Is all hope lost for young career women?
I stared at the computer screen and re-read the question.
‘How can young women get involved to overcome gender inequality and sexual harassment?’
It was an innocent question asked in an email by a communication student writing about the #metoo movement.
I was happy to help and give my perspective, the only problem being... I’m not even really sure I know myself. So it made me think, what would I want to know if I was starting out in the working world, knowing what I do today?
So here it goes… a few points of the good, the bad and the downright ugly of being a working woman in today’s world. Though I have decided to flip it it and finish with the good, in the hope to end with a feeling of positivity.
It’s a fine line between bad and ugly, however the following two points are frustrating, but not quite soul destroying, so I think that’s a good place to start.
The statistics are against you
When I left secondary school I honestly thought things would be easy. I had been accepted into my first choice film school and was so excited that I failed to notice that I was one of 8 women, in a class of around 100.
As I carried on in life I was aware of this more and more.
Senior managers were predominantly male, panels at conferences were made up of men, I rarely saw strong women characters on the screen. Heck, even the winners of one of our most popular film festivals were completely marginalised.
These are not exceptions, this is reality, and unfortunately women have had to work harder, often for much less pay, to even come close to having the same opportunities our men have day to day.
People will want to take advantage of you
When I received my first proper ‘opportunity’ in the film world, I was ready for it. It had been so long coming in fact, I would have done just about anything to prove myself. I ended up working for three weeks, around 14 hours a day for nothing, not even one cent.
I'm not against volunteering my time for projects I am passionate about, nor am I against doing what it takes to progress your career, and I am well aware that this can be something men consider too.
The problem with that particular scenario is I reeked of desperation. I never once thought ‘Diana, you have worked so hard, you deserve this’, it was more like ‘Diana, don’t complain, just suck it up, you can be replaced so easily’.
I was so thrilled to be given an opportunity that I felt I owed it to my boss to be there in the first place. And as a result of that, he took it. He was happy to exploit me and take all I was willing to give and I didn’t feel I had any right to stand up and say I deserved more.
This is frighteningly easy to think about. Many things could fall in this category, I have decided, however, to focus on two things… sex and relationships.
This is something I truly never considered, and I believe a lot of women don’t… until it happens to them.
There are scary statistics about sexual harassment, and even though it absolutely does affect men, unfortunately the odds are that in Australia one in every two women are sexually harassed within their workplace.
When people think sexual harassment they may think of a pinch on the bum, a request for a massage in a seedy hotel room or being called sexy by a workmate. However, it can be much more subtle than this, and can be made even more complex when we take into consideration power dynamics and the fear that women often experience.
Balancing motherhood with a career
I was once asked by an employer to stop talking about my children. This was as a result of having one conversation in front of him with a co-worker about the ages of our kids.
The issues surrounding being a mother in a working world are vast, I could write about this alone (and no doubt will in the future). I understand this is not something that everyone will need to consider, but it certainly has been a massive shock to me.
If you are getting close to an age where you may consider having children, there’s a very real possibility you may miss out on a promotion or landing that dream job. If you already have children it will be very difficult to find a balance that works for you and your family.
The same employer I mentioned above once said to me ‘there’s a project coming up overseas, but you probably can’t come because of your kids, right?’ Well, I did go, and I ended up working twice as hard to prove that me having children wasn’t going to make him regret taking me on. I almost became ashamed of the fact I was a mother and hid my two amazing sons from anyone I had to deal with professionally. How many fathers have had to do the same?
Phew. Or actually, not really - I had to rack my brains on this one in comparison to the bad and ugly. Nevertheless, there are some really positive things about being a woman in 2018, the below being the two that I remind myself of every day.
Support where it’s needed
It’s not a coincidence that I am speaking up along with organisations like WIFT and NOW Australia these days, it’s because I went looking for it.
I made a decision last year to surround myself with strong people that would be a positive influence in my life. This doesn’t only occur in individuals, but it is available within some really fantastic organisations as well.
For me, it made sense to reach out to groups that were specific to my industry and I found some incredible support in doing so. That decision single handedly kept me working within the screen industry, something that I was feeling more and more frightened of at the time.
No matter what you do, no matter where you are at, there IS support for you if you need it. The key is to reach out before it gets to the point where you are reacting to struggles within your career.
Change is coming
There is so much going on at the moment, it is a pretty overwhelming time.
We have seen the emergence of the #metoo and #timesup movements, we have seen calls to close the gender pay gap, we have seen active steps to have more women in positions of management and to be represented fairly on our screens. Things are happening.
There’s a lot of talk, there is a bit of action, there is a hell of a lot of resistance from some and we are left wondering ‘what happens now?’
As much as I don’t know the answer to that, what I do know is this isn’t the first time we have seen such a shift. I have to think back to the civil rights movement and women being able to vote, and although I know we still struggle in many ways, we have seen progress. We have hit a time where progress is absolutely possible, and has already begun, we just need to stand up, continue to be heard and be part of this movement that is incredibly overdue.
And so to address the young woman who posed the question that prompted this post, I don’t think there is a simple answer on how to protect yourself from inequality and sexual harassment. This isn’t always something that is in our hands.
What I do know is that you are aware now of a hell of a lot more than I was at your age, and that excites me. There is a new generation ready to start working that is very aware of the issues we are facing, and they are ready to stand up against it and protect themselves. I believe that this, is where we will begin to see true change.
Talking about change, NOW Australia is in its final leg of crowdfunding. NOW will be a game changer in Australia as it relates to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. I am asking for your support in sharing the campaign and donating if you can. www.now.org.au