After a semester-long sabbatical replacement gig in the small town of Arcata California, I’ve been rushing around to maximize studio access, before heading back to San Francisco. In my haste to leave…


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Is this sexual harassment?

Having read the article on the front page of Inside Housing on the 8th of June asking how prevalent sexual harassment is within the sector and that being followed up with more statistics this week about discrimination within the sector, I felt compelled to write my first blog.

I am what I would consider to be a ‘young’ female within the sector (I don’t think I quite qualify for under 30’s CIH membership but in my head I am still 29!) and I have lost count of the amount of times I have felt uncomfortable because of my gender both inside and outside the workplace. Whilst I have never been what I consider to be sexually assaulted, there have been many times where I have felt inferior or objectified because I am a woman.

Over the weekend I attended a concert and was lucky enough to have standing arena tickets, as we left the stadium there were swarms of crowds and people everywhere. I heard one man make a comment to his friend about me and as I walked past he slid his hand round my lower back. Now of course he could have been concerned for my safety, but I really don’t think this was the case. The most shocking thing about this encounter was that I wasn’t shocked, in fact over the years I have become used to hearing comments and being touched/rubbed up against that I don’t even blink an eyelid when it happens.

Of course I should make it clear these situations have never happened in the workplace and whilst I am left questioning why I think it is more okay for it to happen in a club on a Saturday night, there is another point that I have been considering. As a female, the attitude that I experience is often one born out of a culture where it is okay to stereotype women and make comments that you would never say to a male. It is quite common to hear, “Ooo someone from head office must be coming over, Katie is all dressed up” or “you’ve done well to get to that job when you’re so young (female)” and don’t get me started on the word sweetie or other patronising gender stereotyped words

The comments are innocent themselves, but in a sector which is heavily male dominated in senior roles over time these comments can leave you to undervalue your opinion of yourself and question whether you have been employed on your merits or your looks. This is further compounded by the imbalance of maternity leave and childcare responsibilities; taking that time out of your career more often than not is made a woman’s responsibility due to the way the system is set up in this country. Having a sustained amount of time out of the business can leave you feeling low in confidence and perhaps lagging behind those male colleagues who may have taken their 2 weeks paternity leave and got back to it.

The #metoo campaign started following allegations of sexual abuse in Hollywood in October 2017

Whilst campaigns in the media such as #metoo and the announcements for the Women In Social Housing awards comfort me that we are moving in the right direction, I still feel there is a long way to go. We live in a world where women are objectified in music and social media, where the gender divide is forced down our throats by the retail world and the gender pay gap is still a thing!

What I’d like to see is a positive culture promoted in all organisations from the top, this includes male dominated sectors such as the building trade. If a CEO behaves in a way that leads by example this will follow throughout the organisation. All of us should have the confidence to be who we are and challenge behaviour we don’t feel comfortable with. When we hear comments such as the above in the moment is the best way to deal with it. If you are not feeling comfortable with it you can bet there are others in the room that would agree with you. David Morrison, a senior officer in the Australian Army said it best at an International Women's Day Conference;

Our organisation has set up Challenge and Change weeks which promote equality, wellbeing and diversity, this has opened the door to allow people to use it comfortably as a phrase when they feel something that has been said is out of line. How great would it be if we could all adopt a ‘don’t throw shade on my parade attitude’, where when we see each other doing well regardless of gender, race or sexuality et al, we could all big each other up rather than criticising or judging.

However, what I’d really like to see is a time where I wouldn’t feel compelled to write like this because it will no longer be the norm. I hope by the time my children grow up products are advertised in gender neutral way, that they get the wage they deserve due to their ability and not their sex and that they feel empowered to challenge anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. I hope they believe they can do anything, boy, girl or otherwise…

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