Women at work uncovered - part 1

Women at work uncovered - part 1

Jane* worked in the Finance Industry and was based in London for 13 years.  During this time she worked her way up from the most junior of positions but it wasn't until she became a manager that she had a moment of clarity on how discriminatory the industry was.  And I am not talking about pay I am talking about dress or more specifically dresses.

This week's blog looks at the discriminatory practices in the finance industry and is the first of a series to look into the issues of women and their image at work.

Jane admits herself that she became used to the sexist unofficial regulations of womens work wear and in fact positively encouraged new female staff to follow those rules 'as it was just what we all did'.

*The following is an interview held recently with Jane who even now, when she is no longer part of this industry, is too concerned about the underlying bullying male culture, to name and shame and to be identified.

Jane - 'It was most sensible to conform and wear a suit to be safe, to not look feminine otherwise you would get lots of unwanted attention, and not very nice unwanted attention". 

She explains how women at work wouldn't wear dresses, 'stuck to suits' and that it was the norm to be propositioned in a sexual way by her male colleagues, expecially at events when she was 'away'.  She states that it was alot of bravado, hidden threats and intimidation; connotation rather than action, however it was very unnerving, distressing and demeaning.

Jane - 'In the finance world 'they' (her male colleagues) would never DO anything.  If I'd have said yes to their propositions (but I didn't), then they would have backed out.  They didn't want anything to happen, not in reality, they just wanted to know that it was a possibility, it was all about ego.  Especially at conferences'.

Jane stated that she purposely wore dark clothes that were of a masculine fit and style and chose to not look feminine or wear anything that would show her shape.

JBT - "So you purposely chose to wear dark clothes with a masculine style, when it came to conferences and events in general?

Jane - "Unless it was an event when I was a host or had to be noticed then I would wear a grey or a red dress (red is my favourite colour) or something that would make me stand out when I was presenting, otherwise yes, I would wear black or grey and try and blend in with the men".  

Promotion into a managers position caused Jane to reflect on this harrassment and her conscious choice to dress like a man.   She was now mentoring and training new female staff who were now in her old shoes and learning the hard way.

Jane - "I didn't think about it at the time but when I became management I had to give the younger girls the tips about dressing like a man and I then realised I was making conscious choices.  I never really thought about it as an issue, until then.  It was just part of the job.  You work in a mans world and accept it (the way you have to dress) or you leave.

One of the global finance groups where Jane worked had an extensive interview process with a blatantly discriminatory and degrading final test for female employees only. 

Jane - 'The final stage of the process was to walk into their (the female candidates) future bosses office, walk directly into the room, turn around so that he could see you in full, then walk straight out again.  It was the final part of the application process and one you could fail if you didn't have a good enough body and weren't sexy enough.  The male boss would have the final say, whether you were in or not, you would be told you were 'unsuccessful'.

JBT - 'Was this standard throughout the company or just one manager in particular?'

Jane - 'It was the final test, the top boss got to decide in this way'.

JBT - 'But nothing was done about this.  Why not?'

Jane - 'It was just accpeted, we accpeted it, we didn't dare complain and we wanted the job'.

JBT - 'Is this one of the reasons why you left the finance world?'

Jane - 'Yes, I had enough of it eventually, didn't think I could change it so I left completely'.

JBT - 'Now that you are out of the industry, how do you feel about this behaviour and how it impacted on you as a female in a male dominated industry?"

Jane - 'Now I look back it must have impacted me alot, I just didn't really think about it'.

Jane went on to explain that In 2008 there was a significant change in the finance industry as a lot of the older IFA's left due to the new regulations. More younger men were employed and the cultural environment became less sexist and more equal across the industry.  Jane knows that women still feel the need to dress in dark colours, to be very careful of wearing anything fitting and generally make a point of blending in wearing more of a masculine style dress than dressing as a powerful woman.

As a stylist who has styled many women in the finance and male-dominated professions sadly this mindset is way too common.

Part 2 of this blog will delve further into the impact of dressing to blend in and hide.

This is a contentious issue and one many men I am sure will feel strongly about but conversation creates awareness and having been the only female in many organisations I come from a place of experience and with a huge desire for change.