From the time my alarm goes off in the morning I have 45 minutes to breastfeed my youngest, change two nappies, get the three of us dressed, brush everyone’s teeth, play trains, feed the bunnies, wipe the baby slobber off my shoulder and get out of the front door. It’s a bit of a whirlwind. To minimise my stress levels, I select my work clothes the night before each day.
I have to think about my gender every day
Deciding what to wear is not a simple process. I like to choose colours that complement each other, shapes that flatter my figure and, at the same time, I want to select an outfit that will reduce the effort that I have to invest into establishing my credibility in the male-dominated level that I am trying to influence. My reality is that, as a five foot, three inches tall woman, I am used to being talked over and ignored if I do not consciously take control of the situation. My status as a person of influence and authority has to be earned; it is rarely assumed.
People are surprised to meet a female CEO
I am still getting used to the look of surprise when I tell people that I am the new Chief Executive. I was hired because an experienced Board agreed that my skills and track-record made me the best person for the job. I want to be respected and taken seriously. So, when I read articles like the one published on SOFII yesterday about the gender pay gap, I want to throw my well-chosen outfit out of the window in despair.
We are all entitled to different opinions
The author suggests anyone who is illegally paid less than a male colleague should go to an employment tribunal, the charity sector, “is a lot better than some professions and sectors” and the over-representation of men at leadership level is a result of “societal issues rather than organisational failings.”
At this point, I am taking a deep breath, telling myself that we are all entitled to different opinions… and trying not to swear.
Having collected my thoughts, this is why I disagree with almost everything in that article…
MYTH: If you are paid less you should go to an employment tribunal
It is true that if your employer has broken the law you are fully entitled to exercise your legal rights. The article fails to acknowledge the reality of this situation; it puts the responsibility to create change on the shoulders of the victim. Imagine discovering that your employer does not value you enough to pay you the same amount as the man sitting next to you. To then find the courage to address this issue, and potentially risk your job and reputation, is not something that everyone would be capable of….and they shouldn’t have to be.
As a sector, we need to do everything within our power to ensure that we do not place our employees in the position where they need to consider invoking their legal rights. As people publishing blogs, we need to be careful about the messages we are sending to people who may be victims of discrimination.
MYTH: The charity sector, “is a lot better than some professions and sectors”
There is a perception that other sectors are worse than our own. I am not interested in proving whether this is true or not. If discrimination of any sort exists, it is not acceptable. To accept that less people will have a poor experience in our sector than others is quite frankly, embarrassing. I want to work in a sector that strives for perfection, especially when it comes to something as important as equality. This is the benchmark that I am comparing my organisation to and, until we get there, I will not be resting on my laurels because if one person is discriminated against, this is one person too many in my books.
MYTH: We can’t find evidence of sexism
The article implies that, although women make up the majority of the fundraising workforce and the minority of fundraising leadership, we are forced to blame “unconscious bias, ‘institutional sexism’ and…white, middle-class men” because we can’t find evidence of “actual conscious acts or omissions.”
For the record, I do blame unconscious bias, institutional sexism and I have found evidence of conscious acts or omissions. I have not been alone in sharing some of the sexist treatment that I have experienced. Just last month, Beth Upton shared her story of being a woman in the sector and sadly her story is not unique.
The failure to tackle unconscious bias, when it is a known issue, is an act of sexism. If you struggle with diversity in your workplace, using blind CVs is a simple way to limit the impact if unconscious bias in the early stages of your recruitment. There are many positive acts that can be taken to stamp out the route courses of sexism – let’s take them.
MYTH: Men are at the top due to societal, not organisational failings
The article suggests that we should consider that men and women may have different ideas about what constitutes a successful career. Perhaps I surround myself by anomalies, but there are very few women that I know that perceive career success differently to my male friends. Is that just me?
We are then told that there may also be more men in leadership because of the difference in how men and women want to balance their work and family life. This may be true….but the conclusion drawn is that this is a wider societal issue rather than an organisational failing. I disagree. It is both. Perhaps a few decades ago, when having a career meant being in an office 9-5, it would be harder to balance working life with family life but most careers aren’t defined by the same constraints anymore. Most of us have the internet, smartphones, laptops, and the ability to fit our work around our lives in a way that has never been possible before.
I do not accept that wanting a healthy work-life-family balance is an explanation for the gender imbalance that exists in our sector and I would suggest that we stand up to those who suggest otherwise.