resulted in certain decisions being made. He invited my input and relied on both my notes and my role as his business manager to help fulfill his CE governance responsibilities. Empowering and supportive not disempowering and made to feel like a stereotype.

Now, while men feature quite prominently in my career (for obvious reasons) I was always surrounded by amazing women who held me up at the lowest times and propelled me forward at the best of times, and who continue to do so to this day.

I feel sad and angry for my younger self: I'm sad that she was ill-equipped to deal with what she experienced and angry that she had those experiences at all; I'm sad that she allowed the opinion of others to question her self-worth and angry too, that she allowed others such power over her. And then I'm reminded of Maya Angelou's words:

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.

As a parent of two young boys and a superhero princess (as she used to call herself), it is my and my husband's responsibility to raise our children to be part of and contribute towards a gender equal society; it's a responsibility we take seriously, but 'wow!' it is not for the faint of heart!

I hope that one day we will be able to look at them with pride knowing that we raised young men that are not threatened by anyone (specifically women) who outperforms them and that they will be respectful of all genders irrespective of their own gender, power, or rank.

I hope we raise a strong and confident young woman who will use her voice to speak out when she finds herself on the receiving end of misogyny and who will not allow anyone (regardless of gender) to disempower her or dim her beautiful light.

But more than anything I hope that in 15 – 20 years' time, when my children find themselves in the world of work, we will not still be talking about "getting to" gender equality[2] / gender parity[3] in the next120+ years! I hope that generation equality[4] will be the norm, a way of being, and not an anticipated state that women, and our allies, will still be fighting to achieve.


Footnotes:​

[1] https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

[2] Gender equality: equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men and girls and boys. (Source: https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1168)

[3] In the context of gender equality, gender parity refers to the equal contribution of women and men to every dimension of life, whether private or public. (Source: https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1195)

[4] The Generation Equality campaign demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health-care services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life.(Source: https://www.unwomen.org/en/get-involved/beijing-plus-25/about)

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