Despite how far we have come in addressing the issue of gender equality, we still have some way to go. This is especially important when considering the prejudices associated with being a working parent.
Louise Mackintosh is a career driven working parent, something that many consider don’t go hand in hand. In her blog, Louise tells us about her struggles of facing prejudice and discrimination at work. She also tells us about barriers she’s faced in the workplace and her decision to leave an established career behind to set up a raw dog food business at the age of 42.
Struggles I’ve faced in my career
I chose to go into PR where I felt that I was largely seen by my clients as just another ‘PR girl’. The label ‘PR girls’ is too often defined as pretty young women who chaperone meetings with little value to add, as opposed to the important reputation and relationship managers they really are. ‘PR girls’ therefore, aren’t high on the pecking order of any holding this prejudice. I didn’t let that stop me. I regularly found myself in rooms of senior clients – so often older men – realising that I was cleverer than all of them. I was bright, quick, strategic, insightful and logical. Luckily, I was I did not also have a tick in the ‘pretty’ box. At the time being pretty and a ‘PR girl’ was the worst combination possible as it was twice the battle to be heard! When I did speak up and make my case, it was at least easier for these clients to accept me as clever and strategic. A disturbing statement maybe, but true.
I am also dyslexic. This is something I found out when I was 21. By this point, I had created my own strategies for dealing with the way my brain interprets the world. But knowing exactly what the issue was – and I had long since known there was something blocking me – was a profound and life-changing experience. Knowing WHY was empowering because knowledge is power. At that time, I felt that, in the world of PR being dyslexic was, sadly, an (unofficial) sackable offence. Ok, no one will actually admit that out loud but it’s true. This is why I chose not to tell any of my employers. I kept it quiet for self-preservation. And although it made life in a writing-based industry very hard, I persevered. And I did well. I rose through the ranks of the agencies I worked for and ended up at Associate Director level. I was ALWAYS criticised for having lax attention to detail but apart from that, I managed it unscathed. I feel I really should tell a few former bosses where to stick their prejudice now!
Balancing a family and a career
My next barrier was Motherhood. You will have read this before I am sure, but becoming a mother essentially cast me as a pariah in my place of work. Even in the female-dominated profession of PR I became a second-class citizen the moment I announced my pregnancy. Admittedly I was pregnant with twins and my baby brain was HORRENDOUS but still, once I was back from maternity leave I was the same person. Actually no. I was the same person with more focus and better skills. However, when I returned it was during the recession and I was given a job which didn’t really exist because the company was too afraid to make me redundant. It was then made impossible for me to succeed in that job. I was actively excluded from the finance meetings I had been a part of before my pregnancy and in all ways demoted from my previous position. All of this was so unbelievably shortsighted. Tell me you need someone to properly multitask while strategising and problem-solving simultaneously, under time pressure, and I will show you a working mother. But no one ever sees that. They just see a lesser person now ‘distracted’ by their children. More fool them. It’s important to view parenthood as an asset to employment – because it’s the world’s greatest training ground. The workplace should champion these skills, as we do at Poppy’s Picnic, rather than dismiss them as irrelevant.
I actually believe we all have this secret set of superpowers but they often only reveal themselves when you become a parent. I wish we could all switch to a four-day working week, easily fitting everything we need to do into four days rather than five (ask any working parent if you need evidence that this is possible) and then we’d have three days left, the weekend plus one whole day for all the other stuff we need to do. In my case the kids would still go to school but I would have an Admin Day. Bliss.
My current role
I am currently living in the middle of a pretty big barrier. At the age of 42, I chose to leave my established career in PR (which I had been doing for 15+ years), where I knew precisely what I was talking about 90% of the time, and started again from scratch setting up a dog food company. As you do. As I write I am the MD of raw dog food manufacturer Poppy’s Picnic, www.poppyspicnic.co.uk, and, honestly, I know what I am talking about approximately 30% of the time. Every single day throws up new topics I have never dealt with before and I have to catch up and then make decisions based on what little experience I have.
Why I keep going
I’m stubborn I guess. I don’t take well to being put down. When people put me down, or suggest I should not do things my own way (red rag to a bull!), I just carried on regardless. I am also a people pleaser. I want those around me to be happy. Because happy people work better. I need to carry on to ensure that these people, who are entrusted to me as my staff, can rely on me to continue to be here, for them.
And my children of course. I want more for them than I had. Wider choices and more… comfort. My childhood was not comfortable on any level and my children deserve better.
Why #YesSheCan is important
My daughter is nine. She has a twin brother. I want them both to grow up with as equal an opportunity in life as each other. As an equalitist I hope my son has as much of a fair deal as my daughter and things have not tipped too far the other way.
So my answer would be that ‘Yes You Can’ is important to me. But Yes SHE Can has a place to bring up the scales to meet in that all-important middle ground. Like all women (I’d wager) I have experienced the rough end of misogyny in all its forms; prejudice, inequality, sexism, ignorance, abuse and…. mansplaining (why?!??!). Historically we tolerated this and now we don’t. Something has shifted and the world is changing. Amazing! About bloody time! It’s a major, great step in the right direction.
What I am now surprised by is the subtler inequality, the engrained patriarchy, that will take a lot longer to iron out of our psyche. So much of our context is male-based that we barely even realise it. My daughter has a book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, full of women who have done amazing things. Most of whom I have never heard of. Our history and culture has continually and consistently ignored the efforts of women and edited them out of the records. Trying to explain that – and more importantly why – to a nine-year-old in 2019 is really hard!
I hate tokenism, so my solution is not to wang a load of Women In stuff to attempt to redress the balance. As I say, I have a son and don’t want him to live through an era of suppressed men. That’s not fair… and it’s certainly not equal. I would hate to think that, as a woman in my field, I had been promoted and celebrated because I was a woman first, and clever/successful/insightful/funny/powerful/talented second.
Quite simply, I want my daughter to be able to do what she wants without oppression. And my son. And everybody. That is probably naive and overly optimistic of me, but a girl can dream!
Louise Mackintosh is striking the balance between managing a career and being a parent, something which affects many people in the modern workplace. If you're interested in reading about more inspirational women, check out our other post on Sarah Freeman!