I think everyone experiences some kind of adversity in their life.
I’m still alive and both physically and emotionally healthy, so I can never claim that anything I’ve faced has done irreparable damage, and I certainly won’t claim that what I’ve been through as a woman is anywhere near as bad as what some women face in their personal or professional lives.
Everyone’s experiences are still important, though. They shape who we are, they shape what we do, and they shape how we treat other people as we make our way through life.
When thinking about a piece I could write on adversity in the workplace, there were a couple of past experiences that easily came to mind:
The time I was bullied and threatened by a boss in one of my first professional roles, and was told by every other member of the all-female, all meek and mild, all sub-23 demographic of staff, that “This is what he does – this is why he hires us… it’ll be someone else in a few months and he’ll leave you alone.”
The time I got an (unpaid) promotion to a different site in a job I’d loved for years, to find that I was never invited to board meetings most of the time, and that I’d be told to “Shush, sweetheart” on the occasions my name was at least included on the agenda the rest of the time. Do I mention the arse grabbing? There’s not time.
The time that I went to three separate senior women in that last organisation for help and support, following some fairly serious discrimination issues that even I – as a pretty piss-poor feminist – saw were happening to me because I was a woman, and getting resolutely told that “Nobody helped me get where I am and I have my own things to deal with”/ “I’m a serious business woman and don’t have time for silly problems” / “Grow a thick skin and get used to it.”
That last one was a serious problem for me. I didn’t want to grow a thick skin. Why should I have to change who I am to adapt to someone else’s awful behaviour? Even though I assumed through knowing myself well that growing a thick skin wasn’t going to work and/or make me any happier, my biggest fear was that I’d end up like one of those very women who’d (let’s not mince any words) completely shat all over me. Who needs men to push women down in the workplace, when a handful of successful women who don’t want to lose their status will happily do the dirty work for them?
It was shit like all of this – and so much more besides – that ultimately led to me vowing that one day, I wouldn’t spend my working days both making money for other people and having to be accountable and submissive to them at every turn. I guess I owe them all a great debt of gratitude for pushing me ever closer down the route of self-employment – a route I now travel with freedom, fun, and a f*ckload of self-esteem.
I will never forget how those people treated me, though. Not so much the men, as I have it on good authority that all the specimens I’ve highlighted in this blog have since been struck off or dismissed (probably for things far worse than their treatment of women, I would imagine). No, it’s the women I’ll remember, and my utter disgust in their behaviour as both professionals and human beings.
Oh how I laughed when one of them contacted me on LinkedIn recently to praise me for my success, and suggested we “grab a glass of wine and have a catch up to see how we could work together.”
Bitch, please. I’m busy working hard to show that it’s possible to be strong, successful and taken seriously in business, without being a complete cow to anyone who dares try to climb the ladder to your level, or has the apparent audacity to ask for help when they are at the lowest they’ve ever found themselves in their career.
I can look back and laugh, for sure, but the laughter does not mean I find any of it funny. I find it incredulous, and hate that these are the same women who will be automatically lauded for their feminist efforts simply because they hold a position of power in a male-dominated role or workplace.
I’m never sure what feminism really is or what it means, but in my book, the definition is that if any other girl or woman comes to you for help, advice or to simply cry out her heart because the mental load of anything and everything she’s going through is too much, you help them.
I’d respected those women so much prior to the point when I actually needed their help. If I’ve been fortunate enough to gain any other person’s respect in my life to this point, I will not let them down when it really matters.
Grow a thick skin?
No thanks. I’m proud of the one I’m in.