Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Reality We Make

When I first received news that my colleague and I, along with two of our clients were going to the Marie Claire Women’s Networking Event, I had a negative reaction.

I thought, I hate women’s rights and equality bullshit.  I can’t deal with women (or any group for that matter) who choose to dwell on their past of oppression and how unfair the world treats them. There’s no utility in that and not everyone in that group was or is necessarily oppressed. 

It can even be argued to some extent, that oppression is a psychological construct.  There was a psychological study I came across in my undergrad that found women created the glass ceiling with their beliefs. In the actual universe of the women who participated in the study, there was no data to suggest that men had been or would be treated preferentially to them.

I’ve never seen a glass ceiling in my career. I’ve never stepped foot in an interview or an office and thought that because I was a women I would be treated in a lesser way.  If someone is getting paid more than me, they’ve worked at the job longer, work harder or have more experience.  I had a job once that I had to ask three times before they gave me a raise.  When they denied my request the first two times, it never crossed my mind that my request was denied because I was a woman. I just thought they were cheap assholes (and they were).

My beliefs started at a young age. They sprung from two pieces of advice that were given to me by the greatest person alive, my dad Lockey. 

He would say to me, ‘you know Natt – the women in our religious group are a problem.  They get married right after high school and start pumping out kids.  By the time they're 40 all the kids are gone, they have no education, they’ve never had a real job and they're a drain on the economy. I don't want you to be like that.’

My mama would stand in the kitchen by the stove with a saucey wooden spoon and giggle. She would say, ‘if this is oppression, bring it on. I love it. I get to stay at home with my five kids, visit with my friends and go shopping and golfing whenever I want. I like being oppressed.’  

My dad kept making her go to school until during her third degree she received a job offer from the college.  Dad made her accept the job and so at 55, my mother entered the work force for the first time.  I asked how it was going recently and she whined and said, ‘oh I hate it, I have to work hours that I don’t get paid for’.  I smiled and said, ‘welcome to the world.’

The second piece of advice my pops gave me came from someone close to him.  His childhood best friend lost her husband to cancer. She was left with a pile of medical bills and four young boys to raise. She had worked as a teacher, but hated it and was too depressed to go back (understandably). Lockey would say to me, ‘you see Natt, even if you do everything right in your life, you have to have two or three jobs that you can do well and be paid well for. Never rely on anyone else to pay for you.’

That’s when the days and weeks of career brainstorming and back and forth begun.

I came home and said: dad, I’m going to be a pianist and also play in a band.

He said: you won’t get paid anything.

The next day I said:  okay, I want to ballerina.

He said: you know they peak at 18 right?

Me: Lockey, I’m going be a massage therapist.

Lockey: Do you know what they actually do?

Me: Hire me to do interior design for you.

Lockey: Not until you have a bachelor’s degree in interior design (I used to always come back to the hotels / condos to see the interiors changed in the ways I told him to change them)

Me: I’m going to be a clothing designer. If I show you a business plan will you front me?

Lockey: No… and that’s a tough industry, good luck!

Me: I’m not going to work. Life isn’t about hard much you know and how hard you work. It's about who you know and how good you look.

He gave me a blank stare and walked away.

Me: I might be a psychologist.

Lockey: do you really want to listen to people’s problems all day? At least become a psychiatrist, so you can prescribe drugs.

After months and years of my father comically and gently guiding me to my destiny, I called him on Christmas Eve when I was alone at Kicking Horse. I said: Lockey, I applied to all these law schools and just found out that I’ve been accepted to all of them. I guess I’m going to go to law school.

He said: I think that’s the right choice for you.

Three years later, I had found a career and colleagues that I adore. But, I also found myself unhappily campaigning and champagning at the Marie Claire Women’s Networking Event. 

They played a nice video at the start that rehashed the days when women weren’t allowed in bars, they weren’t allowed mortgages, they didn’t have access to the pill and currently, they lose jobs to men and they don’t get paid as much as men.

Here is part of the problem  (I'll only address one because there are a thousand facets that perpetuate the idea of female oppression in the first world, aside from that glass ceiling indoctrinating propaganda bullshit video Marie Claire was pushing)… women want to be treated equally and receive equal pay, yet they also want to take six months to a year off for maternity leave.  I have yet to hear of a man taking six months to a year off for paternity leave under normal circumstances.

There has been a great initiative that started in Europe where governments have imposed legislation that requires a certain percentage of women to be on the board of executives / directors for all corporations in that country.  The numbers show that many of those companies are out performing companies that don’t have women in their boardrooms (http://epublications.bond.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=cgej).

However, at the end of the day – if an executive of a company elects to take six – twelve months leave, what use are they to the company?  When Lockey was 40, he was offered a six-month sabbatical (paid leave) to reward the years and hours he’d put into his firm.  He didn’t take it. And neither would I, especially not for a baby.

The amount of time one should take for parental leave has been a hot topic in my office as of late. The general thought is, if you would like to have a baby and be a top executive (male or female), you shouldn’t be taking more than two weeks leave.


The Marie Claire dinner pressed on.  The video was the worst part. I sat down at the table, turned to the pretty blond woman next to me, put my hand out and said, ‘hi I’m Natalie.’  She smiled, shook my hand and laughed, ‘I’m Natalie too’.  She was a self made business woman who specialised in bubble bath products. Naturally, we’re now best friends and slowly, at that moment in time, my attitude began to change.

The speakers were actually very impressive.  There was no mention of oppression or a struggle as a woman in the corporate world.  They simply gave frank accounts of hard work, pulling in the numbers and how it happened for them.  Their stories made me excited for my own story of corporate success to continue unfolding.

I found out one of our clients had worked for Yves Saint Laurent before coming into the property industry. She offered to take me shopping and style me any time. Who am I kidding? I adore being a woman. I love coming into a work situation, looking like a lamb … standing in front of judging, closed minded people and then blowing them out of the water.

I don’t ever expect to encounter oppression or unfair treatment in the workplace, because that’s not the realty I create for myself.  All in all, the networking event was eye opening.  I learned to accept myself in two parts: my nature is to adore, love and obsess over tan lines, hair extensions, make up, cosmetic procedures, clothes, pretty sparkly things, lipstick, nails, tarot cards and accessories (I want to say biodynamic, but I'm not even sure what that really means). My drive is to obsess, sweat and bleed over solving complex legal problems, developing that innovative idea, billing mad money and that day when I’ll finally make partner.