In honour of International Women’s today, which is tomorrow, what do young girls see when they interact in an adult world? What would a 12-year old girl see if she spent a week in an office environment? What impressions would she be left with? What questions would she ask? Let’s imagine and explore through this fictitious summary.
Hi! My name is Tina. I am 12 years old. I recently spent a week in a local office as a part of my entrepreneur class. The objective was to show us the importance of getting a good education so that when we finish school, we will get a good job. It is not focused on girls, but all kids.
When the week started I was nervous, but also excited. I had never been in a big office like this before. I imagined all the adults wearing suits, being very serious, but very professional. I pictured the women and men working together in meetings and big fancy boardrooms – you know, like you see on TV and in the movies. When the week was over though, I had a different opinion. It wasn’t like what I imagined at all. Here is what I saw:
At first I thought it was funny when I heard the term Hen Party. I told my friends about it and we all laughed.
Over the week though, I realized that when two or more men got together it was a meeting.However, when two or more women gathered, it was a Hen Party. I stopped thinking it was funny though. I actually listened to the conversations. Men could be talking about hockey, or their night out and laughing. That was called a meeting. The women could be talking about budget items and something called accruals, but it was a Hen Party. Seems kinda unfair and disrespectful to these women.
2. Being Serious
I got to sit in a lot of meetings during the week, which by the way is super boring. I am not sure why adults think they are cool. Anyway, there is a lot of serious discussions in those meetings. At most times everyone can be pretty serious. Sometimes though, there are jokes. A lot of them I didn’t get, but they all seemed to think they were funny.
The thing that stood out for me though, was after one meeting my assigned mentor was asked to stick around, so that meant I got to stay. The man that asked her to say said: “you know Susan, I have noticed that you are very serious. I would recommend that you not be so serious. People don’t like that you know.” She thanked him for his observations and we left.
After we were back to her office, I asked her about his comment. I thought that he must be her boss. He wasn’t. He was what she called, a peer. It was strange to me that he thought she was serious. She laughed and joked like the others in the room, which by the way were all men. I didn’t think she was any more serious than they were.
They were talking about a contract negotiation. Seemed like a serious thing to me. So, I was really confused about why her peer, which she explained to me was her equal, would make such a comment to her. Again, I was feeling like she was being called out for something that was unfair.
3. Good Business Man versus the B-word
In several meetings I saw men get angry, raise their voice or at least in two cases, pound their fists on the table. It really got people’s attention and it seemed to bring people around to that person’s point of view. I really didn’t like it.
The women in the room didn’t do that. They sometimes had to raise their voices so that they could be heard, but they didn’t pound their fists. More than once I noticed that women in the room were cut off or one of their male peers (my new word 🙂 ) would talk over them. The women would stick to the point, wanting a solution and they wanted an agreement on the solution before moving forward. This is what they called an interesting dynamic.
After being in the office for close to a week, it seemed like the adults became more comfortable with me there and would have open discussions, maybe like I wasn’t there. But that is o.k. That is when I really learned the most. For example, after these fist pounding meetings there were comments like: “Jim (fist pounder) knows his stuff. I respect his leadership and his vision.” It was different though when I heard comments about women. There were some nice things, but at least half of the time, the comments were not so nice. For example, “Connie can be such a b-word. She gets on one thing and won’t let it go. I wonder why she is so cranky,” which would be followed by some laughing. These comments didn’t make me feel good. I don’t know how these women do it every day. Will it be like this when I finish school?
4. Being Too Nice
This one seems really strange to me. After another meeting my mentor for that day was called into her boss’ office. Again, I got to go. Her boss told her that she was too nice. That she had to stop being so polite and just not be as nice. This mentor too thanked her boss for his observations and we went back to her office. I asked her about this and told her about the other comments I had heard about women being called the b-word.
I told her I was really confused. She was really nice actually and she smiled and said that as women, we need to be prepared that in one meeting you will be told that you are too nice and in the next you will be called the b-word. It is just a fact of life. When I asked her if the same thing applied to men, she smiled again and said let’s get ready for our next meeting. She answered me without answering me. I am not sure that this being a fact of life is something I am prepared for.
While it is true that in the words of Virginia Slims “We have come a long way baby,” we still have a long way to go. I would hope that by the time my 12 year old niece (who is not Tina) is finished University and working, that these views are not a fact of life. My post last year in honour of International Women’s Day looked at women being persons under the law. Let’s hope we move the equality issue faster and further than we have over the last 85 years.
Agree or disagree. What are your thoughts on this issue?