If you were asked to describe the type of company who designed the black box flight recording programming software for Concorde, what would your immediate answer be?
A high tech, highly qualified, male dominated conglomerate in the USA?
This programming was designed by a group of female software specialists, working from home in the UK, in the 1960s, led by their CEO ‘Steve’.
Dame Stephanie Shirley introduced herself as ‘Steve’ to prospective clients in her communications, to get through the door, after those signed Stephanie were ignored.
In 2021, 50 years on, I’m sure we’d all like to think that we no longer judge capability based on gender but a conversation with my seven-year-old daughter showed me that this change is by no means yet a done deal.
Whilst getting excited about the Women’s FA Cup Final, she shared this with the children in her class at school and was told by the boys that she was lying and they didn’t believe her because ‘girls don’t play football’.
She was frustrated and confused by this and thankfully her teacher led a discussion with the class about the capability of both boys and girls to excel. But surely, this instinct to assume based on perceived gender ‘roles’ should no longer be a part of our society.
As women working in financial services and now running our own financial planning practice, my wife and I often face questions at conferences such as ‘whose P.A. are you?’, ‘which adviser do you work for?’ – no preamble or introduction – just an assumption that as young females, we are the administration staff rather than highly qualified professional advisers.
As a supposed move in the right direction, some women’s events were launched through our previous network but when the Managing Director of this FTSE 100 firm referred to us throughout the meeting as ‘lady advisers’, this seemed to fall well short.
To challenge this makes for an uncomfortable stand off and being labelled as feminists in a negative sense when all that’s required is a level playing field where we achieve based on capability not ‘in spite’ of being male or female.
In a previous role within a large financial organisation I witnessed comments directed towards an excellent senior manager, who happened to be female, about her being ‘short and sweet’ and ‘the best looking manager in the business’ – to her face – and watched, enraged, as she felt the same as me, unwilling to challenge the comments.
In a meeting to raise my discomfort with her, she decided to confront one of the main offenders and was met with the response – ‘Ah come on, it’s just banter, don’t be so uptight’.
Whether we’re talking toxic masculinity where ‘boys’ must be ‘boys’ or misogyny where women are capable of little more than cooking and cleaning, it is up to us all to realise the implications of this and to challenge it, even is this makes for an uncomfortable situation.
When researching this article, I discovered a word I’d not come across before – misandry – the prejudice against men and boys. To have never heard this word made me realise even further the imbalance we are facing still.
The demands on us all to achieve are based on hard work, commitment, and sacrifice – regardless of gender and so those achievements should be recognised as such.
Capability comes down to the merit of the individual and no child or adult in our society should be dissuaded from reaching for their goals because it’s ‘not very manly’ or ‘not very lady like’.