In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, we asked three members of our team to reflect on their experiences as women in the workplace. Their reflections highlight varying generational experiences and celebrate the victories we have made in the fight towards gender equality in the workplace.
Luisa Robertson, Head of IP Valuation
I joined one of the Big 4 accountancy firms in 1990 (Big 8 in those days) and our trainee intake was an even-gender split. Our staff handbook stated that female staff members were not permitted to wear trousers, only skirts and dresses and legs must be covered (tights or stockings). It now seems like a ridiculous requirement, but it didn’t occur to us to object; prolific mergers causing a serious shortage of jobs and everyone was focused on just staying employed.
I don’t believe I was actively discriminated against, but I was definitely aware of the lower expectations that females were often afforded, and when we did progress there was a surprised ‘good for you!’ We were a generation that naively believed that only driven and ruthless females made it to the top. Many hugely competent women were lost from the workforce when they chose to have families and had what was seen at the time as ‘mixed priorities’.
I have a close friend who excels in her field and was the first female to hold the position of dean of the dental school. A UK broad sheet covered her appointment, and the article listed her impressive achievements but included in their description of her the word, ‘blonde’. I can’t think of a time I read a reference to a man’s hair colour that was in any way relevant to his achievements. That was less than a decade ago, when many of our professions were still clumsily finding their feet to achieve gender equality in the workplace, but I am ever hopeful that our new gen workforce will find us much improved.
We are fortunate at Metis to have two creative and talented females, from different generations, leading our marketing effort and they share below their first experiences of joining the workforce.
Inga Brydson, Director of Marketing
I went to a British all girls’ high school where boys were often siloed as ‘the enemy’ and not to be entertained, whether socially, academically, or professionally. My sole resolve and challenge on graduating became to find a job in ‘a man’s world’. Working as a sales rep in the food industry, my job took me below stairs in London’s restaurants and hotels; I was the lone girl in a sea of male chefs. I was deliberately given the role because a blonde, blue eyed 20-something female was more likely to get the Head Chef’s attention in the testosterone filled hot house of a kitchen at the end of a hectic service. I knew this and for my part, I didn’t care. I was going to get that sale despite knowing that my sex and appearance had possibly persuaded the chef to take my meeting.
It was the 90s and we wore our power suits with pride, trying to dress as men, fake padded shoulders giving us courage to muscle our way through an unequal world. I didn’t set myself a particularly healthy challenge and fortunately other roles allowed me to work alongside men as peers, giving me positive, diverse relationships in more equal environments; albeit where management was still the preserve of men and males dominated the boardrooms and C-Suites. I didn’t professionally meet a woman at Board level until post 2000.
Today, the world thankfully has a different feel. As a mother of two teen boys, I see no gender discrimination through their eyes. They are curious and challenging when we watch old movies with women in stereotypical roles. They don’t recognize those outdated ways of living and working.
I joined Metis Partners in July 2020 and on my first zoom call it took me a moment to do the math – I physically counted and there was an almost even split of men and women staring out from their virtual square confines. It was a welcome reflection with not a single padded shoulder in sight. It was a 20th century vision of equality; of a team built on merit, talent and experience alone. While there is still so much work to be done to create equality where it matters so much – in the bastions of political power – I do feel the corporate world is slowly starting to reflect the multitude of life’s rich talent, regardless of gender, age or race.
Samantha Main, Marketing Executive
As I sit here, thinking about my experience of being a young woman in the workplace, my page is blank, I have nothing to say. I think this speaks volumes. I am 22 (and a half!) only just entering the workplace; I have the privilege, unlike some of my senior colleagues, to wear shoulder pads as a fashion statement, asserting myself through self-expression and individuality rather than to force myself into the uneven mould of male predecessors.
I reflect on my Mum’s words, passed down to her, ‘it’s a man’s world’, she warned me. I have never disputed this, however, as my first interview at Metis ended not with a handshake, but with a warm smile and an even warmer embrace from my kind-hearted female manager, I began to see the tiny cracks in the infamous glass ceiling.
The pandemic has undoubtedly blurred the lines between personal and professional, it has allowed sensitivity and empathy to take a deep value in discussion. We no longer ask about weekends, the new restaurant across the street, but now, with a newfound sense of honesty, ‘how are you?’ Vulnerability is expressed and compassion is now championed. I do believe that this open, emotional discussion and its archaic association with femininity has been loosened, washed away to an extent. I feel open, relaxed, and connected to my team members in a new way.
The flexible home working that has been forced upon us has also allowed for a deeper insight into the life of a working mother. Male eyes widen as they see women chairing meetings, speaking up in calls, innovating, all whilst balancing an (albeit very bored looking) toddler on her lap. Children are held in an embrace during budget meetings and the background noise ‘MUM!!’ has become an age-old sound. Our working day has collided with our personal lives, amalgamating the two and allowing us to champion the overall, ourselves.
International Women’s Day is a symbol of the victories made so far in the struggle for gender equality, although its existence is also a sign that equality has not yet been gained. But, as I sit here writing not of my struggle in the workplace, but my privilege to be a young woman entering what has proven to be a warm and inclusive environment, I count this as one small victory.
Happy International Women’s Day from everyone in the Metis Partners team!