I’ve never been sure about what I want to do with my life, I still don’t. However, one thing I always knew was that I don’t want to be an employee for the rest of my life. I want to be the employer. I chose to study business, specifically marketing, due to its flexibility. Marketing is not only mandatory to every business that already exists but could also be a tool for me to launch my own businesses one day.
It was during my first week at business school that I got a real taste of what my future would be like. I entered the lecture hall for the very first time and froze at the door for several minutes, trying to find another girl that I could sit with; there were easily four men for every one woman present that day. I knew business was a predominantly male subject, but I naively believed that there would at least be more women looking to study the subject because of that.
There’s a significant lack of women in business, especially in higher up positions- we already know this. But what I didn’t know until I’d started studying, was how the women who are in business are treated. We aren’t taken seriously, we aren’t seen as intellectuals and we aren’t expected to achieve as much as our male peers.
It was Tuesday morning when my seminar teacher went around the class, asking every student what their goals were for their careers. She was a good teacher- attentive and genuinely interested in the goals of each of her students (or the male ones at least). Yes, the class was mostly male, but surely as a woman herself she would want to take an interest in the aspirations of her female students as well. I sat silently with the other four women in the class and listened as a student told her about his passions and ideas about one day becoming a successful entrepreneur. When he was finished, she looked around the class hesitantly, her eyes caught mine and she paused before saying,
“What about you Alex? Are you going to open a beauty salon?”
She said it, out loud, for everyone to hear. Right after she’d spoken to aspiring entrepreneurs, accountants and other businessmen, she looked at me and said that. Nobody spoke up, but me.
“What makes you think that?” I questioned her. “You didn’t ask any of the men if they wanted to open a beauty salon- you didn’t ask them what they wanted to do at all, you let them tell you what their aspirations were.”
As someone who’s sadly been put in situations like these countless of times, I was trained and prepared for this. She quickly tried to redeem herself- apologising to me, claiming she was only joking and assuring me that she didn’t mean any offence. I followed up with a comment about how her joke was sexist and things were left there; thankfully, a few girls after the class came and thanked me for speaking up, all saying they were too nervous to speak out.
I forgave her, but joking or not, she was feeding into the narrative and continuing the trend of women in business not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts. I applied and got onto the same business course as them. I have big aspirations and dreams just. like. them. I’m the same as them- except I have boobs, I match my notebooks to my water bottles and I make-up my face every morning.
I hated being one of the few women on my business course. I hated it even more when we were assigned groups for our final presentation, and I was not only the only woman in my group- but the only one who took the class seriously… the irony. I was elected group leader and forced to do all the work on my own, which they would then take credit for. I reached out to my teacher for advice and he simply told me to deal with things on my own as my ‘drama’ was not what he was there for.
My group and I fought everyday, and it was always them against me; the whole experience was draining, anxiety-inducing, stressful, demeaning… the list goes on. I didn’t ask my teacher to switch groups, I told him I was switching groups- I’d had enough of all of these men. My old group and my teacher had the audacity to ask me to send them the work I had done on my own, so they could continue on and take credit for my work- I told them all to kiss my ass (well, a more polite variation of that).
You see, as a woman in business you’ll be constantly looked over. You’re not allowed to look pretty, because people will think looking pretty is your main priority. You won’t be seen as highly capable like your male peers, your teachers may not even expect you to go as far as them in the future. Your teachers will tell you they’re there for your support, but when you raise an issue they’ll back out; however, they’ll be fully attentive when you’re male peers raise their issues. You won’t be seen as serious like men are- however when the time comes to get things done, others will turn to you for guidance.
It’s awful, belittling and the whole experience will drive you mad. You’ll see things that you think is wrong, you’ll hear things that you know is wrong and most people will underestimate you. But gender inequality in the workplace is a huge issue that’s prevalent all over the world and as women, we cant allow this system to deter us from even trying to succeed.