employment glass ceiling
It was the late '90s and I was at an interesting phase of my career. For the first time in my life I possessed relevant qualifications, experience and could also show a successful track record in my chosen career path. I had the job seeker's trifecta. It was also summer and my current employer was pissing me off with their penny-pinching ways, so after three years of ball busting effort I decided a break and a job change was in order. Displaying characteristic overconfidence in myself I quit my job (without burning any bridges) and set about applying for others.

I was experienced in managing technical & trade supply businesses. I also had engineering experience and sales experience and had demonstrably excelled every sales and profit target I had ever been given. I started applying for roles that would stretch me and lift my career up a notch. There were plenty of opportunities around and I usually had a few applications on the go at any one time. I was an experienced guy in an experienced guy's world, this wouldn't be hard.

Then the rejection letters trickled in. I could take rejection, it goes hand in hand with business, but after the first few months I was frankly confused. I hadn't had a single interview. Instead of aiming high I lowered my sights and started applying for jobs where there was no career advancement. Now I had everything these employers could possibly want, it would be a shoe in. But still not one interview came my way, not even a phone inquiry.

Somewhere after the four month mark my confidence was starting to take a hit. The people rejecting me were business people too, how could my reasoning that I was perfect for these jobs be so different to theirs? Putting on my most serious business head I went back and scoured my CV. It was the only contact any of my potential employers or their recruitment companies had had with me. My CV was THE common denominator and if something was wrong it MUST be there.

I had fortunately seen a number of CVs in my time. I was happy with the choice of style and layout, and the balance of detail versus brevity. I was particularly pleased with the decision I made to brand it with my name with just enough bold positioning to make it instantly recognisable, and as I sat scouring every detail of that CV a horrible truth slowly dawned on me. My name.

My first name is Kim. Technically its gender neutral but my experience showed that most people's default setting in the absence of any other clues is to assume Kim is a women's name. And nothing else on my CV identified me as male. At first I thought I was being a little paranoid but engineering, trades, sales and management were all definitely male dominated industries. So I pictured all the managers I had over the years and, forming an amalgam of them in my mind, I read through the document as I imagined they would have. It was like being hit on the head with a big sheet of unbreakable glass ceiling.

My choice to brand the CV with a bold positioning of my name actually seemed to scream that I was a woman. I could easily imagine many of the people I had worked for discarding the document without even reading further. If they did read further the next thing they saw (as politeness declared at the time) was a little personal information, and that declared I was married with kids. I had put this in because I knew many employers would see it as showing stability, but when I viewed it through the skewed view of middle aged men who thought I was a woman, I could see it was just further damning my cause. I doubt if many of the managers I had known would have made it to the second page.

I made one change that day. I put Mr in front of my name on my CV. It looked a little too formal for my liking but I got an interview for the very next job I applied for. And the one after that. It all happened in a fortnight and the second job was a substantial increase in responsibility over anything I had done before. In the end I beat out a very competitive short-list and enjoyed that job for the next few years, further enhancing my career.

Where I had worked previously there was a woman manager. She was the only one of about a dozen at my level, and there were none on the next level. She had worked her way up through the company over many years and was very good at her job. She was the example everyone used to show that it could be done, but that most women just didn't want to. It's embarrassing to think I once believed that. It's even more incredible to think many people still do.


The Epilogue to How I Discovered Gender Discrimination

My last Tumblr post on gender discrimination went unexpectedly viral. In less than a week it has been published online by Atlantic Media and AOL, and I've also had inquiries for interviews. The post has been eagerly reblogged on Tumblr and the link retweeted countless times on Twitter. After such a flurry of activity I thought it was worth making a few comments on my experience of blogging my story.

This is how it started:


What has been most surprising about this whole experience is not one person has challenged my version of the events. Twitter is full of reactionary trolls that will argue with you on far less anecdotal issues, but I have yet to see one response that has called my story into question. It is just a personal story. It is completely true but it could equally be accused of having as much weight as a ghost story. Perhaps the ease with which everyone finds the story of my experience so entirely believable is the most distressing part. People have expressed sadness, disappointment, anger, but no man or woman has expressed disbelief. I have also not seen a single example of anyone declaring that my story is only relevant to my local experience as an Australian. It's been shared widely throughout the USA, Canada and the UK, and I have even seen a few links from outside the anglosphere. Yet everywhere it is greeted with knowing assent.

The sad reality is this shows we all know how real and invasive sexism is. We all know that sexism unnecessarily impacts negatively on women's lives and men benefit from that. It's been decades since western countries passed laws making most forms of gender discrimination illegal. Yet we all know sexism continues to support a segregated lower class status for women and our general societies continue to do little about that. Leadership on gender equality is virtually non-existent in the political sphere and attempts by women to raise the issue are often labelled 'divisive'. Women who complain about everyday sexism often have their arguments eclipsed by people who point to underdeveloped countries where women have it worse. Sometimes detractors might highlight indigenous or lower socioeconomic classes of women in their own countries who suffer greater privations. It's as if the fact that middle-class women in western societies might not get raped and beaten as much as the others makes everything ok. It doesn't.

We all know gender discrimination exists and, aside from the small percentage of sociopaths in our societies, we all know it's wrong. We also know the power to fix this lies principally in the hands of men. Many smart women have made it into positions far more powerful than me, yet still they don't have the privilege of being able to speak out publicly about sexism the way I can simply because I am a man. There are gender specific problems that affect men too. Rates of suicide, depression and stress among men are serious issues. But they are not this issue. Gender equality is not about taking away men's 'rights' but it does involve removing men's privileges. There is no room for gender privilege in a just world and the burden of proof against any claims of discrimination should always lie at the feet of the privileged.

Gender discrimination is real and it damages women, and removing gender discrimination needs leadership from men. It needs men who are not afraid to sacrifice their own artificial privilege in order to achieve genuine and equal rights for all.