Fifty Shades of Grey…a mum’s eye view of working in a Man’s World
14 Jun 2017 - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
I anticipate it was the first part of the title that grabbed your attention. And whilst I’m not quite E L James, you may as well read on given that you’ve got this far. And something else worth saying, I won’t be grousing about how hard it is working in a male dominated pensions industry, how tough it is being a mum (which clearly goes without saying) or that I’m treated differently. In fact, my experience has been quite the opposite.
I don’t ever feel self-conscious walking into an event and bobbing about in a sea of grey suits. I may be in the minority, or often the only female contingent, but I don’t tend to notice unless someone else mentions it. And if it’s ever mentioned it’s usually a lovely chap who has noticed and is concerned on my behalf. But I’m not concerned, it’s good to be different - right? Plus, on a positive note, there’s rarely a queue for the ladies.
I’ve never found it to be a big deal that I’m the wrong side of 40 (only just though) and a pensions mum with a squad of small, demanding people at home. I’d like to think that I’m judged on ability, capability, what I have to say and who I am - that I’m a grafter, a good problem solver and that I get on ok with people. I don’t think that I’ve acquired those things by virtue of being a mum (although my ability to make a spag bol whilst simultaneously drafting contracts is legendary …..). I think it’s all to do with confidence, self-belief and working in an environment that nurtures this.
It hasn’t been plain sailing though - I found the ‘returner years’ really tough. I’ve had three children so had three turns and found that it got harder each time, terrifying at moments. Everyone assumed the opposite - I would nod in agreement as I was too petrified to say otherwise. And I did an ok job of making it look as though I was finding it easy. I wasn’t petrified because of others nor was it anything to do with leaving my children in the hands of others; it was more to do with integrating back into the parallel universe of business, where there are other adults, speaking work speak and being (mostly) serious about work stuff. And that’s tough when everything in the previous twelve months has been child centric, where the highlight of my week was the grocery shop or going to the loo without an audience.
But I’m pretty lucky that I work for the firm that I do, that I’m supported and that I was encouraged, nudged along a bit even. Now and then it was a kindly shove in the right direction (which I needed at times) but still with that reassuring arm on my shoulder. A bit of encouragement and someone telling you that you can do it can make you feel as though you can climb a mountain. The terror soon subsided. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and I’ve rarely been back since.
It’s a fact that there’s a lack of diversity in our industry and there are many of reasons for this, which all converge and tilt the balance. It does feel to me that things are changing though, slowly and organically, and it‘ll take a little while to get where ever we think we need to be. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about achieving set diversity targets. I don’t think so anyway, but that’s a personal thing. My sense is that it’s best to avoid quotas as they can invite cynicism and dilute confidence.
Lack of confidence and self-belief is a part of this cacophony but is the easiest to remedy in my mind - it’s something which we can all do something about, for ourselves and for everyone around us. Being more open about the challenges will help us to understand them and, through that, it’s much more likely they can be overcome.