I’m not an expert. I don’t have a degree in gender studies or anything social or political for that matter. This contribution is based on my experience and perception in the workplace so far. I understand what it’s like to try to make something of yourself as a woman in a ‘man’s world’. I haven’t always been a feminist. To be brutally honest, I used to think feminists were ridiculous and embarrassing to the entire sex.
SIT AT THE TABLE
I grew up as one of the boys. I was my dad’s favourite ‘son’ for most of my childhood. I ran around hunting lizards, catching frogs and climbing trees (conquering castles) with my cousins, mostly boys. I loved the girly things too. Make-up, my dress-up chest and Barbie dolls (I had the best collection in school!). I was raised to do what I want, whatever made me happy. I was raised to be independent. My parents shared chores and responsibilities equally so I was never taught ‘traditional roles’. I lived the best of both worlds. Childhood was bliss.
Then high school happened.
All of a sudden I was catapulted into being this object of sexual desire. ‘One of the boys’ was no longer an appropriate label. I had lost my safety net and was now an enemy of the very people I had just spent my life thus far bonding with. You could imagine the confusion. I tried so hard to keep my place. I finally realised it was all over when I was reprimanded for ‘butt-talking’ at 14 years of age. Think Bart Simpson. Hahaa! My journey in learning about sexism and traditional roles began.
I always had girlfriends. Most I loved; some were just buffers against being labelled a loner. They were funny relationships. I loved having them around but never really clicked. Mostly due restrictions; what we should and shouldn’t do because we’re girls and what we should learn to do if we want to be good wives one day. It didn’t work a lot of the time. Not for lack of trying. I grew up thinking my own sex was weak, not-very-smart and needy and that this was socially acceptable. ‘Oh that’s just women.’ I could never conform and struggled for so long. I’m naturally competitive and highly ambitious. I shudder remembering the phase I went through where I would intentionally dumb myself down for boys, especially if they were cute. Thankfully that was short-lived. I am who I am; I shouldn’t have to change for anybody.
SIT AT THE TABLE
After school I wanted to climb the corporate ladder and took it upon myself to make the necessary changes to make success happen no matter the cost. That meant putting myself out there. It meant becoming more confident. I’ve never been the type to whinge and complain about my ‘situation’. Did I mention I’m Aboriginal? I’m Aboriginal. According to statistics I was born with two disadvantages. Born a female and born Aboriginal. So you could understand if I said I had something to prove. I had to become smarter and be one step ahead to get what I wanted. I wanted to build a name for myself.
Throughout high school and my career so far, I’ve had male mentors. In community, I’ve always sat at a table predominantly filled with males. At work, unless it’s been retail, I’ve always found myself negotiating with, reporting to, sitting with, and generally just making look good, males. It’s been so disheartening that there were never women around me to look up to or to have as mentors. The rare few that did exist had too much on their plates and were completely preoccupied with keeping their ‘place’ than investing in the next generation of female leaders, out of reach and unapproachable. So I’ve always had strong traditional male leaders as my mentors. They’ve been nothing short of amazing and I’m grateful. Throughout my career my confidence has often been highlighted and I attribute this to the great mentors I’ve had that have invested in me and built me up. Don’t think for a second that’s because they’ve been nice. It’s because they’ve pushed me beyond my limits and challenged me to do better, be better and have walked with me the whole way. It’s been two-fold. I’ve been willing, committed and worked hard to achieve what I’ve achieved and remain teachable. But wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have female mentors. The disparity between men and women in executive and higher roles in the workplace is too great an issue to be ignored.
SIT AT THE TABLE
Unfortunately the biggest challenges I’ve had along the way, have been dealing with other women. The sexist jokes, harassment and racism, although challenging, have not been uncommon or even surprising, so manageable in my eyes. But having to deal with fellow women on the same obstacle course openly trying to sabotage you because you’re a threat or isolating you because you’re ‘clearly one of the men, you belong with them’ has been the most hurtful.
The type of woman I am is the one that women’s books and articles label as the sell-out – The one that became a man to succeed. The truth is, critics couldn’t be more wrong. Yes I’m aggressive and opinionated but I’m still a woman at the end of the day, dealing with the same challenges and the same glass ceiling, the difference is I refuse to let it get to me. I’m passionate about changing the statistics and being one of the ones who made it.
I’ve been tested and tried like nothing else. The most insulting thing you could say to me is ‘good girl’. To my ears, it reeks of a condescending old man reminding me of my place in the pecking order. Sexism has been a huge issue in the workplace and still needs to change. I think we’re well on our way. But it takes both sides to bring about change. It’s not just men in the workplace holding women back but women holding other women back who think they’re not allowed to be emotional or involved with other women because it might change their ladder-climbing status or they’re chances for success, are responsible too. It’s the women reaching the top and not acknowledging and giving a hand up to women following close behind.
SIT AT THE TABLE
I’ve always turned up and have never been refused a seat at the table. The sad thing is I’ve watched too many other women barely try. They get caught up in fear or doubt. They get so focussed on making a big deal out of their limitations and disadvantages that it just becomes awkward and all of a sudden, they’re not welcome. I’ve watched women put themselves last, making sure everyone else gets a say and then times up, or letting everyone else choose first on a hot new project and they get the short straw. The worst one is accepting status quo before asking questions or thinking outside the box if a job could be done better. When I’ve tried to help I get ‘but Bec you’re different’. No I’m not. I’ve just learnt how to play the game. I’ve learnt to identify opportunities when they arise and put my fears and doubts aside and cease them, especially if I’m not 100% sure on my capabilities. You can always learn or phone a friend if you get stuck. I want a lot out of this life so I’ve sort out advice from the people I’ve aspired to be.
I’m passionate about Indigenous Economic Development and women rising up and sitting at the table. I have fearless tattooed on my wrist because that needs to be my approach to life. Its there as a reminder for when I forget. I can’t stand a victim mentality. We have so much opportunity at our finger tips these days. Focus on how you’re going to get it and make it happen instead of why it might not be offered to you.
To women pursuing a corporate career – sit at the table. Just walk up to that thing and sit! Support other women who are on their way as well. Make a point of sowing into another woman’s success.
Be gentle with our men, they’re precious. Be kind to our women, they’re vital to everyone’s happiness 😉
Feminism to me is about having the conversation. Be willing to take time to educate. We still have a lot of work to do. I feel for some men. Change has come quite rapidly. Like any situation undergoing rapid change, people need time and encouragement to process.
Sit at the table xx
Bec Blurton is a small business consultant living in melbourne. She is involved in two start-ups of her own. Shes passionate about Indigenous economic development, gender equality and fashion. Bec hopes to make an impact in Australia on closing the gap for women and Indigenous people.