So I’ve caused a bit of an unintentional stir at work over the past 2 weeks.
In my office we have 4 meeting rooms and, as our company’s catch phrase is ‘Turning heads’, each meeting room is named after a celebrity, or public figure who has turned heads. So, you have;
John Lennon, John McEnroe, Winston Churchill, and then lastly Marilyn Monroe.
Last week a colleague was asked to look into how we can decorate the rooms to represent the public figure it was named after, and it got me thinking. So we have a male musician, a male sportsman, a male politician, and a female… what? I know Marilyn starred in many films and was extremely successful during her time, however what do this generation mostly recognise Marilyn Monroe for? To put it bluntly, her looks. She is a sex symbol, in fact THE sex symbol. My generation and younger aren’t likely to know that she was in movies such as ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ or ‘Some Like It Hot’, let alone have seen those films. They will, in fact, most likely recognise her for her blonde bombshell hair, her voluptuous figure, and her sex appeal.
And this didn’t sit quite right with me.
Now, whilst I’m not one for putting a successful female down, and I do appreciate that Marilyn did play an important part in perhaps showing women that they can love their curves and embrace their sexy side, I just felt that there were a hell of a lot more women in history who have done a lot more to make a difference in the world. Who have used their brains and knowledge to make a change, rather than their appearance. And that it would be wiser and sit better if we choose to celebrate that.
Now, with this thought niggling away at me, I began to vocalise it. Firstly to my fellow female colleagues, who then encouraged me to raise it with the decision makers within the company – who, admittedly, are male. And so, I raised my point to 3 of my male Managers, who also happen to be Members of the Board within the company. Now, I feel it’s important to say, I had no idea what I wanted to do with this observation of mine. Whilst it didn’t sit right, I had no action or resolution I was aiming towards. However, I took my colleague’s advice and I sat and told them my thoughts on this matter, and whilst they listened respectively to my point, I was then unfortunately met with laughter. I don’t think that it at all was meant maliciously, I think that they in fact didn’t know whether I was being serious or not – it being the first time I’ve ever brought something like this up in the workplace. But, as soon as I heard that laughter, which was in front of a good majority of the company, I felt belittled and demeaned, and it made me angry.
This was a thought of mine, which had unintentionally caused a stir in the office. And whilst I had no plans to take any action from this, as soon as I heard that laughter, I knew then and there that I was going to pursue this, and take action.
The next day, much to my delight, one of the gentlemen I made my case to actually took me seriously, and gave me a shortlist of women he felt would be a better fit. I then sent an email to all involved making my case, and including my shortlist of women, and I concluded with my resolution of a company vote. It was approved.
After a company vote, the Marilyn Monroe room was replaced with a new title, the Emmeline Pankhurst room – for obvious reasons. Others on the shortlist included Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher and Amelia Earhart.
Now, the name of a meeting room may seem, in principle, not a very important issue within the workplace – particularly not one which should evoke such a reaction. Initially I felt embarrassed, and I didn’t go in with a resolution straight away as I thought that this was perhaps too little an issue. However, I realised that no fight for equality is too small. It’s important to pave the way for a more fair and equal society, and with that, every little way in which we can improve and reflect this in our decisions is something we need to address. Not only that, but it’s also about educating people, making them aware of what they can do differently to make a more equal world. Gender equality isn’t perhaps something that is at the forefront of my male colleagues minds, however hopefully I may have given them an opportunity to think about it in more depth.
The following day I received an email from the key decision maker at work, whose initial reaction was to laugh at my observation. He had written to tell me that he admired my tenacity, and that I was right. Safe to say, that email is stored on my desktop in it’s own little folder, for me to look at on the very few days when I may doubt my ability to fight for gender equality. Heck, I may even frame it and stick in on my wall!