Sitting around the table last week at home, I posed the question ‘What would you like to do when you are grown up? My audience consisted of four girls aged 7 – 13. Also present were my sister and mother, three generations of women all in all. The answers varied from HR Director to Scientist, Engineer and Famous Pianist. No evidence there that these girls were feeling at a disadvantage because of their gender! My 15-year old nephew joined us, and we continued the discussion, along the theme of gender parity. A summary:
On the subject of whether boys are better equipped to earn:
‘No, they are not better equipped, but it’s easier for a man to earn €100,000’ – Male aged 15
On the subject of family:
“Females should stay home and mind the kids while the man brings home the money” – Male aged 15, trying to spark controversy
“I would get a minder and my husband and I would earn 50/50. We are not inferior to boys” –Female future HR Director aged 13
I would also have a chef” – Planning to be very well-paid female future HR Director aged 13
On the subject of whether girls and boys are treated equally in the family:
“I always have to clear the table and my brothers always say, ‘she should do it, she’s a girl’”- Sister’s child (need to have a word with sister)
It’s 50/50 in our house” – My daughter (evidently have more gender balanced approach in my house!)
On the subject of whether boys and girls are treated equally in school:
“Girls are treated better because teachers prefer girls because boys are messers” – Female future Engineer, aged 7
On the subject of whether there is anything a man can do better than a woman:
“Build furniture” – Niece aged 11 with Dad who assembles Ikea Furniture for fun
“Cook better – I’ll do the baking” – Miss HR whose budget won’t extend to employing a patissier(e)
“Rugby” – Female aged 10
My mother meanwhile was listening in, so I asked her if she thought men and women were equal in terms of ability. Her view is that ‘women are better than men, men are a little odd. The best thing you can do is mind your business and let him mind his. Everyone has to compromise.’ The wisdom of experience.
With International Women’s Day around the corner, I get a lot of requests from Press and PRfor interviews, and my views on gender parity. I’m asked if I have struggled in the role as CEO of Pestle and Mortar because of my gender. To be honest, I am a person who just goes for things, and I don’t expect to encounter any problems specifically because of my gender. I have been in business and self-employed for my entire working life – my children have been brought up in an environment where it’s taken as given that both parents work. Their outlook is that both parents are equal in terms of career, status and earnings. But, having said that, I see that they also expect me to be the Mother. I am the Emotional Manager in their lives. I remember birthdays, I know if we are running short on Q-tips, I remember lunch money, I remember who prefers sauce on the side and I am always conscious of the comfort level of thepeople around me. This emotional management that is expected of women is unseen and unacknowledged, and it takes a lot of thought-time. My husband’s role as Dad is not as varied, nor is it as emotionally challenging. He has the luxury of being somewhat detached from the household. And regardless of the answers above, my daughters will have the same emotional management app running alongside their daily task list. Are females socialized from a young age to perform emotional tasks? Do we do this unseen and extra work because we are female, or have we been conditioned to do it because we are female?
What happens in the workplace I think, is that the persistent perception that women prioritize family over career advancement gets in the way of female progression to top roles. In my view, we need to work on changing this perception – women need to be recognised for the fact that it is the very strength that their gender confers on them that enable them to be successful in all the roles expected of them – the super-human ability to multi-task, alongside their warmth, intelligence, focus and compassion. Intelligence, ambition and femininity are a powerful combination. I would hate to feel that I need to compromise my femininity in any way to achieve the successes that I have set-out to achieve in my life. And I don’t! I view my gender as an asset.
My sister asked my husband if he felt that he was better in any way than me in work because he is male…remember, I was in the room so he had to be very careful. He was careful. He said that he feels that because he is male, he is superior in strategic thinking but only because I afford him the time. He went on to say that he feels that I am far superior in almost all other aspects. I’m still scratching my head wondering if I should be annoyed or flattered…later on, he sent me an addendum by text which I won’t repeat for fear that any under-18’s are reading…
The following day, I was speaking to a lady who is high up in the corporate world. Her view was that women are as capable as men, but they are not as good at asking for things. They are not as forthright, not as aggressive and not as confident in demanding that promotion or asking for that pay-rise. It’s as though we feel shy in acknowledging ourselves. It’s as though sometimes, our own bias with regard to our own gender gets in the way. She went on to talk about behavioural economics and its impact on the decisions executives make at work. The bottom line, she said, was that gender parity in the workplace will progress if we examine, acknowledge and address the conscious and unconscious biases of both others and ourselves before making executive decisions. Women, she said, often settle for less. Their suppressed sense of entitlement creates real barriers to their asking.
Lastly, I asked my junior audience what they would do if they saw a huge spider in the house. Every female said that she would scream and call Dad. Fairweather feminists methinks!
Happy International Women’s Day!