The following is my opinion only and is based on the world that I live in and experience. It contains no studies or official facts and findings. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
I went to an all-girls high school. This was not at all unusual, especially growing up in central Wellington. Then I went to university and majored in Art History. While this was obviously not exclusively female, by third year it almost always worked out to be one or two men per tutorial. Then I went to work in a library, a typically female dominated workplace. My first team had around fifteen people in it, only two of which were (rather old) men. Then I went back to university to do Museum and Heritage Studies. There were a total of two men in my year’s intake, and I’m not quite sure what happened, but both of them never returned after the mid-year break. Last year I completed two more classes, with one man in one class, and not a single one in the other.
I have spent the last thirteen years surrounded by women. Despite all this time I spent in undergrad, in postgrad, and at work, it still tends to be that the women are by my side on my level, with the men in the positions of power. At university the majority of lecturers were male, and like every place of work ever, men tend to dominate mine, even if it isn’t in terms of numbers. I am certainly not saying that there aren’t plenty of women in higher level positions in the heritage sector. You only need to glance at the Tuakana page on this website to see examples of all the amazing work women are doing. And yet, it still feels like these women are exceptions. I have never looked at a male museum director and thought “Look! There’s a man who is successful in his chosen field of work, isn’t that amazing, look at how well he’s doing!” Have you?
Even in a female dominated work environment, I feel like I struggle to be taken as seriously over some of my male counterparts. Day to day, it’s usually just small things, like a question being directed to a man instead of me, or someone seeking out a man to do a particular piece of work. Sometimes it can be larger things, like an all-male delegation being sent overseas to represent my workplace. I have no doubt that there were much larger decisions and motives at play as to who was sent and why, and I am also sure it was just a coincidence that it was an all-male group. But nevertheless, it was difficult to look at that group and feel included - especially when women make up the majority of staff I work with every day. By failing to include women, that group failed to successfully represent my workplace.
But there are other factors at play in the struggle to take myself seriously. Namely, my age and job title. Being in an entry-level position, it is easy to be overlooked. Combine this with being much younger than the majority of people I work with, it often feels like I have to prove myself to my colleagues time and time again or scream to be heard. Whether or not it’s been the intention of the offender, I have often been made to feel small, insignificant, airy, hysterical, or incompetent because of my age, gender, or job description. To be young, female, and in a entry level position in your workplace is frustrating.
Young people do work differently, we are willing and eager to learn, good problem-solvers and can bring a fresh perspective to a workplace. We notice and appreciated when those in positions higher than us treat us with respect and listen to what we have to say. Far from wanting this to be one giant moan about how my difficult life is, I do have a point, and that point is that diversity is a great thing. A mix of men and women in lower and upper level positions is great, and a mix of the old and young is great. This includes diversity which extends far beyond men and women and old and young. I am very aware that there are people in this world up against many more barriers than I am as a straight white female. Everyone brings a different perspective and different way of working. The more varied the backgrounds of those people the better - as long as everyone treats everyone with respect (a whole other kettle of fish). I work and study with fantastically intelligent and capable young women who are perfectly equipped to do their work and do it well. I am excited to see what they will bring to this sector in the future.
In the meantime, I will continue to acknowledge that it is hard to be female, hard to be young, and hard to be in an entry-level job you are more that qualified to do. I will work on building my confidence even if it can be hard to take yourself seriously when you feel like many people do not. I will continue to believe that diversity is good and that the heritage sector and world in general should be working hard to become more diverse. And, I will look to the women who have worked their way up in their chosen fields of work and know that in the future that might be me too. Nothing that I have said here is particularly fresh or groundbreaking, but while divides continue to exist, it always bears repeating.