She who shares her story of…

I work just as hard!

The Story

This story makes me boil when I think about it, but feel that sharing it is important because there are messages and call to actions that leaders of businesses need to hear.

I was working in a very male-dominated industry and found myself working for a business where I was the only female. It was a career choice I took and I was fine working with all the engineers – they all respected me and we got on and did a good job together.

It was my boss who knows nothing about being respectful.

I worked hard. I did more than my fair share. But he found great pleasure when I finished a project or I had helped someone else in the team to do their project, to point out that I was being paid less than any of them and how did I feel about that. Or in customer meetings when I had finished pitching to the client our work he would make a derogatory comment to put me down in front of them. It was like he didn’t want me to accept the praise they were giving me – he had to belittle me.

I remember when one day a client was leaving our meeting happy with the work I had presented and was shaking my hand and thanking me for my efforts when he came between the hand shake and said “I feed her children and keep them in a good school by keeping her around this place working!”  I never heard him say anything like that to clients about the others. He wasn’t putting food on our table – I was working as hard as others to earn my income.

He had no respect for me being a single mother and having to look after my children. He would make me go to work functions with him in the evenings. It was always me that had to go with him to represent the business. I asked him once if he could take someone else – I had another commitment. He just said “don’t think any of the boys would fit in your dress. You have time to make changes to your arrangements so you can be there.  It starts at 6pm.”

I worked for that man for almost 5 years. I was in a job I had worked hard to get and I did it well.  I felt I had no other choice at that time but to stay and put up with him.

That was a couple of years ago now. It got too much for me and I walked out of my dream job and went backwards to start going forwards again.

My heart does go out to the new female engineer who I hear works in his team now.

The Message

What is interesting to reflect on, when derogatory comments are made, is not just who is making them, and who they are directed towards, but also who is hearing them and what they can do to identify, intervene and challenge such disrespectful behaviour.

Gender pay gaps within occupations persist, even after accounting for years of experience, hours worked, and education

The Call to Action

There are clear ways in which passive bystanders can act so that they become supportive bystanders, including not encouraging or supporting the behaviour or by directly intervening and saying their behaviour is unacceptable. To see a shift to remove disrespectful behaviour from our businesses, we all need to stand up and call out disrespectful behaviour when we see it happen – regardless of who the person is that is doing it.

The first step in closing the pay gap, is for women, men and employers to acknowledge it.  Instead of accepting inequality, employers need to be aware of pay differences and when biases and stereotypes creep in and do something about it.