A feminist’s fight in a boy’s club culture

This is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time.  Ever since I saw this great tweet during the 2016 presidential race, “Hillary (Clinton) is proof a woman can work hard, rise to the top of her field & still have to compete against a less qualified man for the same job”. (Tweet from @erinruberry) Brilliant, right?  It truly encapsulated everything that I was feeling about the blunderingly ridiculous tongue tied performance of Donald Trump during the presidential debates.  The rambling word spew when he was trying to talk about his strategy for dealing with ISIS and the war torn Mosul was unprecedented in a candidate aspiring to be the leader of the free world.  It would have been terrifying to think that a man running for president actually couldn’t articulate a response to a question that most 10th graders could have managed, except for the good folks at Saturday Night Live who managed to make us laugh at the absurdity of it all.  And boy did we need a laugh.  We still do.

But I digress. For intelligent, capable, hardworking women in business, the concept of the proverbial glass ceiling is an all too familiar one, and many have experienced it first hand in many ways. I am never surprised to hear stories from other women about how they have had to fight for recognition or been passed over for promotions they more than deserved for a less deserving male candidate. I am surprised but pleased to hear men say that they never understood the glass ceiling until they saw my wife/partner having to deal with it.  Comments like that have the wonderful effect of stopping the disparaging self talk, feelings of isolation and the second guessing of yourself which is all too common.

Conversely, I have come across one woman who said she didn’t believe in feminism and thought that all men were really lovely and didn’t try to hold her back.  She also flirted obviously with her married boss and said she would never be a feminist because she still wanted men to help her carry her bags and heavy luggage. I’m still puzzling over that one. Hopefully you understand that feminism is a movement to promote gender equality and fairness. Feminism does not mean you hate men or think they are evil.  Feminism does not mean that women can’t interact with men in a loving and cordial way. Feminism does mean that you don’t have to use your sexuality to vie for favours or acceptance from men.  Feminism means there are no double standards based on gender.

So this story begins in a large corporation, lead by an unmistakably boy’s club culture.  I first suspected the new management may have boy’s club culture when all the women on the senior leadership team were replaced by men, except for a lone female in HR.  Within months of the new VP arriving, we had gone from a 50/50 gender split on the leadership team, to one woman.

I knew for certain that it was a boy’s club culture when I worked on a launch plan for a new product acquisition.  I compiled all the background work on the product and the prospective market.  I had the numbers analysed and a strategy formulated. I had done all the work including the presentation without assistance and had been complimented for my thoroughness and skill.

However, I didn’t get to present any of this work to the clients because the meeting was held on a bike riding trip up a mountain and I wasn’t invited to attend. I had to dutifully hand over all my work and be ready to answer questions if required.  Yup, couldn’t have been more obvious if it had walked up and slapped me in the face; women were not to be included in the inner sanctum.

Things really came to a head when a new role was advertised internally to lead a sales and marketing team in my department. I had been seeking a promotion for a long time and was eager to progress in my career. The new role had 5 key criteria; 10 years experience in the field, an MBA qualification, sales experience, marketing experience and experience managing a team.  I was elated!  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I possessed all the criteria and as this role was advertised to go to an internal person, I knew that no one else in the organisation had the criteria required so there was a really good chance that I could be successful. Furthermore, the role was on the leadership team and if I was successful, this would mean two women on the leadership team.