Some of you may like me less after reading this article or, some of you may resonate with the themes within it but it is something that must be voiced, particularly after recent events with the appointment of females into senior positions worldwide.
I am a woman.
And due to the positions I hold in the industries upon which I work, I am told, on a regular basis, that I am a woman in a ‘man’s world’. It is up to you whether or not you agree or disagree with this statement and what you wish to do about it. The one thing that I cannot and will not stand for, is being oppressed because of my gender.
I vividly remember my first formal external event in my current role as CEO of an energy organisation. On this day, my team were extremely supportive, outlining where I should be, what I should be doing and which stakeholders to introduce myself to. Taking note of their recommendations, I stood at the event registration desk where each and every stakeholder must register their attendance and receive their event name tags and other items.
On this day, I was wearing a name tag that simply stated my name: no title or seniority was available.
Registrations for the event were open, and I placed myself at the end of the desk so that I could meet and greet each and every person that entered the room. Wearing my name badge, I introduced myself to each stakeholder as Penelope Twemlow and provided information on what to expect from the day’s events, where to be seated etc. During this registration phase, I was provided a number of pieces of feedback including:
“Are you the new marketing team member?”
“How long have you been doing marketing?”
“You are in administration, can you please point me in the direction of the CEO?”
Without thinking anything about it, I answered the questions.
These questions continued for the remainder of the registration period. As the event progressed, I became more and more surprised at the reactions when stakeholders realised that the new CEO was me… A FEMALE! At one point, one person noted that they were ‘looking for a male’.
The best part was hearing a pin drop when I was introduced by the Chairman as the new CEO! Human judgement and assumptions… they never provide anything positive, nor does placing people in a ‘box’ where you believe they should sit.
Over the next 6 to 12 months, I took the time to meet a number of stakeholders and the reactions did not change. What I was proud of was making people aware that men were not the only people in the energy industries. In fact, women…
I have lived a ‘public life’ for a period of time now and believe that I am ready and able to tackle anything that is thrown at me. On a weekly basis, I engage in countless meetings and interviews where I am asked numerous questions; what I wish is that these questions were directed towards my technical or professional capabilities instead of my personal life and my life choices.
“Are you married?”
“Do you have a partner?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Don’t you want kids?”
“How old are you? You are getting a bit long in the tooth to start a family aren’t you?”
No person, whether male or female, should have to justify these ridiculous and unconstructive questions with answers.
Are any of these questions, or the answers to them, going to impact my ability to conduct myself professionally or do my job efficiently and effectively? What makes us think we figured someone out with a glance? How much convincing will it take people to realise that their perceptions of others are possibly wrong? It’s almost conceited even, that someone is forced to be stuck as whom we see them as, despite them continually proving otherwise.
Being powerful and being in charge does not negate my femininity.
No person should care whether I have a family, or whether I have a partner and kids. What should matter are my professional capabilities, my credentials and my prior experience – these are what should dictate my aptitude to deliver in my role as CEO, Chairperson, Ambassador, Speaker or whatever task I am undertaking.
It is disappointing that I should have to continue to battle the same questions and the same biases. It is wrong to reduce someone to a simple quality or two – to put someone in a box – because it takes away people’s rights to choose who they want to be.
So why do we do it?
Is it just how we think, or is it just our way of quickly assessing people to make our daily interactions easier? I don’t have the answer to this question but I know it must change.
We need to fight the precedents that are being set and drive for equality. Fight the urge to judge people and when you do happen to judge, give people the chance to change your judgments or grow and prove you wrong. We need to have the freedom to be ourselves unapologetically. We need to really live by the words of Gladys Berejiklian who stated earlier this week, people will ‘take me as [they] see me’.
Much like many amazing women before me, being placed in a ‘box’ is yet just another sad reminder that female leaders still face sharper scrutiny and higher accountability than any of their male peers.