International Women’s Day
I have really enjoyed reflecting on this as to what to write in my blog, I have to admit I struggled at first as during my childhood and career I have had the can do attitude in business and never questioned about the fact that this was made harder because I was a woman.
As a result of being raised by a single mum, I never questioned that women needed to do anything more than men in order to survive in business. I am very grateful for the upbringing I had, as I have never once questioned if women are secondary to men. So, when I came to writing this blog, I thought how I can write a good piece to celebrate where women have come from, but actually looking at my career I certainly can relate to the fact that women, even to this day, are still sometimes seen as secondary.
I was bought up by a very strong, independent women. She became a single parent when I was 18 months old, so I never really had a male figure in my life. My mother started her ‘career’ selling encyclopaedias on doorsteps to make a living. It wasn’t paid well, but it was one of the few jobs she could get around my childcare. This stopped the day the door was opened by another single mother and my mother felt wrong in making these sales as she could see another person like her struggling to survive.
At the age of about 12 my mother set about her own business and led this successfully for several years. During this time, I also went to an all-girls school and my mother had several relationships with relatively ‘weak’ men, so it was not until my young adulthood that men were seen to be the better gender.
When I started in the business world, I noticed for the first time that it was led by men! It was quite a shock as I remember thinking “where have all these men come form and why were they all leaders?” I had been bought up by a strong woman, I was becoming a strong woman, so for me it was more why are all these men leading and where are the women? I knew that women could offer just as much as men, so I never felt like I needed to compete with them for success. I had always had more friends who were male than female at school, so I had never noticed any differences between us.
In my early 20’s, I joined my mother in her business for a while and when she came to sell the business, I was contracted to stay with the new company for a period of time for continuity to clients. The new company was a huge corporate, and you guessed it, ran by men! But again, at the time, I didn’t really question that. I think I have always seen men and women as equal, so I never needed to be jealous that they were leaders as I knew I was going to be just as successful myself. On reflection, I can now realise that the workplace was dominated by men and I wonder why I didn’t question the lack of women, but I think it was the inner determination and the belief that my gender meant I was no lesser a person that drove me to success.
When I had my daughter that was tough, I used to look at the men at work and think you have your wife at home cooking your tea, or you can call in at the pub/gym to chat to your friends on the way home, you get you suits cleaned and literally just have to do the day job. I didn’t have the time to do this as I want to get back home to have the most time I can squeeze in with my child, in addition to cooking the tea, being a supportive wife, friend, daughter myself. Reflecting on this now I ask how I did this. I was as good at my job as the men but in a corporate world I was the female, I was not going to get the promotions the men did, I also was not prepared to do the additional hours they may have done easier as I wanted by daughter time, did this hold me back? Why did I work? Why didn’t I stay home and be mum 24/7? I wanted both the career and the child. Looking back now, I have followed in my mother’s footsteps and helped to raise a strong, independent young lady, but this time with the support of her father. However, at the time, looking back now I have like my mum, helped raise a really strong independent person, this time with her brilliant dad though. But at the time the guilt for working, the guilt for not being with my child, the guilt for not going to the pub with the lads, the guilt of only giving 100% to your job when you were there. The frowns at work for being pregnant how inconvenient that was!
After 17 years of the corporate world, I left to set up my own business. When starting I didn’t really think there would be a threat by men like in the corporate world, wrong again Nicola!
In the early period of my new business, I went along to a networking group, I opened the door and saw just suited and booted men, I thought I was in the wrong room! However, in I went and of course they were very friendly, and I could see the benefit of this group for my business, I enjoyed 8 years at this group and did win a lot of business, but this was not without consequences. Due to being one of only three females and the other two ladies were near retirement I was easy prey for one particular person. He felt it acceptable to ‘flirt’ with me week after week. As this was a business setting how could I deal with this, I didn’t feel I could be rude as this may affect my credibility to the group, I didn’t tell anyone as again I thought this would look bad on me and my business. After several years of this behaviour, which I now kick myself for putting up with’. I did fight back, and it never happened again. When I reflect on this now, this is awful. If I had not been as strong a person what could that have done to me as a person, my business, my self-worth. I am not sure I will ever know what I accepted it for so long and if it had been anyone else, I would have said you have to somehow get help to get this stopped. This I would say was my worst experience of how men can think they are the better race and have a hold over women.
In my business, Estate Agency, this is really a man’s world and still is. Again, though due to the grounding of my childhood I didn’t really see this as a threat, if anything it was a strength. My business until my husband joined was all women. Yes, we got comments about this but mainly positive, in that how refreshing to have an all women agency. I have to say though when my lovely husband joined, people did think he was the boss – did I question this due to him being a man? I didn’t as he was not a threat to me, he was there to help my business. But it is clear that even 5/7 years ago men are still seen as better in some ways.
This brings me to now, however far women get in business we are never going to change that we bear the children. If we want to have careers as well, we have to deal with this as best we can. It is totally possible to be great at all. You can have a fantastic career, you can be a fantastic mum, you can be a great partner/wife, friend, daughter, neighbour. You just have to find the right balance because you also have to find room to be a great you. Self-care is vital and I know this has only really happened to me in the last 12 months. Learning to be a coach, living through Covid. Life is very short, don’t do things that don’t sit well with you, address the issues and make the changes.
This is a big reason why I have become a coach; I want to help people have the best lives they can, be the best person they can and not to settle for less.