This week sees the third year of the Dive In Festival, a world-wide festival to promote diversity in the insurance market.
What is interesting is I’ve heard quite a few “millennials” or younger folks wonder at the need for such a thing. My 13-year-old son does not “get” feminism. And I’ve seen countless young women do an *eye roll* when talking about some of the stories of brutal sexism and racism.
Well, as someone in her late forties, I’ve encountered plenty of sexism, racism and downright pure rudeness from male white privilege on my way up the greasy pole. I’ve also had huge support and mentoring as well – and we must remember that decent, honest men are in the vast majority in our industry – and we are privileged to work with some very fine men.
That said, you will hear the same stories of conscious and unconscious bias from many who have come before me, and after.
I can only speak as a woman here on what I’ve seen, so forgive the lack of examples of other forms of discrimination.
There are the usual suspects: looking through you when they meet you; asking you to make the tea or take notes during a meeting (even if you are chairing it or called it); talking over you (although I’m hugely guilty of this); and man-splaining (“I know you are good, no excellent, at what you do, but I do hope you don’t tell your clients that…” The list goes on.
Then there is pack behaviour - calling women a “skirt” or other colourful terms. Women at Lloyd’s boxes still being called a host of names including “totty” and rating of women from 1-10 on “shagability”, but the men on their underwriting ability.
There are also comments on what you wear: “Well, that is a bit colourful…”; “Why don’t you wear more dresses, you have lovely legs”.
There are women (particularly young attractive ones) who are not being taken seriously, regardless of their MBAs or degrees or experience. I’ve also heard women say that they are often told to be more subtle or diplomatic as they come across as bossy – even when using the same words as men.
I think I’m going to get a whole pile of t-shirts made for us ladies that say: “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”.
It is worth remembering that this is not something that happened to our great grandparents, or grandparents, but is a living part of our past and present for many of us.
Next time you meet a senior female, someone with disability, or who is gay or of colour, you will know they have had opportunities that the generation before them never had – but at the same time had to deal with some idiot, or sometimes well-meaning man-fool boss along the way.
Here is a highlight of some of these stories:
“Come sit on my lap and tell me how much you want that promotion” - the story of one now senior female reinsurance executive when invited in to her boss’s office to discuss a promotion.
“Oh, good, the sex has arrived” - another young female executive was told when dropping off a bundle of papers to be signed at her boss’s boozy lunch. She was later reprimanded for giving the man - her boss’s lunch date - a filthy look.
“But how will you cope working with young children?” – there are many variations to this one – something that would never be asked of a man with a family. One of my own member of staff was recently told that “maybe your boss should think about sending someone who doesn’t have small children to look after on all these business trips”.
“We don’t think you can handle the travel now you have children, so we are moving you.”
When I mentioned to a senior female executive that I was writing this blog, she said: “I’ve got a few stories which GHDs wouldn’t straighten out!” (For the men out there, that’s hair straighteners!)
I’d like to say now that this kind of activity is ancient history. Sadly it is not. What I can say is that there has been a marked change. The many great men I work with and live with are not like this. My father and mother brought me up to be respectful and gave us an education that would allow us to conquer the world. I have all the support from my husband and my male friends and family members. I really do think that 95% of the men I work in the market are gentlemen (I know it sounds old-fashioned, but it is true), and it is they who are now leading the charge against this kind of behaviour. They are the ones who abhor casual sexism (or any other ism you can find) and are pulling up other men when they are out of line.
Give it another generation, and let’s hope these stories have become the stuff of legend - like writing business on the back of a fag packet or cocktail napkin.