Saturday, 3 May 2014

Remembering Lumpy

Throughout my career, I have been quite lucky; instances of inappropriate comments or being judged because of my gender have been few...

I wrote that and then began to give examples of them and found that there were loads!  I could list them, but that would be dull - and depressing, so I will just give you the one example that stands out most.  It stands out because at the time, I was unhappy with the behaviour of the men I worked with and didn't deal with it as I should have done; mostly because I knew it would be to my detriment, not the chaps who were dishing it out...

I've always been a bit of a petrol-head and as a nineteen-year-old, I really wanted to work in the motor trade.  I sat down with the phone book, (remember those?!) and called every main dealer I could find, asking if they were recruiting to the sales team.  In between the polite "not at the moment", "No thank you" and "Sorry love!" rejections, I was also told that women usually work on the finance side of things, that I didn't really want to work in the motor trade, because it's no place for girls and that I should look at working on reception, or something like that, because "that is what the girls do."

I did get one dealership where the Sales Manager asked me to go in for an interview.  I was thrilled to get a job as Sales Executive and clearly remember him sitting me down on my first day and telling me that I would get no special treatment because I was a girl.  I was delighted; that was exactly what I'd hoped. 

It wasn't what I got though.

Every time there was something to be taken to the post office, I had to go and guess who had to fill the coffee machine, (when the receptionist wasn't around)?  

I had a nice red Astra for my company car, but when a new male Sales Executive started, I had to give it up, rather than he wait for one, as I had done when I first started there. 

When the snow fell thick on the ground, there was a stock of wellies for the chaps to wear, all size nines and tens, none of them fitted me, so I was sent out in my little red court shoes with a shovel.  When I questioned this, I was told "no special treatment remember?"  I still remember the grins of the blokes and the Sales Manager as I struggled, then how I was made to feel like a failure when the Manager came over and grabbed my shovel, saying "Go on, back inside, I'll do it myself!"

Then there was my nickname...  'Lumpy'

There was a bit of a locker room culture, rude jokes, page three calendars in the back offices and everyone having nicknames.  The chaps started calling me Lumpy almost immediately and when I asked why, they would laugh and refuse to tell me.  Eventually I found out - it was because I had two 'lumps' they didn't have.

I think the thing that made it worse though, was that the receptionist, a woman just two or three years older than me, seemed to enjoy the discomfort I was feeling about all the little things that were happening.

I remember the Dealer Principle asking me to post Valentine's Day cards, one to his wife and one the woman he'd met at a dinner party - silly man didn't seal them.  I was so tempted to put them both in the same envelope, but I didn't.  It wasn't his wife's fault that she was married to a complete *******!

Eventually, I left, feigning a dentist appointment and going to see my friend who worked at a recruitment agency.  Bless her, she got me into a temping job within two days and I was so happy to never have to see the misogynistic gits again.

If any of this happened to me now, I would stand up for myself and not tolerate it.  I certainly would not run away, as I did back then, but I was young and didn't have the level of confidence that I now have.  I know many strong young women, who would be able to stand up for themselves, but often, the confidence to challenge and out that sort of behaviour comes with age and experience.

One thing that would have made a difference though, is if the other women there had been supportive; not just the receptionist, but the older women who worked in the back office.  I was in the "blokes' side" of the business though and they were in admin and finance, the "girls' side". I felt very isolated.

Thankfully, the world has moved on now and I hope that whilst the junior staff member will always have to do the mundane things, as they start on the bottom rung of the ladder; they will not also be treated badly because they happen to be female too.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Councillors - Knowing me, knowing you

At the risk of making many of you click off this post, I am beginning with the line, "as a local councillor..." but please, stick with me!

As a local councillor, (see, I warned you I was going to do that!) I am frequently pulled from pillar to post.  I have a wide range of issues to deal with on a daily basis and I combine this with a full time job, volunteer positions and a family of three children, plus @CllrTim

Being a local councillor is often challenging, the public needs to know who is representing them and what it is we do as their councillors.  Sometimes people only find out who you are when they need assistance, which means that people who may not need direct and specific advice, don't appreciate how the more general work their local councillors do affects them.

When tackling an issue, it is sometimes necessary to give people news they would rather not hear and sometimes, you work for hours, try your absolute best and just cannot get the resolution someone wants.

So yes, you get it, it isn't easy. 

BUT! Those occasions when you have done all that and it works, when you have helped to solve a problem that has caused misery for a family or has felt impossible for someone to get to the bottom of, are brilliant! When you answer the phone and get a thank you, or when someone stops you in the local supermarket to say that issue you took up on their behalf has been resolved...that is when you realise it is all worth it.

That is not the point of this post though.  For quite some time, being a councillor was something that someone did when they retired.  I am not suggesting they didn't do it well, or that they were not fully committed to the job; I am however glad that is changing.  When I was first elected, aged 39, I was the youngest person in the council chamber, prior to that it had been Tim - who upon his election, had brought the mean councillor age down too.  Some of those councillors proved to be a fantastic source of information and support for those of us who were newly elected.  Their experience was brilliant and their patience and kindness in advising and mentoring was invaluable.  Their guidance on how to avoid common pitfalls, what we should ALWAYS prioritise and how we should conduct ourselves in meetings and with members of the public still forms the basis of how I work.  I value that advice to this day and am fortunate to still have some of those councillors advising and helping me still.

That said, the reason I am glad that the mean age is reducing is because it makes the council chamber more reflective of the communities we represent.  Our council chamber obviously has councillors who are retired, but we also have councillors who also work full time, who are parents of school-age and grown-up children, grandparents, working parents, stay-at-home parents, union members,  seasoned travellers, business owners, people with disabilities, some who have experienced serious illness and relied on our local hospital and health services, former teachers, former and current students and a hugely broad range of experience from life and work.

It is incredibly important that councillors are representative of their communities and understand the issues that are important to the people who live there.  Councillors will receive queries and deal with casework on a vast array of subjects that affect people from all demographics, there is no 'typical' enquiry or one-size-fits-all response.  There is however one common theme - everyone who you represent lives in one area. For me, that is my area too, which is an advantage for me, in that I am sometimes also affected by the issues that matter to the people I represent, whether it is a contentious development, an issue of pollution or anti social behaviour. I know of many brilliant and effective councillors who do not live in the ward they represent, so it is not a necessity, but it can sometimes help.

The main point I am making here is that no matter what your age, background, education, world or work experience, family background, or where you live... Understanding and knowing the people you represent is a key element of getting it right and this must be the basis of everything you do.