Over a month ago I won an award at the Forward Ladies Women in Business Awards and was delighted. But the comment made by a man on social media afterwards has kept me quiet about it. His reaction sums up why yes, we do still need women only awards, because, no, equality hasn’t been achieved and men don’t see we women as equals.
Before I go any further, I initially talked myself down from writing this with the same rhetoric that has kept women from speaking up about everyday sexism; ‘just leave it be’, ‘it’s no use bringing it up, what good can it do?’, ‘what if I get shouted down for it and it’s my fault?’ And then the #metoo campaign hit social media. If I don’t write about it then another woman out there is going to hear a man question why there need to be business awards for women only? What about the men? Well…
The award I was nominated for by HSBC was the young female entrepreneur for Scotland, Yorkshire and the North East. Forward Ladies is an organisation with a mission to create a global platform that connects women to opportunities, networks, businesses and expertise that empowers them. Empowering being a key word. I’d previously blogged about being embarrassed to ‘own’ the award in case of being seen as bragging.
In all honesty I hadn’t thought I would win but had also been imagining the possibility of winning. I’d gone to the event on my own in Newcastle and having won, I sent out a Facebook post asking if anyone fancied celebrating with me because, well, who isn’t thirsty on the train home when they’ve tasted victory?
And then this happened:
There were a couple of curious things here that we need to highlight. Firstly, women are less likely to boast. We see more of what we can’t do and less of what we can.
Haven’t you all heard about how a man will apply for a job even if he can only fill 70% of the requirements but a woman won’t because she’ll see the 30% she isn’t capable of? So, to apply for an award and put your head above the parapet and then share that publicly is, for a woman, seldom done from a place of bragging. I did it because it’s important to show what you can achieve if you have faith to do things. I started my business after being surrounded by inspiring female role models who were real and not just on TV and I saw it could be done.
In my post I was honest, I phrased it as winning for ‘still running a business’, because, guys, it’s been tough. Female openness, perhaps our self depreciation and willingness to be vulnerable are not bad things. Businesses with women on the board have statistically higher financial return through lower risk and increased transparency. But these feminine values and sharing of them as I did on my Facebook post is to be attacked by some men.
And let me be clear, it isn’t just this man on Facebook who I’m frustrated with, it’s all the other men who think it’s cute that as a young female entrepreneur I want to have a little cake shop. I would like to have several and be making millions. Tiny cakes for huge ambitions my friend. Or the men who see women start up service led businesses from home as a lifestyle choice (in its most patronising definition) so they can work less and take care of their children even though again, statistically, they still work just as hard as a full time office employee.
But finally, what about this whole kerfuffle that makes me realise why we still need women only awards even though I’ve heard that if we are all about equality then why do we praise women separately blah blah blah, well, it’s because when me, as a young-ish female entrepreneur speaks up about rising to ambitious heights, a business man shouts me down. He sees my success and the sharing of it as ‘egocentric’. But when a man wins something, well, it’s only praise.
Until my equal, this male business owner, sees me as someone who should be congratulated for success because of hard work then we will continue to have gender specific awards. My 16 year old Saturday Girl and her counterparts need to see women being celebrated because it encourages them to reach even higher. In a world where men hold the power, women are still being shouted down for being their brilliant selves. Until that changes, nothing does.
It’s not just this man and it’s maybe not even his fault, he’s emblematic of a system of patriarchy that needs to roll over come 2018. And to add to the list of changes that need to happen before equality takes place, I have to write one more thing about this man.
Years ago when I’d just started my business, a group of small, young business owners had had dinner and drinks and I was on my way home. I missed the last bus and suddenly realised I’d lost my purse somewhere along the way so didn’t have money for a taxi. This man said I could stay at his house and retrace my steps in the morning to look for my purse. We shared his bed, it was awkward, I felt awful. And then he implied he would require sexual favours as payment for rent. And I obliged because what else could I do? I was just a young girl who should do as she’s told to keep the peace. It’s one of my biggest regrets. Those attitudes needs to change. #metoo