Is it time women stopped talking about women?

Recently, I was working with a respected colleague on a content strategy for a female client. Knowing that our client is deeply involved in high-profile forums for women in business and is a regular speaker at high-profile events, I suggested that she might want to build on this.

My male colleague winced, visibly. “The women thing…I don’t know.” His implication was that the subject of women’s inclusion in the industry was old hat. Despite this, in the course of our discussion he went on to  make several references to how male-dominated it was – even mentioning at one point that I was the only woman he’d ever encountered in my sort of role.

During the rest of our conversation, I asked myself: was he right? Having given the matter some reflection, I don’t think so. Here are just a few reasons why.

Talking about women still makes men uncomfortable

When I was born, feminism was already at least a decade past its most violent years. I’m now in my mid-30s now and men still find conversations about women – and female experience – hard to stomach. A week or so ago I had a male colleague tell me that it was TMI to mention periods in the context of an article about a cycle tracking device. Really? This sort of squeamishness is unacceptable. If we want to live in a world where everyone – female, male, gay, straight, cis, trans – can feel comfortable sharing their experience of being a human, we need to shut this discomfort down. And doing so means sharing female narratives and experiences in every context – including the spheres of business and work.

Women still need visibility

The disproportionate male domination of business is not changing quickly enough. While women cute a streak as entrepreneurs, Only 7% of FTSE 100 companies are led by women – and given the fact that more than 50% of the UK’s population is female, we need to keep talking about why that is the case. We can’t keep hiding behind the excuse that motherhood gets in the way either – 20% of UK women never even have children.  We should focus more on the fact that C-level execs are chosen by their peers – and many men don’t understand women enough to see them as peers.  

Women are not an ‘issue’ to be resolved

By implying narratives around women are ‘done’, my colleague was suggesting women have now been successfully absorbed into the male business world and are no longer an ‘issue’ to be resolved. This attitude is problematic because it reinforces the working world as a male space that women have the right to enter but not to change. It also suggests that women need to be pacified – and in the process silenced. Talking about our experience as women is an important way to ensure not only that ‘male’ ceases to be the default, but also that our views and voices shape the world in which we work.

Equality shouldn’t mean being absorbed by men

If we set absorption as the goal for equality, we completely ignore the fact that women’s identity and experience is different – especially in the workplace. As David Parry-Jones has illustrated in his 50 Days of Male Privilege Statements posts, much of what is normal for women is completely unheard of by men. It’s not just a case of being underpaid and overlooked: women frequently have to restructure their careers – either through choice or responsibility – in ways that men don’t. Women rarely have a straight upwards career path and are more likely to make sideways moves. And these experiences have put women at the forefront of developing new ways of working. If we close down narratives around female experience in the workplace, we also close down narratives about, work-life balance, career design and the changing structure of work.

Closing down narratives around women – considering them out of fashion, inconvenient, or already dealt with – reduces the needs and perspectives of a large proportion of the world’s workforce to an afterthought. It also helpfully ignores many ongoing issues that affect people of all genders. As we start to increase our awareness of identities beyond the binary, conversations that challenge the male default are becoming even more vital. And we should all be having them.

Why don’t train companies bother using technology?

It’s 1.30 on Friday afternoon. It’s my lunch hour, but I daren’t consider a sandwich. Instead, I am sat on the floor of a GWR train with my laptop, feeling increasingly queasy as I read and write in discomfort.

This is the second time in a month that I have found myself travelling in this manner. The first was in early March, when, despite clearly selecting a specific train from King’s X to Edinburgh, I ended up with nowhere to sit. What had seemed to me like an opportunity to choose whether I had a preference over the TYPE of seat (aisle/window) was actually a question regarding whether or not I wanted a seat to begin with. Well, of course I did, it takes over 5hrs to get from London to Edinburgh and no-one wants to stand for that long.

I ended up first thinking I’d dropped my reservation – despite not having an accompanying reservation my ticket informed me it was not valid without one – before learning from Virgin I’d never had one in the first place. How was this possible, when I’d chosen and booked for a specific service? I was tired, stressed due to work pressures, and physically not in the best of health – and ended up bursting into tears, crammed into corridor space like cattle with a load of students from ghastly places like Peterborough. What should have been the start of a nice relaxing holiday was stressful and upsetting. Virgin’s team were making no effort to find people seats and their online support suggested I walk up and down the crowded train with my luggage looking for one. To add insult to injury, they had a limited menu and few functioning toilets. The best they had to offer me was a patronising take on “sorry”. I arrived in Edinburgh sullen, hungry, and so exhausted I had to change my plans for the following day.

Getting it better the Great Western way

Today, I actually had a reservation – booked more than a month in advance. However, due to distressing personal circumstances I won’t go into here, I wasn’t able to travel on that train. I booked another ticket this morning- and despite trying several different services, there was no way I could get a reservation unless I travelled First Class for over £200. I tried to get reservations on three different services before starting to worry that perhaps they didn’t make reservations for on-the-day travel – the language was unclear I had no option but to take my chances.

This time, I knew I had no reservation and went looking for a seat. I found one that looked as though it hadn’t been claimed – but that was only because the woman who’d booked it waited – bizarrely – almost half an hour to claim it. By which point all but one of the unreserved or unclaimed seats on the train had been taken.

Unlike Virgin, GWR actually put their staff to work finding seats for passengers, asking passengers to point out spare seats next to them to those without seats and making regular announcements about where seats could be found.

For the first three hours of my journey, I moved between seats that were between reservations (sometimes for only 20 minutes) and the corridor. Sometimes the corridor had up to 15 people crammed into it (GWR assure me there is no legal limit to the number of people that can be carried on a train).

Once I had secured a seat, I wanted some food. To get to the cafe several carriages away, I had to hop over buggies with children in them and step over toddlers playing in the aisles. When I tried to place my order I discovered they had signature-only card machines and as my signature has long been obscured due to the fact that card signature strips seem to accommodate few types of ink, I couldn’t get any food. As I braced myself for the return obstacle course, I changed upon one of their managers: like their Twitter staff, she was charming, calming, kind and accommodating. She listened to me, agreed the journey was terrible and gave me vouchers with which to purchase food. In the 30 seconds it took for me to thank her and hand my vouchers over to the cafe they had closed and I had to wait for a whole new stock to be unpacked. The cafe manager was amiable and chatty and did his best to cheer me up. But it was hard to enjoy my food or regain my seat feeling anything less than extreme anxiety. GWR are compensating for a poor service with great staff – but the stress on passengers remains.

Everyone else is doing it – why can’t you?

There are bigger questions here than simply whether staff help people find seats. For example whether train companies should be overbooking long-distance trains in this way – I can see the sense for short journeys, but very few people will actually want to go without a seat for several hours. Or why aren’t ‘you might have to stand for two hours’ seats cheaper , as they are in theatres? Why aren’t they just marked as ‘standing day tickets’ from the outset instead of making people go through the ‘would you like to book a seat’ charade?

There’s also the question of why – in 2017 – they aren’t making wider use of technology:

  • Why aren’t they showing live booking data – such as which services have seats available to reserve – on their websites like theatres and cinemas have done for a couple of decades?
  • Why – when gig promoters and airlines can manage it – have most train companies failed to discover e-tickets? Only Virgin seem to do this. Travellers shouldn’t have to waste the time they spent getting to the station early so they csn find a seat queuing to collect tickets.
  • Why aren’t they designing their apps so people can see which carriages have the most available seating?
  • Why aren’t they exploring technologies – well tested in other industries – that would allow them to provide an at-a-glance view of where reservations haven’t been claimed, seats are free/about to become free?
  • Why on earth don’t GWR have chip and pin machines when most other places have moved on to contactless?

Any other service provider would either be implementing these measures or would have them in place already. A UK train ticket seems to be just about the only think you can spend over £100 on with no hope of care, customer service, or interest in generating repeat business.

Your B2B Marketing Content is Probably Sexist. Here’s why.

Last week, while watching the video of Mary Beard’s excellent London Review of Books Winter Series lecture on Women in Power, I was struck by her focus on language – in particular on the way in which language which excludes women from power has become part of our everyday lexicon. Women, Beard points out, are often described as “grabbing” or “seizing” power – in other words, taking something that doesn’t belong to them. What’s most striking here is not the use of exclusionary language, but the fact that it is normal enough to pepper the headlines of most popular newspapers, reinforcing at a subliminal level, the idea that women shouldn’t hold positions of power.

As a B2B content specialist, I couldn’t help thinking about how often marketing language operates in the same way. While brochures, web pages and video scripts may not address the issue of women in power, they do often contain language that is subtly – and perhaps even unconsciously – angled towards men. Pick up the nearest piece of B2B collateral and you will probably find several examples of aggressive sporting or military metaphors. Obviously, women play sports and join the military, but such language is defined by and associated with male-dominated culture – and using it is a way of claiming the B2B marketing world as a male dominated space. Professor Raina Brands has explored the way on which such language promotes gender bias in her research.

This problem goes right back to the methodologies we used to define our audience and plan our content. As B2B marketers – particularly for the tech and telecoms industries – it’s easy to fall back on the idea that in a male-dominated industry, the only people we are marketing to are middle-aged, white men. As a result, we frequently craft our content in their image. On a recent client project for example, I was reviewing the first draft of some Day in the Life scenarios and was struck by the fact that all the characters in senior roles were depicted by middle-aged white men. I requested a change – but the creative team came up against a challenge: it’s incredibly difficult to find imagery of anyone other than an old, white male in a setting that lends them gravitas and power. Women and people of colour tend to be represented as youthful and up-and-coming. For our project, we managed to portray a more diverse range of individuals in the end, but the incident stayed with me as a stark lesson in just how strongly we associate business decision-making with one kind of person.

So, what do we do about it? Being more aware of the language we use is the first step. B2B marketers often make it their mission to eliminate industry jargon, so add gendered jargon to your hit-list too. Scan your copy for exclusionary terms and exchange them for more inclusive language: regardless of gender, not everyone reading sees their business as a military operation. When planning what you’re going to write, make a conscious effort to think about your audience. How do you imagine them? If you find yourself imagining a group who all fit exactly the same demographic, think again. Really question yourself and your motivations: are you taking the easiest option? Are you allowing unconscious bias to guide you? As you read, think about how people of different ages, genders and cultural backgrounds might read and react to your copy. It’s important to think beyond the words, too. Does the imagery alongside your content reinforce stereotypes by only reflecting white people, nuclear families, binary gender and heterosexual couples? If so, you could be weakening its impact.

Above all, be brave. Take this thinking to the rest of your team by going back to your stakeholder profiles and questioning their diversity. Start pushing back at suppliers of stock imagery and make it clear that they need to reflect a more diverse range of people at all organisational levels. Addressing these issues isn’t just good feminism: it’s good marketing, too. As we get better at distributing power fairly, we need to think carefully about the choices we make to ensure we’re addressing the B2B audience in its entirety. Which means thinking beyond men in suits.


Happy Now?

This is an excellent blog post, much of which is very close to how I, and I imagine many others, are feeling about the mess we are in now. Read it.

Katyboo1's Weblog

It is day four in the Big Brexit house.

I had hoped after Friday’s absolute catastrophe of a day that the country might somehow magically rally over the weekend. I mean, when you plunge your country into possible ruin on the promise of a golden future that will allow it to rise like a phoenix from the flames, you have a plan, right?

As it turns out, you don’t. The only person that seems to have any plan at all, and be acting on it rather than just spouting meaningless Churchillian rhetoric is Nicola Sturgeon, and I can’t even vote for her.

I was distraught and angry on Friday. I had hoped to feel better by today. Instead I am running on barely controlled rage and getting more enraged by the moment.

Here are a few things I am furious about:

Firstly, leave voters telling me to calm down. I’m sorry…

View original post 1,627 more words

Yes, the Leave vote is hostile to foreigners – and you need to come to terms with that

Here’s what the Brexit vote means to me: 52% of the people I share a nationality with think there should be fewer people like me in Britain’s future. And before you object, or make excuses, let me point out that if Britain clamps down on immigration, there will be fewer people like me.

I was born in England. In Hammersmith, to be precise. It’s where my dad was born. And his mum. And her mum before her.

I was born in England, but I am not English. I have roots in London, but that is not the same thing. My dad’s family – his great-grandparents – arrived here as Jewish refugees in the 1880s, ending up as East enders on one side and West enders on the other. My heritage spans the breadth of the city in which the family whose name I bear has lived for a century before I was born. Like I said, I have roots in London.

And yet, in spite of my birthplace, in spite of that heritage, I didn’t grow up feeling British. I grew up feeling foreign. The reason for that is my mother is an immigrant. Worse, she’s a brown immigrant.

Let me give you a flavour of how that feels, because if you tick White British on your census form, you probably don’t know.

When I was little, I lived across the road from a park. It was great park, with pretty flower gardens, a bandstand and a large playground that I could see from my window. All we had to do was cross the road. Except, we didn’t do that, because my mother was scared. Scared because on a regular basis some ignorant xenophobe would call her a ‘Paki’ even though, dear reader, my mother is from the West Indies. It wasn’t that we lived in a rough area: we didn’t. It was quite nice actually. And to be honest the tone of the area doesn’t matter because, when we visited my grandparents in their adjoining and distinctly affluent North London suburb and I went to the park with my aunts, those taunts would come again “Go home, you Paki!” It wasn’t easy to feel welcome.

I was born in 1980. The start of a decade when people from backgrounds like mine were still being treated aggressively for standing out. There were parts of London I only heard of as a child because Afro-Caribbean people were aggressed and killed there. My family were terrified of those places and still, in diverse and gentrified 21st Century London, there are tube stations where I alight with a sudden involuntary stab of vulnerability.

To give you a bit of context, I look white. Ironically, people are always telling me what a lovely, English Rose complexion I have. In the bad old days, people used to tell me that, you know, I could pass for just white and should roll with that. It seems unbelievable, but that used to be an acceptable thing to say.

Is it a surprise, then, that I didn’t feel British for many years? That I grew up in a limbo, feeling the country I was born in somehow excluded me?

Before my mid-teens, London was my place of origin. I could be from London because I could observe people like me there. I knew I couldn’t be English, and I wasn’t sure I could be British either.

I’ve always felt European, though. Because while I wasn’t sure whether the land of cricket and cream teas included or tolerated people like me, being born in Europe conferred upon me the same rights and freedoms as everyone else.

In the 1990s, things got better. Britain became a more diverse and welcoming place. By the time I was 16, British was something I felt I could be. I was glad to be born in and part of a country that welcomed people from all over to join them. It’s one of the few nice things Tony Blair ever did for me, the opportunity to feel comfortable with that identity.

It feels like the end of something

Today, I feel excluded again. Because that 52% – the people we shouldn’t call ignorant or xenophobic or stupid or short-sighted because their views are as valid as ours even if they send all the country’s assets tumbling – doesn’t think people like me have a place in its future.

Well, the thing is, 52%, if you don’t want us in your future, then you can’t expect us to stick with you in the uncertain present. To bring our skills, education and knowledge to bear in support of your economy. To contribute our taxes to your coffers. If you voted Leave, are you aware of how many young people of working age in this country are like me and may not feel they want to be here anymore?

There are other kinds of otherness. Like the fact that for a lot of older people in this country, people who were alive in the 60s and 70s and remember pre-EU Britain, Europe is still just a collection of neighbouring states. It reveals a lack of empathy that they are unable to realise that for most of us born after 1975, Europe is a part of our identity. Whether we call ourselves British, English, Scottish, Welsh, we have always been Europeans too. You’re robbing us of our identity, you pricks!

Poor life choices are poor life choices

For the moment, I am going to exclude protest voters, who, I hope, are educating themselves on the difference between how a FPTP General Election works and how a UK Referendum works so that they never do something like that ever again.

If you’ve voted Leave, the likelihood is that you‘ve swallowed a pack of lies, manipulations and misinformation. I have heard lots of well-reasoned, well thought-out, fact based arguments to Remain (I have heard some porkies too). For the most part, what I have heard from anyone who voted Leave has been inaccurate, preposterous or incredible. I’ve heard the occasional valid reason, too, but they were so niche that I don’t think we should kid ourselves that those are the reasons 52% of those who went to the polls voted the way they did.

Admittedly, here in London it’s quite hard to locate a Leave voter, but here are some of the reasons I’ve come across:

  • I’ve heard a woman I consider fairly well-educated and well-informed tell me that our poor little island can’t cope with more immigrants even though there is no evidence to support claims that the UK is overpopulated and the housing crisis is to do with government policy and development greed not a lack of physical space. Not to mention the fact that the numbers of immigrants aren’t enough to cause that problem.
  • I’ve had a friend tell me about a colleague who voted Leave because they wanted it to be a close result.
  • I’ve had a friend with three degrees tell me that he thinks we should leave because free movement of people in the EU is unfair, that it makes EU migrants feel they don’t have to “make an effort” and that EU migrants are mainly unskilled and don’t bother to learn English.
  • I’ve heard a man tell me he is voting Leave because he is angry about events in another country’s relations with the EU. What the actual fuck?
  • I’ve heard another woman tell me that she thinks things would be better for her son – whose main problem is being a stoner – if there weren’t immigrants taking all the jobs in the area where he lives – which has few immigrants. And probably few employers who want to hire someone who gets off their face every day.
  • I’ve read someone from Plaid Cymru claiming that the Leave vote is about sticking it to the elite. Yet it only takes a few minutes thought to realise that the elite are unaffected by this. The elite have enough money to diversify their investments instead of putting it all in the UK basket. They have prospects and can move elsewhere if the UK goes tits up. If they decide to stay, they can afford private healthcare when the NHS goes tits up. If you voted Leave for this reason, you have ‘stuck it’ not to the elite, but to yourself. You’ve shot yourself in the bollocks, that’s what you’ve done.

Do you think these are valid concerns? Because they read like bullshit to me.

It’s OK to tell people they were wrong

24 hours after the fact, I found myself surrounded by people telling me that Leave voters aren’t racist or xenophobic and it’s wrong of me to refer to them in that way.

No, it isn’t. Racist and xenophobic aren’t slurs – they are ways of thinking and there is a strong correlation between those ways of thinking and the Leave vote:

  1. Immigration is the main battlefield on which this referendum campaign was fought. Anti-immigration sentiment has been a primary motivation factor for Leave voters from all social classes and educational backgrounds. Just look at the comments section of any UK paper.
  2. Within hours of the result being called, people around the country were being subjected to racist and xenophobic abuse which was not a part of their lives 24 hours before
  3. A Leave vote makes the position of every foreigner here uncertain, whether because of their status as an EU citizen or their status as a foreign national who may now be mistreated
  4. Any vote sends a message. Whether you want it that way or not, a Leave vote sends a message to EU citizens that they are not wanted here. It also sends a message to all the bigots in this country that allows them to believe they are in the majority and to feel safe abusing foreigners in the streets and online

It might shatter the cosy world view held dear by some, but xenophobia is a significant reason why people voted leave, no matter how prettily they worded their concerns about immigration. Thinking foreigners are a drain, a negative influence, and that they should be shut out? That, my darlings, is xenophobia.

Why don’t people feel comfortable calling it out? It isn’t abusive or disrespectful to tell people they made the wrong decision when the result has been to send the country into financial disarray and to make huge swathes of the population feel they no longer belong.

I read recently the suggestion that Leave voters might be less likely to be open about their decision. To me, that says that deep down they know it is a poor one.

We need to stop making excuses for people when they get it wrong

The other thing I keep hearing is that it isn’t the Leave voters’ fault. That they were too tired/impoverished/ill-educated to look into the facts. That they didn’t understand how the voting system works. That they are just scared, and we shouldn’t judge people for their fears.

Hypocrites! You’re judging Donald Trump supporters for their fears. So you need to grow a spine and judge these people too. There was no excuse for not knowing how a referendum works – we had one just a few years ago. The media and Leave campaign bear some of the responsibility, but we cannot absolve the adults who made this decision.

For one thing, 52% of voters is too much for the ignorance argument to hold weight. The compassionate lefty middle classes are saying that because, yes, it’s devastating to think that people decided to vote irresponsibly based on emotion and hearsay when they could have obtained the facts.

But they did vote irresponsibly, and without doing proper research or even thinking logically about whether what they were being fed made sense.

As for those people who are too downtrodden to see straight, they are being given far less credit than they deserve. Let’s not lay this disaster at their feet. In most cases they probably did what 30% of the population did and didn’t vote.

As for me – I am a Londoner.

I am a European.

You can’t erase my identity, I will fight you tooth and nail to keep it.

This post previously had an addendum. It upset some people. I generally try to be nice and considerate, so I have moved it.