Strong women, do they scare me? Not in the least, in fact I love them so much I married one.
Some men find it hard to deal with women who are more educated, have a more successful career, and a lot of the time, earn more money than them. Men are strange creatures and their instinctive behaviour is to show who is the Alpha male. More especially when the female is stronger mentally and sometimes physically. This is probably the cause for a lot of the abuse of women because men can’t handle the success of their female counterparts.
On the flip side, some women can’t handle their own success or the power they receive when they achieve their goals. One of my struggles with women is my personal experience with women in the working world.
Here is a bit of background on myself, and where I stand with regards to the education of women, career women, and strong women. In my family, besides my parents, I have one sibling, my sister. She is well educated, with a postgraduate degree, and has a very good HR job in a large organisation. My mother, although she stayed at home to take care of my sister and I for most of our life (she passed away 13 years ago), had a degree (Bachelor of Commerce) and full-time employment up until my sister was born. While we were growing up, she worked from home as a bookkeeper (as they used to call it) and later worked half day as an accountant when my sister and I went to high school. My granny from my mother's side was a very strong leader in the Muslim community in Durban as she founded and ran a school for underprivileged girls, teaching them not only about Islam, but also about life for over 30 years. The school grew in numbers and before she passed away 2 years ago, there were close to 400 current students at the Saturday classes, excluding the adult classes that she taught during the week.
The concept of women empowerment is not a new one to me, as I grew up in this kind of environment. It’s not surprising then, to say that I met my wife while studying my undergraduate degree at university. My wife completed her degree in marketing, media and communications before we settled down. She worked for a few years until our son was born nearly two years ago and now she is at home looking after him, but also running a business with me for the last year called iloveza.com where we aim to assist small businesses, and surprisingly most are owned by women.
It is not with the women who own these businesses that I struggle with rather it is women that I worked with in previous jobs.
For most of my working career I had female managers, in fact I’ve only had two permanent jobs where my managers were male but both were short lived as circumstances changed causing me to change jobs.
I am all for women empowerment and love that women are taking on more roles with more responsibilities but can they handle it?! I was always told that women can multi-task and was led to believe this to be true but working with them for almost 10 years has proven a lot different. I’ve noticed a few trends and it was especially prevalent in my last place of work were I was the only male amongst a team of 15 women.
Multi-tasking is definitely not a skill possessed by most women, well at least not in the work places that I have been. One task was too much for them. My last manager actually had her son sent to boarding school so that was one less thing to deal with, and either had her husband cook, or she would buy ready made meals just before she went home like the other women who had families in my team. I'm not criticising them and I'm not saying that men shouldn't take on more household roles which some of us do, but all those husbands/boyfriends also worked, so where did they find time to still cook or look after their family where these women could not?
About 8 years ago I joined a graduate programme of a large auditing firm. Females headed the graduate programme, females also managed my work placement during the term and the HR people that I was fortunate enough to interact with, were also females. The entire experience in the year that I was there was traumatic to say the least. Badly organised and run is an understatement. None of us on the graduate programme were placed in a permanent position after the programme had ended. My role at my work placement was not only doing my work, my manager’s work (who was female), but also doing my senior manager’s work (who was female). The "opportunity" was given to me to do everyone's work not because it would help me gain experience it was simply given to me because they could not handle the workload of those positions.
I personally think that the females who ran the graduate programme and my managers were incompetent at their given roles. Gender equality in the workplace is very good and should be practiced more, but I do have to draw the line when females or even males are awarded jobs that they are not qualified for just because someone is trying to make sure that the statistics of the company are not skewed.
The graduate programme didn’t end well for me, as the company had me falsely arrested for a crime I did not commit. This incident left me unable to find another job for 2 years as I was blacklisted because I had exposed the programme, how it was run over the 7 years that it had been in existence with regards to the training, placement after the programme and exploitation of the students on the programme. That was my first encounter of how women operate in the business world, ruthless. You could probably say it was a really bad break-up, and now I know the meaning of the saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned".
In 2011, I was fortunate to be employed by an educational institution. My manager, once again was a female. I worked at the institute for a few months and was lucky enough to study my honours through them, which took me a year to complete. During the year of my studies (which I did part-time as I was working at the institute), I reached most of my sales targets (as I was in a sales position), and was one of the top salespeople in my team as well as most respected and the ‘guy’ our manager would send to deal with problems that arose as she was quite ‘busy’. The following year as I had completed my honours in business management and had a proven sales record, I applied for other positions within the company including a sales manager position that become vacant. My sales manager was not happy with the situation, and once again I was stifled. Out of all the positions I applied for within the company and all the interviews I went for, none were successful. This was rather strange considering I met the requirements (some I was overqualified in education and in experience) for all the jobs, the interviewers all seemed to like me, but at the last minute something would always come up. I received "regret application unsuccessful" e-mails some with no reason and others with reasons like they still needed time to decide and they would need to interview more people or they just decided not to hire at that moment. This went on for months and I eventually started looking elsewhere and found a job outside of the company.
My last place of employment was at an HR outsourcing company. As mentioned before, there were only women in my team, including my manager. This is where everything that I experienced from the previous two jobs with females finally made sense to me.
I was hired to do sales for the company, but a few months in, my manager saw that I had potential to be a payroll consultant so she wanted me to learn the system, but took away my commission as she said I would receive an increase in salary once promoted. I learnt everything and a few months later I learnt how to do payroll implementations for large organisations, eventually it reached a stage where I knew everything there was to know about payroll. My manager then decided I should start shadowing her in the operations of the business. It wasn’t long until I knew the entire business, and while everyone was on holiday in December I ran the business - with only being in the business for 10 months (the shortest period of any of the other employees).
When it was time for me to be promoted, as I was now in a totally different role to that which I was employed, with a lot more responsibility, it was a very sensitive subject for my manager. There were a lot of excuses such as, the company can't afford it (even though they were hiring people in the sales position that I was in and offering them double my salary at the time) and there were bigger things to come I must just be patient. I was now doing everyone’s job including my manager's as every time an employee left, I was always the one who had to carry the load.
That’s when it struck it was the graduate programme all over again. My manager, like the other managers, was incompetent. She made me do all the work (like them) and was passing it off as her own (like them). When it came time for me to be rewarded (promoted/employed) it couldn’t be done because I was never given credit for the work that I did.
My aim is not to criticise these women, nor bad mouth them. This is just a personal account of my experiences and the unfortunate struggles that I faced working with them. Women in the ‘working world’ usually frown upon those who choose to stay at home to look after their families and/or run a business from home, when they should be celebrating and empowering every women no matter what they choose to do. Their inability, in my opinion, to acknowledge the strength of other women (not in the same corporate position as them) is their downfall and this attitude as well as their attitude to us men, is what spurs on our misunderstandings. Their inability (the ones who I’ve encountered) to give credit where it’s due for fear of their position, which equates to power and success is my grievance.
Today my perspective has changed or maybe I’m just lucky. My wife and business partner has shown me once again, like my mother did, that there are women who can multi-task, are strong, are successful, and are very good mothers. My wife who as I said before not only helps with the daily running of our businesses, but writes articles, and checks all the work that is done before it gets sent out. She also finds time to do catering, for her home industry that she has been running for a few years. Recently, in the last few months, she has taken on the role of a reader/scribe for children with special needs at a private school that she used to work for. All this including probably the toughest job in the world, which is looking after a very active toddler, our son. She cooks and cleans without any help (we don't have a domestic worker or nanny), and makes sure that our son is well rounded in his educational development. This is a true strong, successful woman and mother.