This morning Alexa * shared her story of sexism and the patriarchy at play with the members of the table at which I sat.
It was at a Next Wave Festival event titled Revolution at the Dinner Table: Fresh Feminisms, which completely flew in the face of the event’s breakfast timing.
Not to be caught on semantics, it was a dinner-breakfast event and some of the discussion really got me thinking.
It wasn’t the interpretative-musical dance presentation, but Alexa’s story that stuck with me. Alexa is an engineer. Alexa like all women, works in an industry that favours men. Men earn more and men are promoted more. More more more for men men men.
And so it goes.
This line of conversation followed a similar one referencing the art world – more exhibitions and more success to male artists (despite I might add, heavy female representation at most levels but the top). Alexa was explaining how similar it is in the engineering world.
We were discussing why this is. Is it women fail to self-promote, to market? Do women have the same skills set and capacity? (yes) Do women network?
On this point, Alexa offered a story. A story about golf days. This style of day is the grand networking day for employees of her business. On the green turf introductions are made and names become faces and seeds for success are sown.
Alexa doesn’t play golf. I asked if she planned to take it up?
She saw this style of networking, so heavily geared towards the masculine, as sexist in the extreme and so too did her business. To redress the situation, female-centric networking days were organised – fashion, darling – but men didn’t turn up. Networking fail. So the business organised golf lessons for its (female) employees.
I asked if she participated?
Alexa saw the failure of the business to adapt and grow with the changing face of its workforce as a fundamental failure. She’s probably right.
I was still stuck on why she hadn’t yet practiced her swing.
A while back, a leading lady of the Australian corporate world, Heather Ridout, then chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, was asked on Q&A her advice to other females keen to climb the workforce ladder.
She replied something eloquent and I took away women needed to go to the pub.
She told the audience women must learn to stay back, to have another drink, to engage. It was sound advice.
“It’s not going to the pub on Friday night and talking about football necessarily, but it is going to the pub and having a talk and getting on with your workmates and being generally interested in what every one does,” she said.
“The way people get on in workplaces is by being competent, committed and loyal.
“But it’s also joining in and being engaged.”
To me this approach makes sense. If this is where the networking happens – maybe it’s the pub this time, the golf course next – that’s where the ambitious should be. Regardless of gender.
Maybe women once had to leave the pub early because there was a home to return to – kids, husband, the oven – but unless I’m completely mistaken, this isn’t how it works anymore. Women don’t have to take on these chores and while some evenings they may need to get home, more often they need to pluck a leaf from a male colleague’s book and stay back a while.
If the pub turns to strip club, there’s a clear and scantily-clad problem, but while banter stays bouncy within the pub, and the boss is shouting, women need to be there.
It’s not always Us vs. Them.
Alexa’s distaste for golf is probably shared by some of her male colleagues. But what are the guys doing? They’re just getting on with it – and by this, I mean they’re picking up the clubs and after a tedious round on the course, they’re engaging in another tedious round in the pub.
Alexa will choose her own path to success and I’ll choose mine. Should we ever end up batting for the same engineering team, I’ll be taking up those golf lessons.
* I can’t recall her actual name.