On Sunday 8th March 1914, Russia celebrated International Women’s Day; this Saturday will celebrate the 100 year anniversary of this holiday. I have long since wanted to write a short piece about IWD, and as a man, I have probably made a big mess of it. Forgive me.

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A Brief History of IWD

Whilst IWD has its roots in the USA, major support for it comes from Russia. In 1914, Russian women protested World War I and in 1917, Russian women protested for “Bread and Peace” and four days later, the Czar abdicated, leaving the way to allow women to vote. Shortly after, Alexandra Kollontai convinced Lenin to celebrate the holiday. In the mid-60s, it became an official public holiday in Russia and it is today celebrated in most eastern European countries.

IWD seems to be having a revival in the USA in recent years as part of a global movement for gender equality.

However if you know a women from Eastern Europe or Russia, the 8th March will be much more important than Valentines Day to them. If you like, it is a mixture of Valentines Day and Mothers Day – a celebration of women.

IWD and SCN

If there is something that is pleasing about the SAP Community, it is the relative inclusiveness of women in SCN. Take the last 12 months, for example. In About SCN, Audrey Stevenson, Laure Cetin, Gali Kling Schneider and Jeanne Carboni are in the top 10 contributors. Indeed, the SCN business owner is Maggie Fox.

And let’s not forget the #1 SCN contributor of 2013, Tammy Powlas! Tammy creates as much content as a small country.

I’ve felt for a long while that the SCN community, with others including Marilyn Pratt, Jelena Perfiljeva, Christina Miller, Moya Watson, Laure Cetin and many others that I’ve no doubt neglected, personifies inclusiveness in the workplace.

Women in Business in 2014

What’s more, it has been a relatively good year for women in the workplace. I say relatively, because there are still only 23 women CEOs in the Fortune 500. However, Mary Barra at GM, Meg Whitman at HP, Ginny Rometty at IBM and Marissa Mayer at Yahoo are all examples of progress. It’s not perfect, but 23 is better than 22, and as I often say, change is a process.

Particularly pleasing was GM – a company who you would think is stuck in a very male-oriented world. Not far behind are HP and Yahoo, both of whom have CEOs executing transformational strategies. The world is, at least, progressing in the right direction, even if it is too slow.

It’s not all roses

Please pardon the pun, but it’s not all roses. I attended a Computer Science course at University in 1995 and less than 5% of the attendees were women. We have a dire lack of women in the IT industry and it starts during school and university. Without women students, how can we hope to train the next generation?

This is in stark contrast to what I’ve seen when recruiting in Asia. Women are encouraged to complete technical degrees and our percentage of women in the workforce is much better in Asia than it is in the UK and the USA. In the UK and USA it is so very difficult to employ women in technology.

I’m really not sure what the solution is here. I’m not trying to make excuses for not employing more women, but how do we stop this vicious circle? If we can’t have gender balance in education, how can we have gender balance in the workplace?

The uncomfortable truth

I’ve always felt that I was pro-equality in the workplace. I would promote men and women equally. These past months, my personal experience has caused me to challenge this. As yourself the following:

  • If a man and a women are aggressive towards you in the workplace, do you view them the same? Are you sure you aren’t acceptant of the man, and judgemental of the woman?
  • Have you ever considered a man to be assertive, and a woman to be bossy?
  • Did you ever have difficulty taking direction from a women, even when you knew her approach was sound?
  • If a man and a women have time off for child issues, do you view them the same?
  • Have you ever rewarded the pushier man over the more capable woman?

I suspect that many of us have been consciously or unconsciously responsible for this behavior.

IWD 2014

  • Take a few minutes to appreciate the women in your life. In many cultures, women are specifically looked after on IWD. I find this a little old-fashioned butit costs nothing to show your appreciation.
  • Be mindful that it can be immensely challenging for women in the workplace. Chances are, you have no idea what the struggles are that your female colleagues endure on a daily basis.
  • Say “Happy IWD” to your female colleagues. It’s free.
  • Remember that any “day” isn’t a one-off activity, something to be done just once a year. It’s intended to be a reminder for the other 364 days a year.
  • More importantly… make an effort to move towards equality in your workplace.

Final Words

I’ve wanted to write about IWD for the past few years, but I avoided, for fear of getting it wrong. This year, I decided to write this very imperfect piece anyhow. I hope you forgive its imperfection and take something positive out of it.

I also wanted to pen a brief pointer to three people who inspired me to write this piece:

  • Bill McDermott, who noted “better to avoid letting perfection be the enemy of good” in his first blog. I think he meant “the great be the enemy of the good” πŸ™‚
  • My better half, for obvious and less obvious reasons.
  • Emma Mulqueeny, from Rewired State, who I have been introduced to this week and whose work on programmers, particularly women, is inspirational.

A quick shout out to Celia Brown‘s article Celebrating a New Generation of Global Citizens on International Women’s Day, Nicole McCabe‘s article Why International Women’s Day Matters: She’s “bossy,” “aggressive,” “selfish,” or is she a great leader? and also Steffi Warnecke, SCN Member of the Month March 2014.

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29 Comments

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  1. Gareth Ryan

    and as a man, I have probably made a big mess of it. Forgive me.” – it’s always good to know our limits πŸ˜‰

    Interesting blog – I think there is a lot of historical, genetic and subconscious influence in a lot of our actions that are mostly delivered with genuine best intentions and innocence.  The big problem around this and similar issues is the extremes of positive and negative discrimination and the effects they then create.

    My experience of the IT world suggests it is very much biased towards male workers but what I’ve never understood is where the cause and effect boundaries lie to explain this.

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      In the West I believe it is steeped into children at an early age. At my school, boys studied towards science and girls studied towards the arts.

      Thats why I brought up Young Rewired State and Emma. We have to get our children programming.

      It will take an entire generation to fix this.

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  2. Marilyn Pratt

    Beautifully written piece. You are always so modest. That seems to be a challenge for some women as well as they aren’t as outspoken about their accomplishments at some of their male peers. When I return from vacation will need to look up and read your many and good references. I thank you for doing this service of writing. Thank you.

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      Too kind to me as always.

      You are absolutely right and I’m going to call SAP in particular, because, as a company culture, SAP punishes this.

      If you don’t make a big deal about your achievements then someone else (usually a man) will take credit for them. Unfortunately as a woman at SAP the only antidote is to bang your own drum.

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      1. Audrey Stevenson

        John,

        I am so conflicted as I write this reply.

        When I read in your blog above your request that people ask themselves this question “Have you ever rewarded the pushier man over the more capable woman?” I cringed, because I have been on the receiving end of that sort of more subtle discrimination more than once in my career.

        It’s painful that a man can speak so well on my (our) behalf and say some of things out loud that many of us dare not say out loud ourselves. And yet I can only thank you for saying them. We can’t overcome the situation if we don’t face it, and if we try to face it together (women together with men who support making positive change) we have a better chance of effecting change.

        –Audrey

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        1. John Appleby Post author

          Thank you! I was also conflicted and uncomfortable when writing about the topic.

          Hopefully we may see some responses from some leaders within SAP – male, and female alike.

          Happy IWD!

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  3. Moya Watson

    Fantastic.  I just returned from hearing Ann Mei Chang, the amazing former Senior Advisor for Women at US Department of State, speak at a tech conference.   One key takeaway? The country in which women form the highest percentage of computer science students?  Myanmar.  Any former college students from Myanmar on our teams? I thought not.

    In contrast, from her talk:

    Alas, we *do* have good data on women in computer science in the United States and it’s not pretty.  The percentage of women has flat-lined at about 18% for the past several years, which is actually half of what it was 20 years ago.  I think that the unfortunate reality is that tech has been so male dominated for so long, that there is a huge perception barrier and the culture around how computer science is taught and practiced is based on male norms. For example, why is it that tech companies see guys who stay up all night to save the day by fixing a last minute bug as a hero, but completely neglect the women who actually planned and tested their code to avoid the whole situation in the first place?!

    One idea I think could potentially break through this barrier is to require computer science in high schools.  This way, girls will get exposed early and hopefully get hooked.  And, having a critical mass of girls will make the experience less isolated and start changing the culture.

    Education. And another idea? Allies:

    I’m really not sure what the solution is here.

    You are I believe exactly being, and modeling how to be, part of it.

    Thanks John; Happy International Women’s Day.

    -m

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      Yes, in most of Asia it is socially acceptable to study computers as a woman, but this is not the case in the USA.

      Computers, as part of the curriculum, would help, perhaps. Culture is tough to change.

      Today I noticed that the WSJ has a feature on Men’s Style tomorrow. How ironic!

      Thank you; not sure how much difference I make but maybe it is better than nothing.

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  4. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Thank you for the mentioning, John. I’m surprised Tammy didn’t beat me in comments to this blog – she is always so quick with a kind word! πŸ™‚

    Women have been trying to work against the stereotypes for so long, but what if we use them to our advantage instead? I wonder what if an article was placed in Cosmopolitan about the magical place called “IT” where hordes of single, smart, employed males come to pasture? πŸ™‚ Even though he’s not single maybe we could still borrow John’s picture as a poster child? πŸ™‚

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      Tammy has been very quiet here!

      Not sure how to reply, is it a compliment or sexism? πŸ˜‰

      Happy to be a poster child, though not sure I am much of a role model.

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  5. Ravi Sankar Venna

    Fantastic article John. Being a man you are not that bad to write this great article. πŸ™‚

    There are many wonderful women, who immensely contributes on SCN.

    And let’s not forget the #1 SCN contributor of 2013, Tammy Powlas! Tammy creates as much content as a small country.

    I always wonder how Tammy can find time with such an amazing commitment and passion.

    Wonderful article, you have reminded every one how important a woman on this earth, as a mother, wife, friend and sister.

    Best Regards,

    Ravi

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  6. Jeanne Carboni

    Hi John,

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m honored to be mentioned amongst so many distinguished women in your blog!

    We obviously have come a long way when it comes to genders working together as a team. All you need to do is watch a few episodes of AMC’s “Mad Men” to see many of the changes in the USA workplace since the 1960’s.

    However, we’re now in a complicated state of more subliminal discrimination between the sexes.

    Last year I had the opportunity to attend “Men and Women Leading Together”, a course sponsored by SAP and developed and delivered by Barbara Annis & Associates, Inc.. It was the most enlightening gender / workplace course I’ve taken in my 29 year professional career.

    In this course they uncover:

    1. the importance of female perspective in business to achieve improved success

    2. the biological differences between males and females that make them approach situations differently, including the fascinating story of why our brains evolved to think differently

    3.  the things about men that drive women crazy and the things about women that drive men crazy

    The reality, as was discussed in this course was that many of the men didn’t understand why we were still addressing this topic, insisting that we’d solved it 20 years ago. The women in the room were able to anecdotally explain that there are still some pretty big problems.

    The concerning thing for me is that, at the end of the course, most of women were asking how they could change to make things better for the men, but the men did not reciprocate for the most part. This difference in response could indicate a gender difference that is blocking us from getting where we really need to be.

    I hope for the day when women are invited to the table because they are different, they are emotional, they do bring up the details that may slow the process down, but lead to a better result.

    Sadly, many women in the workplace must deal with male colleagues who think of themselves as female-fair, but are really not. Unfortunately these same men are the ones who can stifle women’s voices penilizing them for being too collaborative, too concerned about unimportant details and too social with co-workers.

    I’d like to recommend that everyone (male and female) seek to be more informed. You can find many resources on the web, and the link I provided above is a great place to start.

    If you work for SAP, I highly recommend the “Men and Women Leading Together” course. They are especially looking for men to participate because typically it’s mostly women who sign up. (Another gender based action, perhaps?)

    I love working with both men and women, and I think it takes all of us, regardless of gender to reach the full potential of a successful work environment.

    Jeanne

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  7. Matt Fraser

    Of the three ABAP developers on my team, one is a woman.  Of the eleven people making up the SAP support team as a whole, four are women.  Although my current boss is a man, in the fourteen years I have worked for this organization I have had two different female bosses, both of whom were superior at their jobs and rose to higher positions.  The current and former managers of our network services group within IT are both women.  I think about half the .NET developers working on our other large packaged application (besides SAP) are women.  We’ve gone through eight CIOs or IT Directors (they keep changing the title) in my fourteen years; four of them have been women (one of whom was one of my former bosses).  Our current COO and a former CFO, and other C-level executives, are women, and we’ve had two female chief executives while I’ve been here.

    In short, this is one way, at least, in which my employer is rather progressive, and one thing of which I’m proud.  I believe we do better work as a team as a result of our total diversity (gender, ethnic, and political alike), and it is certainly a more interesting place to work as a result.

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  8. Jelena Perfiljeva

    There was a great and funny article in the recent Glamour magazine by actress Olivia Wilde. In case it gets removed or access is limited to certain countries, here is one of my favorite parts (it’s written as a speech from the future):

    Although laws were passed to prevent it, working women continued to be penalized for being mothers. This persisted until President Blue Ivy Carter’s Hormonal Equality Act of 2050, which made it possible for a man to carry a fetus to term. In 2014 women were solely responsible for fertility control, but once men could become pregnant, they campaigned to have contraception added to all alcoholic beverages. With their new understanding of child rearing, male politicians were able to grasp the injustice of the pay gap, which has since been shut tight.

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  9. Bruno Esperança

    Hey John,

    Thanks for this blog post. I always enjoy reading your content, your writing is very nice to read πŸ™‚

    I have one question though… When you say this:

    Please pardon the pun, but it’s not all roses. I attended a Computer Science course at University in 1995 and less than 5% of the attendees were women. We have a dire lack of women in the IT industry and it starts during school and university. Without women students, how can we hope to train the next generation?

    It’s not all roses… so I guess you see this as a problem? Why? Do you feel the low percentage of women in IT comes from discrimination? For me it seems to be as much as a “problem” as only having 10% men in nursing. Couldn’t it be simply because women don’t enjoy the IT area as much as men?

    Or do you view it as a problem because you think a more balanced percentage would be beneficial for the IT industry? And why?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    Best,

    Bruno

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      Hey Bruno,

      Glad you enjoy, I aim to please.

      I believe it’s because not enough women don’t learn IT in school or university so they aren’t in the market. This is because of a social stigma of women learning IT and not because they aren’t good at it or don’t enjoy it.


      In addition, men pay men more and promote men more – this is well documented and statistically accurate. Men are pushier and so they get better roles and higher salaries.


      Let me call it out – when I was at school, women in sciences were considered to be “geeks” and socially looked down upon. I’m certain this caused a lot of my female peers to pursue careers outside of technology. I’d be interested in how the current generation feel because I’m no doubt 15 years out of date!

      There are some traits which seem to be more prevalent in women – in particular, attention to detail, communications, emotional intelligence, which often mean that women make great technologists. There is definitely nothing about the female *** that is detrimental.

      On the other hand, there are definitely some traits that are more prevalent in men – impulsiveness, lack of attention to detail, which have caused problems in pretty much every project I have ever done. I’m guilty of this!

      So yes, more women in IT would be an awesome thing.

      John

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      1. Bruno Esperança

        Hi again John,

        I’m not sure what’s our difference in age, but when I was attending university, pretty much ANYONE in IT was considered geeky, regardless of gender πŸ˜€

        My girl calls me her “geek” all the time… especially when she sees me messing around with my android phone lol πŸ™‚

        But I do agree with you to great extent. Are we ever really free? The human being has a natural need to feel socially accepted, and if the IT industry is mostly dominated by men, I guess women will feel more comfortable choosing an industry where she will feel more “integrated”. The same way I would avoid nursing… I wouldn’t like to be surrounded by women all the time and talk about clothes and other people’s personal relationships all the time (or would I?).

        Ok, I’m overly generalizing, but in the end, I agree with you, I guess some women could have chosen IT if there was absolutely no social pressure against it, but would that change the statistics that much? Or are we “doomed” to have a low percentage of women in IT simply because different genders, different tastes?

        Jacqueline Vanacek: Thank you for your excellent contribution. I too feel that many women are nowadays “hiding” behind that “stigma”, in a sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, even if discrimination might still be a reality in some cases, I do believe that we live in a time where a woman can pretty much do whatever she sets her mind to, might just have to work that little extra bit, but everything is possible.

        Best,

        Bruno

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  10. Jacqueline Vanacek

    Has anyone considered that fewer women in IT is partly by personal choice?

    Maybe the interest is just not there! Men and women are different. For example, how many women want to be construction workers? Certainly not me, regardless of “equality.”

    I believe we should all have the choice to pursue what we want, with education and support in a gender-neutral meritocracy. Then we can make our own choices and be respected for them.

    I spent IWD in China — and the men there were the ones who mentioned the day!


    THAT was a special moment.

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      Hey Jacqueline,

      Well it’s certainly true that on average, men are build to lift heavier loads, so they make up the bulk of manual labor. We are good for something πŸ˜‰

      However it’s not the case in some countries, especially in Africa, where the women do the bulk of the manual labor. Or indeed in the animal kingdom. Those that are interested in this topic might read Le Deuxième Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir.

      So it’s an interesting discussion on women in IT and personal choice and I do believe that it is social stigma that has caused such percentages. But, I’m not a woman and so my opinion doesn’t really count for much πŸ™‚

      I hope the discussion is food for thought.

      John

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      1. Jacqueline Vanacek

        I think everyone is too quick to simply claim discrimination in the workplace, period.
        Yes, I believe the statistics that show that women are behind.

        And yes, we need to continue to take action to address. But discrimination is not the only reason women might be under-represented in certain fields.

        I mentor a lot of younger women and I always tell them to manage their destinies by being the absolute best in their chosen fields. In this Internet day and age, it’s hard to argue with excellence and competence, regardless of what you look like or where you live. The world is moving too fast to not take advantage of the best and the brightest.

        Smart people and companies know that. If you are working in an environment where that is not accepted, then work to change that environment — or leave.

        If you sit around and whine all day about how you don’t get any opportunities because you are a woman, I guarantee you won’t get any opportunities!

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    2. Matt Fraser

      Long ago, I worked in construction — I was an industrial electrician.  While most of my coworkers were men, it’s true, I nevertheless worked alongside (and had bosses who were) female electricians, plumbers, and carpenters.  Actually, when it comes to “heavy lifting” jobs, women are often better at this — and get hurt doing it less often — than men, because women are more likely to realize they don’t have the personal strength, so they will get the right tools for the job.  Men have a tendency to try to muscle through things, and that’s why we throw out our backs.  I’m guilty of this!  (If at first you don’t succeed… get a bigger hammer.)

      My wife volunteers a dozen times a year or so as a crew leader for backcountry trail maintenance.  When a big boulder needs to be moved, women will find a lever, while men just start pushing.  On the other hand, in those same volunteer situations, she finds that she often needs to setup the crews so that women work together, because a man in the same group will tend to dominate the job, show off to the women, and ‘instruct’ them on how to do it (often incorrectly), especially among younger volunteers of both genders.  So who’s being “bossy” in that situation?  πŸ™‚   When that happens, those women often don’t have a fully satisfactory experience, and so they don’t volunteer again.  On the other hand, take the man out of the picture (move him onto his own job), let the women get on with the interesting work, and you find repeat volunteers, or even eventually new crew leaders.

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  11. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Well, why do you think women make that “personal choice”? Are they stupid or somehow prefer dealing with bodily fluids instead of sitting in a warm cubicle?

    I can’t speak for every country or every industry, but in my class at University there were actually about 80% of girls. In my first job I had 50% female colleagues, but there were 0% women in the management. Most of my classmates are not in IT any longer and were left behind to care for the children because there was no other care option available. A one year absense from workforce in IT could easily mean a death sentence.

    If one is either not invited somewhere or one is invited but feels strongly unwelcome then one might make a “personal choice” not to go there.

    By the way, interesting fact about nursing, according to the US 2011 census:

    In 2011, 9 percent of all nurses were men while 91 percent were women. Men earned, on average, $60,700 per year, while women earned $51,100 per year

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    1. John Appleby Post author

      That’s fascinating – it was below 5% for me. I think that education is a very cultural and regional problem. Discrimination however, is everywhere.

      In my last role, my boss was female and her husband was a stay at home father. This is a pretty unusual situation – fewer than 3.5% stay at home parents are men.

      I have no clue what the solution is – I’m going to be honest and say I don’t think I could do this.

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    2. Jacqueline Vanacek

      Jelena — You missed my point. See my comments above.

      Have you also considered that the changing population of more women than men in the world will help shift the power structure as well?

      Change will also be forced by simple demographics — as fast as we like? Likely not.

      So if you are not doing so already, do something about it by being a manager, mentoring and promoting women — something to move the needle.

      Real equality means we can choose what we wish, pursue a desired level of success in any field, against any competitor — male or female — without bias — and be respected for our choices.

      And the strongest way to drive change is to MODEL IT — not write about it.

      I spend my time building my skills and advancing my career through sheer hard work. I also spend a lot of time mentoring young women in how to advance themselves.

      And I was just asked to help educate and advise several governments in EU and Asia on technology opportunities.

      No one cared that I am a woman. They just appreciate my competence!

      If you want a particular opportunity — shore yourself up and GO GET IT!

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      1. Jelena Perfiljeva

        Jacqueline, cudos to you for all the hard work you do.

        I took the liberty of looking up your profile and it seems we’re currently located in the same country. In the country I come from it’s still legal to put a job ad looking for a male candidate only or an unmarried female candidate (the employers are free to put anything there, even bra size if they wish). Mind you, these are not to recruit the pole dancers. Some liberties we take for granted in the US still don’t exist in other countries, unfortunately.

        Couldn’t agree with you more that it’s important to take action. But I don’t see a contradiction between doing whatever we can and at the same time acknowledging the discrimination still exists, even if it does not affect us personally. And I feel this shouldn’t be called “whining”.

        Certainly we must not let the thoughts like “oh, I can’t do this because I’m a woman / too old / not white / gay” get to us, but even if we don’t think that it doesn’t make the issue goes away. On the contrary, by acknowledging it and talking (or writing) about it as loud as it need be, we can finally bring major changes in both law and mentality. Not in our lifetimes probably, but we’ll get there, I’m sure.

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          1. Susan Martin

            What an excellent blog – thanks a million John for writing it! Reading through the responses though I think the discussion it sparked is a fairly comprehensive reflection of the complexity of the topic. I think that is probably the one thing that we can say and everyone would agree on here πŸ™‚ The reasons for gender inequality are manifold, complex and diverse ( excuse the pun).

            The one point that is statistically proven and certainly seems to be “global” is the pay inequality issue. There is no justification for this but it happens all the time and it is up to those of us who are in management to ensure we put that right.

            I agree categorically with Jacqueline’s “life is what you make it” attitude  – I do believe that we as women should take more responsibility for our destiny and not be tempted to take the discrimination card as a reason for not getting on in our careers. However I also feel the need to jump to Jelena’s defense as well πŸ™‚ We are not all lucky enough to be working in the US and to be honest the rest of the world can look very different. Certainly that was my experience during the important years of career building. Here in Germany I was one of only two female consultants nationwide at a leading consulting company and I was told on announcing my pregnancy that the assumption is I would resign. Needless to say I didn’t and my husband stayed at home instead  (yes  it does happen John :-)). At that time my US female colleagues were also astounded that we were the only women in the Business Class flights. But things are getting better with time.

            One other important point that I have found and that doesn’t necessarily come out in the discussion so far. Ladies – we need to make sure we don’t focus too much on the male colleagues as the “root of all evil”. I faced just as much  – if not more – discrimination from the female colleagues. An example of this was when the pool of PAs refused to support me in the same way they supported my male peers with the words ” But surely you can do that yourself?”. They missed off the obvious …”as a woman” but we all got what they meant. And don’t forget – in most cases we women are at least mutually if not wholly responsible for the attitude of the next generation around career choice etc.

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            1. John Appleby Post author

              The thing I love most about writing blogs is that sometimes, the comments are much more interesting than the blog itself. This happened here.

              The other thing that came out in the comments was the “hidden” or “passive-aggressive” discrimination that happens in the workplace.

              Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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