"Just let me do my job" (Photo: Flickr/Aimanness Photography)
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"I am in my 20s, and I am already getting tired": a woman blogs on her experience in the workplace

A woman blogs anonymously on her experiences in the work place for International Women's Day.

It’s International Women’s Day today. I don’t know how many of you know this, I didn’t, but it apparently originally emerged out of the Socialist Party of America’s activism and support for female workers who were protesting their working conditions in 1908. Sticking with that theme, I want to talk about being a woman at work.

Being a woman at work is like juggling daggers made of pointy fire, whilst trying not to swear or look too much like you’re enjoying it.

I’m constantly told the reason women are paid less is because we’re not assertive enough and don’t ask when men would; the reason women aren’t given roles on company boards, or as CEOs, is because they’re not cut throat enough; and that we’re too feeling and not either aggressive or logical enough. On the other hand, by behaving in the exact same ways as my male contemporaries I am told I am too strident, loud, and antagonistic.

The male friends I have at work are the same as me: they occasionally think being funny is more important than being nice, they’re neurotic, forceful when they think they’re right, and not afraid to say ‘oi, I’m good at my job’, or ‘dude, this is wrong… fix it’, and sometimes they get things wrong. Yet I’m the bitch.

I have had people email me asking me to pass on information to a male colleague on projects I am running, in a department I am the lead in, because they assume the colleague must be my boss, despite all communications implying otherwise.  

The guys I work with and for, whilst nice blokes, regularly talk over me. The women never ever do. If I interrupt anyone, even accidentally, it is noted, trust me. I have even had a man hold their hand up to me to stop me speaking - like you would a dog or a small child - when I was about to ask a shy participant in one of our events if they’d like to contribute. 

The issue is that all of the things I am describing have happened despite the guys being pretty straight up, nice, liberal guys, who would be mortified to think of themselves as misogynistic. I’m afraid to mention it when these things happen because it would just be another example of me being a bitch.

(As a side note, I come from a left-wing perspective, but Tories are much less likely to behave like this. I don’t know exactly why this is, but I think this may be the one thing I can comfortably thank Maggie for.)

It has crossed my mind that maybe it’s me, maybe I am being unreasonable or seeing things that aren’t there, but my female friends are experiencing the same things in their workplaces. Sure, that’s a fairly self-selecting bunch, but it feels real.

I can’t publish this in my name, because if I do I am afraid it will damage my relationships with my colleagues. I’m in my 20s and I am already getting tired. Just let me do my job.

 

 

Photo:Getty
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.