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Where did all the women go?

A work friend of mine went home after a client dinner we’d hosted and told his wife how I had made a joke suggesting that since we had no table plan we sat boy-girl-boy-girl – his bemused wife asked why that was funny

My friend explained that in a room of 22 people, I was the only female so we couldn’t even start to…

Thing is that that sort of male/female ratio isn’t all that unusual in my working life – it is an unusual day when I have meetings with another woman in the room

Women just seem to have quietly disappeared

When I started work I was in the graduate intake my accountancy firm had where women outnumbered men – back then we were supposed to be living in a brave new equal world (let’s gloss over the rules about having to wear skirts on the first day of a project in case the management didn’t like women in trousers and at least one wine bar not admitting women in trousers…)

I don’t know where things have gone wrong between then and now – yes lots of women take time out to raise a family but surely not every single one wants or can stop working?

Asking around, it seems to be the case that whilst firms will give lip service to flexibility and being family friendly the reverse is true

Maternity leave seems to be a common reason to be treated poorly compared to your male peers, even ones who are new fathers and having to deal with similar issues from a lack of sleep

Flexible working seems to equate to your career stalling and having to see colleagues overtake you on the career ladder

Even just being female, even if you don’t have children, can mean people start to make assumptions about your future life choices

The recession seems to have made the workplace more male – have we reached a place where we are in a negative spiral?

Economic threats make people act more aggressively to protect their jobs, women begin to feel uncomfortable and edged out (especially if other demands mean they can’t or won’t play the presenteeism game), women leave, the atmosphere gets more like a boys club, women feel more uncomfortable and leave and so on and so on to an inevitable conclusion

I regularly find myself sitting in meetings listening to the latest puerile phrases and mentally rolling my eyes (this week’s top one was a colleague suggesting that we could do something but it would mean putting our c*ck on the block… obviously a challenge for me) and wondering how I have ended up here – I don’t want to spend the rest of my career in a room full of testosterone being put to poor use

I struggle to find alternatives and I struggle with the concept of giving up and becoming another vanished woman – perhaps I am just stubborn but I don’t want to be edged out, I want to turn this tide of invisibility

The question is, other than just turning up to work each day, where do I start?

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13 comments to Where did all the women go?

  • Where indeed? (Written as a stay at home mum who quit for a myriad of reasons but not least amongst them were those that you mentioned…). Don’t know the answer. Wish I did.

  • Interestingly, the career stalling also happens in a very female environment. In fact, it’s often the women who prefer men to be in the top positions, so that makes it twice as hard to change the culture. My career has most definitely stalled -while I’m totally happy with my job I’d like to see openings upwards that are doable while maintaining a family life. They don’t exist, as they would require so much travel and overtime that it’s really only doable for someone who doesn’t have kids or doesn’t mind not ever seeing them. It can be quite demotivating.

    • Hannah Brewer

      Agree – absolutely demotivating and quite wrong

      Haven’t had much exposure to female environments but disappointing that it is the same there – feels wrong

  • I wish I knew how to fix it overall. It definitely seems to be a big problem in the ‘Front Office’ type roles, where the few women who started in that environment gradually seem to disappear. There are some green shoots in few placesthough – I’ve been in my department (Risk Management in a global investment bank) for a long time (broken only a short and ill-advised detour to a bank which will remain nameless). When I first started, women, even very valued relatively senior women, who wanted to come back to work part time after having childrn, were put into the ‘admin team’ – fast track to no-where. Now, within my team, 3 out of 5 senior managers are women, and all of us have children, and I even work 4 days a week, without it having compromised my role. Maybe we’re lucky, but there are increasing pockets of enlightenment out there – possibly its that there is strength in numbers?

    • Hannah Brewer

      It’s great to hear there are little pockets where it is going well – just need them to spread and prove that children, flexibility and maternity leave don’t mean you aren’t any good any more

  • You stick in there! Good for you. And get your cock on that block!

  • I think it’s about what job options you have when you go back from maternity. It can be difficult to get childcare to work around some careers.
    If both of you are working, I think it’s even more difficult sometimes to make ends meet with childcare, and additionally agree where the priority career lies (with illness, holidays, inset days…).
    I definitely couldn’t see how my job would work if my OH worked, and hopefully a bit further down the line when he returns to work I hope I can get some flexible working.
    But if you’ve given up work for a few years, and then want to return with some aspect of flexibility, I think options are limited.
    Maybe you could offer to put one of their cocks on the block… you know, when you’ve got something which needs to go really wrong.

    • Hannah Brewer

      I agree – despite all of the talking actual options for flexibility are few and far between and often only available if you are already working rather than trying to find a new job

  • I laughed out loud at ‘c*ck on the block’…perhaps this would help stem the flow of testerone?! Seriously though, it’s a difficult situation, and from an outsider looking in it appears to be getting worse across the board.

  • LTW

    I’m a bit late to the party, but I know what you mean. In my field (I work in technical sales) it’s not only the male/female ratio that bothers me so much, it’s the ageism that seems to disproportionately affect women over men.

    I attend a yearly trade fair where I single-handedly man (hah!) our company stand. As a woman in her 20s (in my 5th year of attendance), I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked, ‘can I speak to someone technical?’ Sorry, you’ll have to manage with me. Now it’s not that all male engineers are inherently sexist. You can forgive them for getting it wrong when there are plenty of women working at the trade fair, but the vast majority of them are in their 20s and working as servers and hostesses. Actual female engineers or technical sales staff are a rare sight, especially over the age of 30. In contrast the average age of the men there is about 40.

    Why is this? Many reasons. Not many women choose to go into my field in the first place, it’s not like there are many role models. Part time staff do not in general attend trade shows in this field, part time staff are not that often employed – it’s all or nothing. If work isn’t your no 1 commitment, you may as well not bother. You’re abroad for a week, it’s very long days and without an equally parenting partner or stellar childcare arrangement, it’s just not feasible. I’m 50/50 on whether I will continue doing them once I’ve had children of my own. So when I hit my 30s and children are on the horizon (quite soon then), I’ll probably curtail my own career aspirations and exacerbate the problem.

    • Hannah Brewer

      It’s depressing isn’t it?

      We’ve just lost another senior woman from my team – look left, look right and oh yes there’s only me now and you know what you get to a point where you no longer want to be the only person being different

      I don’t know how you go about changing things, I wish I did but 15 years in I realise I have no idea

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