International Women’s Week continued with its slogan #BeBoldForChange with an event co-hosted by two individual students, Aislinn Brennan and Estelle Reeves Long, breaking the trend of a society-dominated week. More of an informal panel discussion in comparison to other events, three female speakers discussed their own experiences of being “Women in the Workplace”.
Two of the three speakers are active members of the Green Party, namely Una Power of “Women for Election”, and Nadia Reeves Long, a former Trinity BESS graduate working in KBC. This led to some shared experiences having worked in similar areas. The third speaker, Vickey Curtis, provided some variety with a wide range of career experiences from broadcasting for RTÉ to being a spoken word poet.
The chair began with an explanation as to why they came up with the idea for this panel, listing off facts and figures of female employment in Europe, including a study into female participation in directing films. It claimed that when focusing on the top 250 films in Hollywood in 2016, 7% of the directors were female – a drop from 9% in 2015. The audience appeared shocked when Reeves-Long said that at the current rate gender equality would not be achieved for “another 170 years”.
The speakers were first addressed with the simple question of when they themselves had been bold for change. Una cited her choice to get involved with “Women for Election” upon graduation after rejecting job offers from call centres, and Nadia also cited a post-college experience when she negotiated for a pay rise when she felt it wasn’t fair. Vickey detailed an instance where she refused to accept an order given to her by a communications director in RTÉ, who told her that she was not allowed to visibly take a stance in the marriage referendum. She walked in the next day in her “Yes Equality high-vis” and explained how ridiculous the situation was as she was just “on Republic of Telly ordering sheep for sketches”.
The speakers were reminded that it is often very difficult for people to stand up for themselves in their workplace for fear of appearing “bossy”, to which they all agreed. Nadia said that it was often difficult for people to recognise gender biases. Even biases that seem less significant, such as “less access to senior management”, still have great psychological effects on workers. Vickey gave a few examples of when she had been harassed at work, including one guy who “says ‘hello gorgeous!’ to us [but] a lot of people just take that for granted as ‘what he does’”. These occurrences prompted her to hold an event entitled “Vickey Curtis Isn’t Sorry” after realising how often she apologised for other people’s behaviour towards her.
The evening became slightly controversial when the issue of gender quotas was brought up by Estelle, who claimed to “play Devil’s Advocate” by suggesting that it might prevent people deserving of jobs from getting them, and that they are not always effective. Una expressed her strong belief in the work of gender quotas, citing how the effectiveness in increasing female representation it had in the Belgian government – increasing 40% since they were introduced in 1996. Vickey also expressed her support for them but momentarily divided the crowd as she called herself a sexist: “I’m sexist because when I do a show I engage with women first. We need to be more vocal about our own talents and skills and operate in circles with just women.”
The evening concluded with a few questions from the crowd, one provoking nervous laughter as a student from UCD asked “how can I facilitate them (female friends) without mansplaining how to talk?”, after complaining that his female classmates do not speak up as much as others. The panel agreed that one must simply encourage people to participate and let them know that their voice is important too, even if the statistics discourage you.