When I started a search firm dedicated to sourcing female talent for industry, I was told by many people, including loved ones, that I was crazy. And in many ways they were right. What ensued was a frequently challenging and oft unrewarding time in my career. I watched good, strong competitors close down when there should be enough space for 100 more businesses like us, I have had a colleague sit me down and question the markets desire for a gendered recruitment service, yet through it all I #pressedforprogress.
I press for progress for my grandmother, whose father, on learning she had taken a job, walked into her employer on her first day and dragged her out, he was so humiliated a daughter of his would work. The same woman who now, after a lifetime of normalised misogyny, still refuses to go to a female doctor.
I press for progress for my mother who, as with many women of her generation that pushed for equality, was often ridiculed and sexualised in her attempts to stand up for herself at work.
I press for progress for my foster daughters, so that the examples above may seem ludicrous to them when they reach the workforce. I press for progress for myself, so that I don’t have to hide my pregnancy bump as though I have leprosy.
I like the theme #pressedforprogress because it doesn’t imply we are at the finish line, it doesn’t ask for success stories. It asks what stage of the movement we are at today and what are we doing today that is different from yesterday. Being an open advocate for a cause like gender equality is daunting, it creates a genuine vulnerability from a reputation and physical safety perspective. I have seen it myself when I say I am a feminist at social events and people look at me like I’m about to rip off my bra and grill it on the BBQ, whilst singing Lesley Gores ‘You don’t own me.’ Or when emailing a former colleague about assisting them to hire more women and getting a vitriolic tirade that I am discriminating against men.
This fear of being disliked, hated even, for a long time has continued to hold me back. I am eternally grateful to women who speak without fear, or despite fear, like Clementine Ford, Constance Hall, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Celeste Liddle so that I don’t have to. I don’t want rape threats, death threats, or any type of trolling that is the consequence endured by outspoken women. I had a very short lived reality tv career and I can still remember the hurtful remarks people made online on everything from my appearance to intelligence, as though it was my best friend that had sat me down and said them as known facts.
So for me the challenge to press for progress means I need to get comfortable with people disagreeing with me. I have to accept that some people wont like me for standing up for gender equality. Pressing for progress means I need the resilience to continue to speak out when it is easier not to. It means I and my colleagues must choose hope over diversity fatigue again and again and again. Pressing for progress is not a celebration that we have won, it is a call to action on all that must be begun.