International Women’s Day: Behind Closed Doors


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Tiny Events, Chipping Away

I wouldn’t normally write anonymously, particularly for something so important as International Women’s Day – but as some of this is work related I hope you understand why!

I read an article that my (female) boss passed on to me earlier this week, in an engineering trade magazine (glamorous) about the lack of female engineers, how the disparity can be changed, and experiences of different women in the engineering sector. (Note: I am not an engineer, I work in a different department of a company that has an engineering team). Something in one of the interviews stuck with me – a quote from Dame Professor Julia King (vice chancellor of Aston University, formerly at Rolls Royce):

“One of the things that I think helps hugely is strong networks for women. You find that, over time, lots of tiny, almost trivial events, chip away at you.  It’s those little instances when people don’t believe you could possibly have the qualifications, skills or expertise to address a problem because you are a woman… Individually you would shrug, joke and forget about these things, but after a while they can start to get under your skin, and having another woman to complain to is helpful.  Men don’t experience these things.”

Lately, I’ve been noticing those tiny events more.


A training event: the (male) speaker is talking about the importance of meaningful community consultation – in this instance before planning applications are made.  He makes a good point – that if you consult with a community, you should make sure that your consultees are representative of that community.

The way he expresses it is as follows:

“If you have a room of middle aged professionals at a consultation event, you should ask yourself: where are the young people? Where are the pensioners? Where are the women?”


So, a roomful of professionals wouldn’t already include women?

I was brave. I spoke to this man after the training event and suggested that it had come across as sounding as though he thought a roomful of professionals would only include men. He told me that I had ‘misunderstood’ him – and didn’t apologise.


A work meeting: me, several directors (including the MD and parent company directors), and some others. Discussions and speculation are ongoing about Company X, who has a new (female) managing director.  She is described as ‘unstable’.  Interesting choice of word – I wonder if the same word would be used about a male managing director who had taken the same decisions.

One of our directors then points at me, and jokingly says ‘see, you’re not the only unstable one’.  Would he have said the same thing to a male colleague?  (He had plenty of them to choose from in that meeting. Funnily enough, he didn’t.)


Another day, another report showing that women’s representation in public life has actually got worse in the last decade.[1]  Don’t let anyone tell you that we ‘don’t need’ feminism, because we ‘have equality’ now.


Another work meeting: I have to make sure I don’t end up pouring the coffee for everyone just because I’m the only woman in the room.  And then I come across as rude because I only pour myself a drink.


I think Dr King is right.  Women’s networks – formal or informal – help hugely.  So, this International Women’s Day – be kind to your colleagues.  Find out what your local women’s professional organisation is (if there is one).  Offer support to your women co-workers.  Mentor (formally or informally) junior women in your organisation.  Notice the tiny events.  Call people on them if you can (and it’s not career-limiting to do so!).  Help each other.


Categories: Behind Closed Doors, International Women's Day
10 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Alex
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    These comments could have been made by certain of my male colleagues at my old companies. And it’s infuriating, frustrating. At the time I didn’t realize why it bothered me, now I do. From personal experience, they are also more present in domains that are still considered as “masculine”.
    As long as reactions to calling out people on what they said and making them realize it is not OK remain as the ones cited above or ones we live every day (hands up to who has not experienced something like this first hand!) feminism will have it’s work cut out.
    I second to keeping an open ear and being kind to our female colleagues as often as we can!

    • Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Yep. I complained about my manager recently for making a ‘joke’ about Rihanna and Chris Brown and then telling me not to be stupid when I told him I didn’t appreciate hearing things like that. Thankfully his manager (a woman) took some serious action about it. Unfortunately she leaves the company this week.

  2. Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you anon, I hope you’re affecting your own change.
    I love that it makes me think, it makes me try and call out people’s crap, this and lots of other IWD posts.
    It’s shocked me how absolute sexism is, how it’s everywhere but it’s subtle and sneaky. And how many people do not associate as feminists at all.

  3. Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this. These little comments have to stop, but the only way they can is if we raise our voices and say why it’s not OK.
    Way to go, you!
    And I could not agree more on what you say about women’s networks. They help a huge deal, that’s what this community, blogging (for me) has been about. It’s the support, the sharing, the knowing that we are not alone in this, that we are all here cheerleading for each other, and have each other’s backs when needed.

  4. Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    This is it. This is the point. I have too many words to write coherently here. But these little things just bely the partially hidden sexism at work. It’s not just in traditionally “male” domains either. I think sometimes it might seem harder to call it there but I’m not so sure, based on my own experience.

    Good for you on calling them on it. We need to keep doing that. Every time. And support each other as best we can while we’re at it.

  5. Chirsty
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I work in an entirely male media / it / engineering office. I read this post at my desk over lunch.
    Overheard this exchange as I was reading:

    Male colleague 1 to colleague 2 in sarky voice: “c’mon man, haven’t you done that yet?”
    Male colleague 2 to male colleague 1: “I’m taking my time! Calm down woman!”
    All men in the office: “”

    These are good guys. Total children, true, but friends as well as colleagues. Which I personally find much harder to counter than calling out strangers or seniors if I’m honest, as it’s usually met with a loud unison ‘ooooOOOOOh, SOMEone’s sensitive today.

  6. Anon
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you everyone – am at work so I will post a proper comment later. I was a bit nervous submitting this because I thought it might come across as trivial, but actually I think this is the sort of low level thing that a lot of people face day to day and it does get wearing…

  7. Lucy S
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    A great and timely post.

    Have you all seen ? It catalogues events like those you describe, which are toe curlingly awful and all too common.

  8. Posted March 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I see things like this everyday, the funny thing is some men, I’d say those that are a bit older mostly, geniunly don’t mean to or realise they are being offensive!

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