When I was a child I changed what I wanted to be when I grew up on a weekly basis. I was often told that it wouldn’t be possible. I couldn’t be a ballerina because I was too tall, I couldn’t be a singer because I was tone deaf, I couldn’t be an astronaut because I got travel sick just going to my Granny's on the bus. There were lots of things I couldn’t do because I was rubbish at them but no-one, absolutely no-one ever told me that I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl.
I worked for an airline for eleven years in a predominantly female environment where no-one cared about my gender. Seniority was based on rank and experience. It wasn't until I left that environment at the age of 31 that I noticed some people treated me differently because I was female. It’s rare, but it does happen.
Last year I had a phone call from a guy who was organising an event and looking for speakers. The conversation was going well until he said “we don’t have a woman so I thought of you.” Really?! “You don’t want me for my brains, my sparkling conversation or my wit; you’re only inviting me so there is a token woman on the panel?”....I could say I politely declined but to be honest, I was far from polite. Was this a one off? No, in the last year it's happened twice.
I put it down to the individuals being idiots rather than a reflection of the bigger picture as the majority of men I meet don’t live in the 1950’s. However can you remember the last time you read a feature in an industry magazine entitled “Men in Digital” or “Men in Advertising”? No, I can’t think of a time either so why do it for women?
When following large events and conferences on Twitter I frequently see other women question “Where are the female panellists?”. The answer appears to be that they are often not there or greatly outnumbered by men. Why is that? Are women backwards at coming forward? Is ratio a factor depending on industry? Are women not invited to speak at higher profile events or do we decline the offer due to a lack of confidence? I’m genuinely interested to find out.
I consider myself to be what I call an “Equalist". I believe people should be judged on their ability, not their gender, race, religion or what school they went to, and the vast majority of people I meet share the same values. We all joke about “typical man” or “typical woman” which is pretty harmless (let’s face it, if there was such a thing as “typical” the divorce rate would be a lot lower) but for future generations we need more positive role models, male and female.
I was cautious about writing this post as there’s a chance some will consider it anti-men or think that I’m going to take to burning my bra in the street. If you’ve met me you’ll know there’s no chance of that and talking to my female peers has convinced me to publish this post. I’m writing this because there are lots of seriously talented, hardworking, intelligent women who represent a whole generation of little girls who grew up believing hard work and ability were more important than gender. I’d pay to hear those women talk, sharing their knowledge with the business community and sharing the stage with their equally inspiring male counterparts. So, the next time you attend a big conference with an all-male panel please ask the organiser where the women are? I seriously doubt they are all washing their hair.