power, choices, and international women’s day

I’m in a position of a little bit of power in my workplace – not as much as what’s assumed by others, more than what’s assumed by me. Probably many of us are in that space.

It’s great. And it’s bloody hard.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the place of women in organisations – specifically in mine. It feels like the situation has gone backwards, and I don’t know whether it’s because I’m now in a position where I come face to face with the impact of attitudes – or whether it’s because things have actually got worse.

Being in a position of power, I’m acutely aware that people ‘weight’ comments I make differently. There’s no flippant comment as a manager, and a suggestion can easily be misread as reprimand. It’s a tricky line.

Which makes me think of this. I have that awkward situation happening, which every woman I know will find familiar: the male who doesn’t ‘get’ professional physical boundaries. And no, it’s nobody any of you will know – so stop trying to guess who it is! This person is particularly bad at it. He touches my necklaces or scarves, and an ID badge I have to wear around my neck. He holds onto them so I can’t move away.

Sadly, I’m reading that paragraph back with the same horror that you just had reading it the first time. I can hear myself coaching other women about how to respond in such situations, and I know everything I’m meant to say [I’ve said it before, quite often, myself. I’m very practiced at this]. In this situation I know that it’s just too hard at the moment. It’s not that I’m going to offend him – I could work with offence. It’s that I’m going to scare him. I have power now, and suggestion comes across as reprimand. And in the particular context in which I need to work with this person, I can’t afford to have him scared of me.

So instead, I’m scared of him. Or not so much scared of him, as having to mentally steel myself for every interaction; to know that I’ll be feeling acutely uncomfortable for the duration of our conversations, and physically exhausted at the end of them. Yes, I will bring it up with him. I can’t not. Next time.

I hate myself for not having brought it up yet. I will hate myself when I do.

And it’s this which I find exhausting as a woman: the fact that gender comes into everything, and the resulting choices I have to make, day after day, about whether to address an issue or live with it. Or is that i know I don’t have a choice anymore, but I’ve learnt I will pay its price.