IWD: Choose to Challenge

For me, International Women’s Day is not about making sweeping statements that criticise, undermine, or devalue men.

I feel the need to emphasise that at the start, because despite the experiences I outline below, I am surrounded by supportive male colleagues who are passionate about gender parity.

This post reflects my own experiences, and while these are personal to me, I also know that I’m just one of many women who face similar challenges.

In 2019, my former manager resigned, and I was offered her job as Head of Operations. The promotion came as a surprise. It was a huge step up from my previous role, and part of me suspected I’d only been offered it because of the need to quickly fill a sudden vacancy.

Looking back, perhaps I was too harsh on myself. I doubted my ability to perform well and assumed my promotion was through convenience rather than my own merits.

18 months on, I am thriving in this senior position. I was awarded Employee of the Year in 2020; I rolled out an initiative that has been adopted across the company globally; and I have turned around client relationships that were previously strained.

Despite my achievements—achievements that prove I can perform my job well—I often find my authority challenged, disrespected, or outright ignored.

I am spoken over and interrupted in meetings.

I am called “bossy” when I stand up for my team or defend my opinions, even though I am always professional and calm while doing so.

I have suffered condescension and had my expertise questioned, even in areas where my experience far outweighed those patronising me.

My authority has been undermined by colleagues asking my (male) manager to overrule me whenever I’ve made a decision they didn’t agree with.

I’ve even had someone say that they would talk to me for day-to-day matters, but they would go to my male counterpart for anything requiring “expertise”—even though I specialised in that particular field.  

These experiences are not reflective of my company as a whole. I am fortunate to work for an organisation who prioritises diversity, inclusion, and equity. I also work in an industry dominated by men, and I was promoted into a position that could have easily been advertised externally (or internally). Instead, the managing director gave me the opportunity to progress my career and helped me to develop the required skills along the way.

However, the above examples are reflective of the challenges that women in senior positions experience every day—challenges that our male colleagues may never experience.

So whenever I look at my Employee of the Year trophy, I do so with pride and with a determination to leverage my position to ensure other women in my company are offered the same opportunities and respect that they deserve.  

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Tessa Lovatt is a British author who’s been sharing her stories online since 2011. Her world has revolved around books for as long as she can remember, and that love of words extended into university, where she studied languages. 55,000 readers follow Tessa on Wattpad, the social storytelling platform, and her books have accumulated over 25 million reads.

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