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Guest post from Genny Stevens
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, when I think of feminism I want to scream and rant and rave and smash things.
Mainly the patriarchy?—?I’d like to smash that shit apart.
The promise of equality has been dangled in front of us for 50 years or more and has been very ‘over promise and under deliver’. And by ‘us’ I mean anyone who doesn’t automatically and primarily benefit from the patriarchy?—?whatever gender, sexual orientation, race, or ableness.
I’ve worked full time for the last 30 years and have had more jobs in a huge variety of industries than what is decent. I’ve seen some things. Right now, I’m a middle aged, middle manager, in NZs fastest growing tech company.
My first job was in a male dominated industry. In fact, every job I had was in a male dominated industry.
Because there is no such thing as a female dominated industry.
Childcare, nursing, teaching, the industries where women do dominate?—?are constantly undermined by a society that devalues anything feminine and over-values anything masculine. They are underpaid, undervalued, and at the constant whim of a politician. The patriarchy still dominates.
There is no opposite to a male dominated industry. Period.
I have hope, however, the tech industry can change this.
I am aware of the misogyny in tech. It is as flawed as any other industry is right now. But as an industry it is a fast moving disruptor and truly has the potential to change the world with us as part of it. I want to be part of that change however small my part may be.
I’ve not heard any other industry even paying lip service on equality in the workforce. You don’t hear about the hospitality industry trying to improve conditions for women. In fact as an industry they’re still quite silent when it comes to how their female workers are treated by men in power.
The most powerful changes which happen in the world, or in our personal lives, are often the smallest changes combining into a powerful force.
The most powerful change can start with just 4 words of encouragement. ‘you can do it’. That’s it. That’s sometimes all a person needs to hear.
My parents were great fans of the ‘how could you, why can’t you be more like so and so, what a disappointment’ school of parenting. I heard a lot about what I did wrong, and never heard much about how I could do something right. I’m not even going to talk about the kind of marriage I got myself into aged 20. But when I finally got out of it I’d kinda lost my shit. I was 27, separated, with 2 toddlers. I was at the bottom of my barrel and had very few coping mechanisms.
I somehow got myself to India for 3 months hoping for something to happen. Mainly travel, but maybe some life changing moment. I took a camera and returned with about 20 rolls of photos.
I was working in cafes then and showed the photos to some regular customers. One of them said?—?‘they’re good, you could exhibit them and the council even have money for that kind of thing?—?you can do it’.
Somehow I heard him. It was the way he said it. It was genuine, realistic, and it was inspiring?—?it wasn’t the fake ‘oh sure, you can totally be an astronaut’. And I heard him. i didn’t reject those words.
So I organised a small exhibition with dancers, storytellers, jugglers, and my photos on the wall of an Indian restaurant. I even sold a few.
The following year I organised another event involving several hundred people?—?all because of what this one person said.
A stronger person would have turned these events into a career. Thing was, I was still losing my shit. I was still at the bottom of my barrel but now the barrel had a little ladder and some touchstones in my back pocket. And while it took a long time to truly believe in myself. That first event was the pivotal point in believing I could do something. I dare not think where I would be if one person had not said ‘you can do it.”
The patriarchy is my parents voice telling women that we aren’t good enough, whatever we do is wrong, who do we think we are. It is up to us to be the person who says?—?you can do it. Take every opportunity to say; ‘Yes you can apply for that kickass job, you must do that new project, you can start up a business with that awesome idea!’
Those four words ‘you can do it’ really have the ability to change lives.
Most importantly we must hear these words.
That was 17 years ago. In that time I re-partnered, and my depression was diagnosed. Medication altered my mind to work with me not against me. I was out of the barrel looking around the landscape of life and the journey continued.
Everything challenged me, parenting, work, getting out of bed. I couldn’t have it all. Some people can. Everyone is different. For me surviving and getting the kids through high school was what I could do. I’d worked my way out of hospitality and turned myself into a bookkeeper, ending up in the most boring accounts job in the world. It was awful. I was suffocating. The path I was on led nowhere. I needed to make a change.
I was massively into the craft world, and had been podcasting for a year or so. After going to an event in the US I saw a dynamic, fun world and wanted to be part of it. So I decided to start a magazine. as you do. I mean how hard can it be?
Within 2 months the preview issue of entangled magazine hit the digital shelves. It was a slick, high end looking magazine which didn’t look like it was made late at night in a basement garage in New Zealand.
A year later I realised my life hadn’t really changed, all I’d done was add more work to it. I needed a leap of faith. So I left my partner, my job, the kids now adults and ready to flat, and moved 500 km away.
I worked 16 hour days, the magazine grew slowly, I went through a business incubator programme. I was finding out what I was good at and what I wasn’t. After 10 months and a second magazine later, I had a meeting with someone who changed it all. He pointed out what in my heart I knew. The business had potential, but it wasn’t going to be the kind of business I wanted. At best I’d be earning the equivalent of a corporate salary after several years of serious investment in both time and money. I stopped the business the next day.
My business wasn’t a success, but the leap of faith was. I changed my life. I’ve now got the kind of work where I love getting up every day. I’m living life exactly how I want when I want.
It’s always women who comment on my courage to take the leap of faith. Leaps of faith are really fucking scary?—?but they always work out one way or another. We must trust our strength, we must trust that we will survive a leap of faith.
Even though I can take great leaps of faith, I still have to challenge my own self perceptions.
I’ve always wanted to speak at events like this, but I had to wait until I was somebody more important.
Until I realised I didn’t.
When the email came asking me if I’d like to speak tonight?—?my first instinct was ‘no, I’m not important enough’. But then I realised, I had an opportunity and opportunities musn’t be wasted. I may just be a middle aged middle manager, but I am already somebody. You are already somebody.
Planning this talk, I wasn’t sure the point of not being important enough was important enough. Until I had 3 different women in one week alone, say to me they don’t feel they can speak up or do something to address gender imbalance in the workplace until they are ‘someone more important’.
We are taught to not speak up, we are taught to be quiet. Work hard and wait to get noticed.
Whether it’s conditioning or whether men and women have different ways of communicating, it doesn’t matter. I’m sick of us not being heard.
I want the world to accept there is more than one style of speaking up and it needs to learn have more than one style of listening.
In the meantime you are already somebody?—?I give you permission to speak now. You are already somebody. You are already important.
We cannot let women leaders shoulder this on their own, they need us behind them. They are also being told to sit down, shut up, and go away. They are being bullied, threatened, and harassed. We are already somebody, who can do something. Your voice is valid, it is important, it is needed.
It’s been 17 years since I first heard those words ‘you can do it’. In that time I’ve done lots of things, and in some respect I’ve done nothing. I’m not a great leader with great power to make great changes in the world. But I am a middle aged middle manager with the power to make daily changes to my world. I’m going to tell you that ‘you can do it’, I’m going to encourage you to take leaps of faith, I will speak up and hear you when you speak. I will add my voice to others until we are heard. I will take every opportunity to ensure that the future women leaders don’t have to fight this shit any more.
Genny works for Xero. Communicates the ‘how’ of WorkflowMax. Superpower is GSD, can’t leap tall buildings but loves leaps of faith.