I originally intended this blog to be a place for me to sound off about politics - and maybe it mostly will be - but something has really shaken my view of the world so I thought I'd share.
A female colleague of mine took me aside yesterday and, in a well meaning way, basically told me that the way I dressed and the colour of my hair were likely to affect my career prospects. More to the point, that my ultimate boss - who is a man - was unlikely to take me seriously because of my appearance. Whilst the comments on my personal appearance are upsetting for a number of reasons the thought that a senior male colleague, whom I like and respect, would think less of me for something I wear or the colour of my hair appals me.
To a certain extent I can understand the comments on my dress sense - I err on the funkier side of business wear... However, there are a number of mitigating factors - for a start I work at a University which, for obvious reasons, doesn't have a strictly defined dress code and I have a relatively junior role. I also think I have a reasonable grasp of what is appropriate for different occasions - for example I would never not wear a suit when I'm at an external event or meeting a client.
However the idea that my hair or my clothes would be make a man think less of me in the workplace does truly shock me. I've never been a militant feminist - I'm lucky enough to be born into a generation where I've always thought I never needed to be. Perhaps I'm just naive but I've never felt that my being a woman has ever really made a big impact on how people perceive me professionally - I always strive to do the best I can whatever I'm doing and I've always felt that my teachers, lecturers and line managers (male and female) have respected me for my ability.
I don't think that a man in my job, or indeed in any job, would ever find themselves in this situation. And if it had been a man who had made these comments to me people would be recommending I sue them. Women are really lucky, even in comparision with 20 years ago, that we have legislation that protects our right to be treated and paid equally. But evidently the battle for equality isn't over...
Appearance matters but evidently in women it matters more - there was outrage this week about the dearth of women in the new coalition cabinet but women in the public eye get scrutinised and judged on their appearance far more than any man. I don't think I've ever seen a media article on a male politician's choice of footwear but Theresa May and Sarah Brown have both had their shoe taste scrutinised. Millions of magazines are sold every week poring over the appearance of various celebrities - in at least 9 out of 10 cases the victims of this scrutiny are women. The worst thing is that we tend just to accept this - that the rest of the world will judge a woman on her hair, her clothes, her makeup (or lack of) - without comment or question.
So maybe that's the next frontier, hopefully in another 20 years this will be even less of an issue... As for me - well conforming to expectations would certainly be the easiest thing to do but just accepting the status quo never changed anything did it?