This man walks into a bar…and the barman says ‘why the long face’ and the man goes ‘because it’s 2017 and yet even an industry as, supposedly, open and enlightened as international education we are still surrounded by the same entrenched mental infrastructure that shackled the minds of our ancestors in terms of gender equality’.

The barman moves to serve another customer…

I am a man, I am British and I am quite tall and can grow a full beard. This list of attributes is virtually my CV. Most of the jobs I’ve had in our industry seem to have been given to me because of one or all of those, often, oddly, the last. To be fair, I have few other talents. But being a bloke has helped me climb the ladder, often passing far more qualified, capable, experienced female colleagues along the way. Our industry is approximately 80% women, unless you go on top….in which case it’s less than 12%.

Unless you go on top…snigger.

That puerile slice of double entendre is there because, when I read Nicola Lutz’s excellent piece on the way some people in our industry can behave last week, it got me thinking, as does most of her work. Partly, there are the broad brush strokes of sexism and gender politics that infest, the world and thus our business, but there are also the subtler, everyday things too.

We all know that, by and large, our industry is peopled by excellent people with broad minds and open perspectives. But there is an insidious thing, be it the default setting of people communicating in languages not their own or across cultures, or just being away from home….where some people, will resort to some sort of male culture of denigration and sexist knee jerk. Some men are incapable of meeting a female colleague without saying to their male colleagues afterwards something along the lines of ‘you know what she needs?’* or some sort of physical description ‘did you see the pair on that?’ or, as one friend once actually said: ‘she’s got a lovely chassis on her, I’d love to get under that bonnet, rub off the spark plugs, get it out on the open road and get her up in fifth gear’**. Still, by far, my favourite description of anybody ever. What do we say to these comments? Do we laugh along, desperate to prove we are lads, blokes and ‘real men’ (despite liking plush fabrics and having a penchant for salad and show-tunes)? Do we laugh at them, clip their ear and give them a suitably masculine insult? Passing it off. Do we attack and address this?

How often has a colleague given me information on a market and agents/clients and told me about a bloke being ‘sound’ or into sport/music/food/Napoleon*** and a woman being ‘fit’, ‘fat’ or ‘foxy’? But often, in their eyes, you can see they’re better than that, mouthing sexist platitudes they think they should. I’ve said them.

Because that’s how men speak. Don’t they?

Without wishing to sound like a puritan, I’ve been on trips or at conferences where, late at night, blokes will actually suggest a strip club. When I’ve said ‘no’ I’ve had the classic ‘what are you, gay?!’. Call me picky but watching a naked, bored, contemptuous, unhappy woman (statistically, also likely be drug dependent, trafficked or otherwise exploited) who I don’t know, gyrate while surrounded by a baying pack of drunken men doesn’t count as an erotic experience in my book.
I was once at a bar in a hotel in South East Asia, and got chatting to another European man****, not from our industry (he had a real job) about everything and anything. He was funny, he was ‘sound’ and he liked cashews and Elbow too. In under five minutes he was telling me, in eye-watering detail, what a prostitute had allowed him to do to her the night before, for money. Telling an actual person he’d just met, with glee, that he was so sad/desperate/lonely/bored/horny/troubled that he’d had to actually pay a stranger, who he knew felt no attraction for him at all, to sleep with him the night before. Did I rant at him? No, I sipped and listened as the train wreck of chat washed over me. It left a stain on my soul, the stain of his thinking I’d want to know.

Our industry is not like that….is it? Is it?

We are not a baying pack of drunken hounds, barking for titilation. We are so much better than that. Aren’t we? But what scale are we measuring on? Where is our benchmark? I’m not for a moment suggesting that we are all, always, only two drinks and several seconds away from a stag or hen party rampage, but how far are we from perpetuating the structure which lets the above seem okay? We’re not all pushing cash into sequinned underwear, but how often do we chat sport with someone, then promote them? Get someone to book us a hotel/teach a class/set up a conference and leave them at that level because they might breed or don’t shout much in meetings? Insidious sexism, like all use of almost subconscious level prejudice is great. It’s easy, we don’t even need to think about it…..oh.

When I speak at a conferences and always see a sea of female faces and a few men, but a largely male line up of speakers (including me) anywhere in the world….what do you think? Of course, there are a wide variety of reasons why women may choose not to put themselves forward at such events, or in such a way. Why anybody might not. But….

When Lead5050 started a lot of people in our industry said ‘we don’t need that anymore’.

In an era where the U.K. Prime Minister will still talk of domestic life dividing into ‘men jobs’ and ‘women jobs’ and the best-selling guides to business success are ‘The SAS: Leadership Secrets of the Special Forces’ or Ivanka Trump’s book (leading to her being hailed as a feminist icon) I hope you’ll agree, we do.

I’m not, for a moment, suggesting that our industry is run by a dark conclave of men, slapping waitresses buns and pushing money into spangled garter belts as they cackle into brandy glasses. I’m sorry if I sound sanctimonious. I am delighted to be lucky enough to work in an industry where most people are brilliant, beautiful and brave….all I’m saying is, when you hear that squeak of idiocy come out of someone’s mouth, call them on it. It’s not ‘ Bantz’…….it’s education.

*’not to have to work with a total prick?’
**this ended well as he later married a Ford Mondeo.
***Chris Retif at Planète Linguistique. Kid you not, what he doesn’t know about the former French emperor could be engraved on a peanut with a chainsaw. Fact.
****blonde, legs up to there, arse like two peach halves in a hanky, a twinkle in the eye that said you’d get a good show.