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Gender diversity: "We have to be more imaginative, more decisive"

Gender diversity in leadership roles across the credit profession has (finally) become a boardroom priority, but in the past, many women tolerated the intolerable at work. Teresa Callaghan, a Women in Credit Awards judge, reveals shocking experiences during her career, and explains how mindsets need to change.

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After 30 years in the credit industry, I look back and wonder why we put up with the discrimination. I wonder why we tolerated working practices and thinking that being overlooked was normal, but then, have we really progressed at all?


In 1984 I was sent home by my then (female) manager for being inappropriately dressed for work – I was wearing trousers. By the mid-90s I decided I wanted children; unfortunately I wanted a career as well.


When announcing my pregnancy, my boss asked how I was going to manage a baby and work, given he expected me to work a 15-hour day, six days-a-week. My answer was to work until I went into labour, take three weeks maternity leave, work seven days-a-week at two jobs – credit manager and mother – and feel permanently exhausted.


I recall trying to explain to a manager why a member of my staff needed time off for her sick child; I was told to get rid of her and employ someone less emotional.


I remember another extreme; being told I wasn’t sorry about my team’s poor results because I didn’t cry when my boss interrogated me. Sounds fictional doesn’t it? But this is the difference. Ask a roomful of women about their experiences of being treated differently at work, and they’ll all have a story. Ask a roomful of men and they’ll look at you blankly.


"My manager once told me that if I wanted to continue to enjoy success, I would have to sleep with him. Needless to say, I turned him down (politely)"


Law and order

Overall, I’ve enjoyed a fabulous career. I feel a real sense of achievement but I do wonder how much more I could have achieved, had I been born a man. Men enter the workplace with the expectation they’ll succeed, whereas women have an expectation they’ll face greater obstacles. They expect caring duties to fall to them, and that they’ll have to juggle a career with all their other responsibilities. For some this is too much.


Changes to legislation have been made, such as the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and more recently, the Equality Act in 2010. But unless discrimination is recognised and acted upon, it becomes the acceptable norm.


I faced huge obstacles in my career but at the time, that was the way it was. We shrugged our shoulders, we took it on the chin. My manager once told me he’d always championed me. He said this was the main reason I had been promoted and that if I wanted to continue to enjoy success, I would have to sleep with him. Needless to say, I turned him down (politely) and waited for the hammer to fall. It didn’t and my career continued. Looking back, I’m amazed it never occurred to me to complain about his behaviour. I know it had happened to other women. I wasn’t special.


Strangely when we speak about equality, men believe we’re after their jobs, that we want their power, that we don’t want them to have the same opportunity. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to sit alongside them and the same opportunities on a level playing field. We want them to stop denying discrimination happens just because they don’t see it.


So have things changed? The law certainly has, protection for women has increased, but have we just exchanged old issues for new?


The current legislation aimed to highlight inequality is the gender pay data. This shows what women already knew – pay inequality exists. Women generally do the lower-paid jobs, men still hold the more senior positions.

What we don’t know is whether there’s a real willingness to change.


Are we just seeing a tick box exercise? Is the data showing a positive change, or is it being manipulated? Looking back over my working life, I’m amazed we put up with the discrimination and harassment, but we did and I worry we still are. We do not call it out enough, because we fear it’ll stifle our careers.


I was asked to write about my experiences in the financial services sector, but it’s no different to any other, no different to life generally. We have progressed in the past 30 years, but we still don’t have equality. And that is shameful.


We have to be more imaginative, more decisive. It is up to those who see the inequality every day to shout about it, until the deniers see it for what it is – unacceptable.


Teresa Callaghan, a credit manager at a major law firm, is once again a Women in Credit Awards judge for 2020. Check our Women in Credit Awards pages for more information on entering this year, and for info on last year’s winners.



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