Roseann Kelly MBE, CEO of Women in Business
Female leadership in Northern Ireland. How can a five-word strapline bring about such a revealing, poignant and at-times alarming conversation?
And yet, that was very much the case during a recent virtual event hosted by Queen’s University, where Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and Jenny Pyper, Interim Head of the NI Civil Service, came together to discuss women in leadership, including the progress that’s been made and the many barriers still to overcome.
What was once a male-dominated sphere has now reached a greater sense of gender equality, though women remain under-represented in senior positions across a range of our employment sectors. Worse still, those who do go on to become leaders in their respective field often encounter discrimination and even misogyny on their path to success.
Why should female accomplishments come at a cost?
If a man is ambitious, he’s a visionary. However, apply that same descriptor to a woman, and suddenly she’s aggressive, demanding, difficult… and possibly even undesirable. It’s time to deconstruct the lexicon surrounding women in the workplace and drag it into the 21st century. To a time and place where ‘female ambition’ is less of a dirty word, and more a cause for celebration.
Buzzwords and office slurs that promote disparity between men and women – however subtle they may be – only serve to perpetuate the very attitudes and behaviours at the root of a patriarchal society.
Which is why it is so vitally important to platform these issues and ensure the onus of responsibility lies not with the person subjected to discrimination and abuse, but with those outside the marginalised group. In the words of actor and equality campaigner Nicola Thorp: “the only thing necessary for the triumph of misogyny is for good men to do nothing.”
So today, I am calling upon the men of Northern Ireland who see first-hand the abuses women are subjected to, who see the harassment and hear the sexual jokes, to take an active stance in speaking out against it.
You need to let misogynists know this behaviour is not only inappropriate, but deeply distressing. They ought to know that they are not funny, that it is not ok to talk about a female colleague in a demeaning way or to intimidate. They need to know that you think less of them and that they will be held to account for their words and actions.
Doing nothing is no longer an option. Frankly it never was. And the sooner men focus their attention on educating other men – friends, colleagues, family members – the sooner we can weed out misogyny from our places of work.
We are dependent on good men to make a difference. If you see misogynistic abuse of any kind – either online or in person…. call it out.
Every. Single. Time.