This week I was asked to speak at a conference for young female leaders. I decided to address the most ridiculous insults I had received in my working life so far over the last 25 years. Here are some of the highlights, many from my time in the entertainment industry. I’m pretty sure there will still be more to come.
‘Take a look at this porn magazine. Does it turn you on?’
- My first boss. I was 15-years-old. He was 68.
Who do you go to when you’re young and being sexually harassed at work? The reality is that young girls are hit on all the time, and when that happens in the workplace, it is even harder to manage. It is not your fault, and it is not okay. You need to tell someone you trust, whether another senior manager or co-worker, a family member or friend. Don’t try and handle it on your own, and definitely don’t ignore it.
‘You have one thing going for you, and one thing going against you – your face.’
- A female producer when I told her I wanted to work in production.
Managing expectations based on your physical appearance was never something I thought I needed to prepare for. But being blonde, many assumed I was stupid, and I can’t begin to describe the number of dumb blonde jokes I’ve heard. I also have big boobs. So I was a huge target for men to flirt with me, and other women to hate me. Over the years, some people assumed that I had got as far as I did in my career based solely on my looks. Very few talked about the late hours and hard work I put into my job. Unfortunately, sometimes it comes down to working twice as hard to be considered half as good. It sucks, but that is sometimes the reality.
‘There are only two roles for women in the film industry. One is hair & make-up, and the other is continuity.’
- My first film school lecturer (male)
I can’t even begin to describe my facial expression when I heard that. Don’t let anyone pigeon-hole you. Women can be anything they want to be.
‘Get used to people calling you a c**t’
My first male mentor in the film industry when I told him I wanted to be a producer.
It’s the age-old argument - women are perceived as bitches when they are assertive and strong. When a male counterpart acts in the same way, they are considered firm and decisive leaders. Let’s look at the traits most women have and see them as positives, not negatives - collaboration & teamwork, kindness, empathy, intuition, multi-tasking excellence, organisation, seeking respect more than recognition, and inspiring others to achieve by being big believers in team building. I’m pretty happy with that lot. Aren’t you?
‘You don’t know what you want, you’re a baby. Spend one night with me and you’ll realise you’re into women.’
- A female executive producer. I was 21.
Handling unwarranted advances from another woman was tough. We assume we can rely on other women to have our backs, especially when we see them as older role models. If you ever find yourself in this situation, talk to someone you trust.
‘That’s too much money for you to be earning at your age.’
- My parents when they found out how much I was being paid in my first producing role aged 22.
Should we feel guilty for achieving more than our parents? Or our friends? No. Don’t feel guilty about your income. Remember, there will always be someone earning more than you, and someone earning less than you. Just be conscious of where other people may be at in their career paths and earning power. It’s best not to go to an expensive restaurant or order an expensive bottle of wine if your buddies aren’t in the same income bracket as you.
‘Why don’t we go back to my hotel room and we can talk more?’
- A former boss.
I thought I would lose my job if I refused his offer. So my solution? I pretended to go to the bathroom and asked one of the hotel staff to get me up to my own room safely through a back service door of the hotel. The boss acted like nothing had happened the next morning. Prick.
‘I don’t take direction from a woman.’
- An older male Director of Photography when I was directing a documentary.
Sometimes, you’re going to work with misogynistic old bastards who refuse to acknowledge your existence. It says more about them than it ever will about you. Remember, they’re going to be retiring in the not too distant future. Tell them to pull their heads in and act like a professional. If all else fails, rally support around you.
‘What do you mean you own your own company? Who is your boss?’
A male advertising client
Why aren’t there more female CEOs or women in senior management? The only way to change this is to have more women on company boards. More women on boards equal more female candidates, so when it comes time to vote for CEO’s, those women on boards have a say. You can study under Governance NZ, which has incorporated Women on Boards to promote gender diversity.
‘She can’t do her job properly because she’s pregnant.’
A male co-worker.
This gentleman was fired from the project because I had an amazingly supportive manager who was a single working mum, and she understood what I was up against. Surround yourself with positive women, especially other working mothers. As a business owner, I get it when a female employee asks if she can leave early because she needs to be at her kid’s prize-giving. But I also know that same woman will come in an hour early the next day, or work overtime to make up for it. I know I did.
‘Do you have your period or something?’
- A male co-worker.
Fact. Women have periods. So what if we have to eat chocolate and pop ibuprofen once a month while we’re at it? Sometimes we can also be absolutely normal and no one would know we’re bleeding from our nether-regions. Deal with it fellas.