Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Sexism in football. Why we should place more faith in women but also recognise that sexism isnt a one way street Part I

Many years ago when I was wet behind the ears and had a chip on my shoulder as large as they came I was enrolled into a YTS programme whereby I studied for NVQs whilst gaining experience on the job. I was sent for three job interviews on the same day and was offered all three positions that I went for. Despite the interviewee telling me I was vastly over qualified for the role on offer she very kindly offered me the job and I readily accepted it without hesitation and I got my first foot in the door in the world of the newspaper industry. It probably won’t come as a surprise to regular readers of my blog that my mouth nearly turned it into the shortest career in newspapers that ever happened but thankfully my boss persisted with me and the rest is history as they say. I genuinely don’t think my achievements within my time with the company will ever be repeated in the current financial climate. Those days are long gone. The reason I mention it is having watched Gabby Logan’s documentary on Sexism in Football, I feel from experience I am better placed than most with my CV to comment on the way the business and sporting world not only treats women and discriminates against them but actually vice versa in other industries equally towards men. There is always a story to be told on both sides of the fence.

At primary school I was put up a year and fast tracked because of my intelligence. By the age of eight I already had a reading age and spelling age in my 40s and was being singled out for greatness in the future. Like the majority of boys though at that stage all I wanted to do was kick a ball about the school field. Being jumped into a year above wasn’t a problem for me educationally but socially I couldn’t ever adapt. Bullying was rife and when presented with the opportunity to go to middle school a year early or go back to my friends, I picked up my ball and repeated the same year I’d already advanced through with some aplomb. For me I was back with my peers where I belonged. Life wasn’t easy it’s fair to suggest but I was much happier. This tale I tell will cross many boundaries along its path so bare with me if you will.

I mention the want to kick a ball around a field. I came from the generation where playing football was pretty much exclusive to only the boys apart from one girl who would always play with us every single break and lunchtime. I have no idea what ever happened to Kerry but I will say she scored as many goals as any of us ever did messing about back then. There is no reason to think or suggest that women cannot adapt to the male game if they play football from an early age. We used to call her twinkle toes because she always played with us literally running around on her tip toes. I can imagine that evolution was getting her ready for later in life tottering around in a pair of high heels. Who knows? All I know is that she was a dab hand in front of goal and when selecting teams as captain she would be in the top four picked every game.

So as kids we never had any notion of not picking a girl because she wasn’t from the same sex as us. We wanted to win the game. Children are brilliant because they see life in a way that adults cannot do. There are no prejudices involved. Children see other children quite simply – as other human beings. Prejudices are passed down from generation to generation. They are engrained into our society sadly from one generation to another. To break that cycle will take a massive change. I’m not sure it will ever happen fully in my lifetime though things have gotten a lot better through my experience though I’m still shocked when I hear tales otherwise.

Around the same time a good friend of mine moved up from Watford. He was a Wimbledon fan and even some two decades later he still owns the pair of Dons socks that I brought him for his birthday many, many moons ago. That tells half the story I guess because growing up I had no pre-conceived notion of racism and I’m sure he didn’t at the time either. He was our friend and will always be first and foremost but growing up in a hugely conservative area where the white skin outnumbered any other colour by a tentative estimate of 1000 to 1 and that’s possibly undervaluing the actual number, it was only later on in our teenage years that we ever started to realise the prejudices that exist in all walks of life. I still stand by the fact that had Stephen not moved up from the out echelons of London when he did life could have been very different indeed. Like Kerry with her twinkle toes and Stephen with his talent playing football, life could have been very different years later but as kids we never judged. In life that is only taught by ignorance and I hope one day that ignorance will finally be in a minority.

Whilst in 2012 racism isn’t spray painted as it was everywhere in my teenage years glorifying idiotic groups such as the National Front and the BNP it certainly was an issue for us growing up altogether and learning about life. The estate next to ours growing up was covered in graffiti supporting such groups and despite Stephen always telling us he was fine to walk home through the said estate I am proud to say he never once walked home alone. He was one of us and we always worried about his safety far more than he ever did. It was a musketeer philosophy if ever there was one – One for all and all for one and that’s never changed where I’m concerned. In my life I will always judge people on their merits and not by the labels that society places upon them because of their background.
One famous example for me of ignorance personified happened when I was on training for one of the world’s largest companies down in Surrey. Me and one of the lads from our group had taken a trip down to Petersfield one night to get away from the constant hours of learning and have a gander and get away from it all. I’m going to use two scenarios at this juncture; myself and Alfie went out to get away from the pressures of our course and to take in the local sights and sounds. Myself and Alfraz went out to get away from the pressures of our course and to take in the local sights and sounds. There’s one word different between the two scenarios and that’s the spelling of a name and how one man identifies himself in his home country. Whilst my friend was born under a Muslim name, everyone who knows him and loves him calls him by a more friendly English moniker. Does he take offence to that? Of course he doesn’t. He’s thrilled that his friends love him and accept him enough to be considered one of them. To know that if any trouble starts that he isn’t going to have to go into a one man battle against prejudices that still exist.

We walked through Petersfield and walked past a pub where several white youths were gathered outside smoking and drinking. They spotted us from 60 to 70 yards away and we both clearly heard one of the lads shout the word Paki and in no time they had all left their pints and had mobbed up walking towards us. In an instant I told Alfie to just nod along with what I was about to say and under no circumstances to say that he supported Arsenal and if he did he was on his own. The main ring leader approached us and started mouthing off. I asked him what his problem was and told him quite directly that we’d come up from Pompey and were on a training course and what was his exact problem. Instantly his reply was “You’re Pompey lads?”

“Yeah,” I said. Actually being a Pompey fan I wove into the reply how we’d gotten on the previous game whilst Alfie stayed very quiet. Satisfied with the answer I’d given the main guys attitude totally shifted. I felt sick as he shook Alfie’s hand and suddenly he was accepted because I’d said he was a Pompey fan. Is that how acceptance works when the colour of your skin is involved? Says a lot for society doesn’t it.

So Stephen and Alfie had both encountered problems growing up as would Kerry had done if she’d been selected to play in our games at middle school on her ability. That was never an issue that I saw because she transferred to another school. Sadly looking back I have no idea whatever happened to her but looking back I wonder what if? Could we have trail blazed our way to change back then?

So back to YTS. In fairness I should have been fired on numerous occasions. My temper was legendary and had been for years. If someone working for me as a male boss had done one tenth of the same things I did back then, I know I’d have had him out of the door in a flash, it was inexcusable. I was lucky to have a female boss who believed in me and saw my raw talent and was determined to mould it. I owe my first boss more than I can ever say. Whilst her boss wanted to fire me on the spot she kept on with her weekly hour or more lectures and I started to deliver. My first project given was a Reader Holidays programme. The previous year it had earned the company under a grand in revenue for the entire period. At the end of my first year of looking after it I had rolled in a total of £57,000. Not bad for something my boss at the time had said I’d spent far too much time on. We went from having a tiny 15 by 3 advert in the free paper every week to an eight page pull out in the main paper, designed and written by me – someone who had no prior training in advert design or marketing. Before I moved on we’d already hit the same yearly figure after six months into my second year. The boy was proving the female boss correct. Yes I was a pain in the arse but with a female hand in charge I was on my way.

Money was the issue when I switched roles within the company. I had been earning £45 a week for doing a 37 hour week full time. My first starting wage was £4,865 full time. My boss re-arranged her budget for the year for an agreed salary of £7,500 for a lad who had made over £100K for the company he was working for having been paid just £45 a week. She spent hours trying to keep me in the role and moving figures about. The top brass dismissed it in an instant. Instead they gave me a role in the accounts department on the same money ahead of 97 other applicants.

Here’s where life gets interesting for me. Apart from the company accountant I’m now working with 18 women who are all mothers or in some cases mothers and grandmothers including the under boss of the department who quite frankly hates the fact she’s been told by the managing director to employ me because the company doesn’t want to lose their rising star in the ranks. I went through hell for 18 months working in that department. The culmination for me was an error over a set of figures we had to roll out every Friday. The figure was wrong and she tore an absolute strip of me in front of the entire department. Calmly I told her three or four times that if she checked the report she would find I had nothing to do with it but she carried on and persisted with her high voiced shouting match so that afternoon I took the paperwork and strolled into the Managing Directors office whilst she was still going hell for leather at me and I placed it upon his desk. Still going at me I asked him to identify who the report had been produced by. He asked me why as she followed me into the office. It’s fair to say that the dressing down she got over the incident was legendary and I was given the rest of the afternoon off.  This was 18 months from hell in a female orientated environment. It works both ways it’s fair to suggest and that’s what doesn’t get reported enough.

So three years in and I’ve had two female bosses with totally differing attitudes to me but I’m making waves and shaking things up. I’m gaining access to figures that I shouldn’t be able to have access to and the Managing Director comes to me over the rest of the entire accounts department when he wants something. Not because I’m male but because I don’t bull shit him. If he wants a figure over forecasted revenue figures on a Thursday afternoon he comes to me because he knows I can deliver within £500 of the attributed final figure come Friday morning. If he asks the Company Secretary the same question or the Advertising Director he always said the figure ranged from £5,000 to £10,000 out every week. He told me he didn’t want to know how I did it but knew I had a bright future ahead of me and that he would watch over me closely.

So I changed roles again. I’d forged close relationships with the advertising team during my time in accounts and they couldn’t wait to poach me. It was somewhat ironic that my underboss didn’t realise me from my roll for two months to take up my new position.

My first days training consisted of 45 minutes of being told this is a set of cards. I want you to ring people up and ask them if they need any advertising. I was told nothing about how the revenue is worked out or how ad design works. I literally got asked are you happy with that and naively I said yes - Off I went and hit the phones. We’d taken centrally the recruitment advertising of two of our smaller titles and these were now my babies. The smallest of the two was averaging two or three recruitment adverts per week and was losing out hand and fist to our biggest rivals. Revenue generation was less than £100 a week and that’s being generous. My first ever advert I sold was a 3 by 2 and earned the company about £17. I had no clue about what I was doing and it took me an hour going back and forth on the phone to sort it but I’d broken my cherry. In the next six months I averaged three pages of jobs per week for that paper and had brokered a sponsorship deal with a local recruitment agency. Revenues averaged around the £2K plus mark every week. The other title also saw a minimum of two pages of advertising per week doubling their revenue. The boy was on the up. So for the third time in my fledgling career three female bosses had influenced me somehow to a large extent. Two through nurture and one through a desire to prove her wrong and ram it down her throat with some aplomb.
I possibly should have mentioned that like my first role when I moved to the Accounts Department I was given the handling of a sub department that no one really wanted to handle, this time being the  the subscriptions department and once more I’d driven home the figures week after week. I was proving whatever I touched would turn to money and vindicated the faith put upon me by my first female boss and eventually the top dog – the MD making the decisions.

Two roles in I’d proven myself yet had experienced sexism and abuse first hand. I wasn’t an angel I will admit but sexism isn’t a male problem far from it I can testify to that first hand. So I’m making waves financially for the company and I’m given the keys to our flagship title and I’m told to go make my mark. I was suddenly the number two rep to the golden girl who everyone loved and would place their advertising with. I knocked her out of the water within four months and she was moved sideways onto motor advertising. Pre 9/11 and computerised systems I was totalling up my revenues to on average £25K plus a week. When we finally went computerised I put my first million on the books in just over  a year and in the second year I put another million on the books in just over ten months. My salary at this time was a little over £12K a year - Go figure. I was and will always remain the most cost effective employee in history. This is my point however – Twice out of three managers who had all been female – they had placed their faith in me and I had delivered. The middle manager had no faith in me but I still had delivered. I will stick my hand on heart and say their belief and judgement as women is what made me a success without a shadow of a doubt. Raw talent turned good sure played a large part but both my first boss and my third boss recognised that talent ultimately.
So I’ve put two million on the books with consummate ease and built up a reputation of a man who gets things done. I cannot under estimate the volume and level of traffic from advertisers who come to me first locally and nationally with adverts that have nothing to do with me. The trust and faith is there and I’m repaying it head on, day after day. So what was next for me? The previous property manager had left under a cloud and I was asked if I would take on the roll. I can remember my boss telling me that because I was dealing with estate agents day after day I would have to smarten up. Did I listen to his advice? Of course I didn’t. I smashed all publication records and revenue records and totally rebuilt all the trust that had been lost and we had a blast. 18 months previously the company had paid a shy under £80K for a system that would revolutionise the face of property advertising. In the end it did but it took me and a good friend of mine from the production department a good 18 months to finally crack the system and all its flaws into what was an amazing piece of software. We had it so good that a 52 page supplement would take a couple of hours to produce with the software, something that would have taken 4 or 5 days to do previously and I’d kept all the local and national advertisers on board and added several more clients.

Life was on the up and my career was on the up. My stock couldn’t have been higher. My first child had been born and my career was still flying. My second child had been born and I was making serious money for the company and I mean serious money. Yet I wasn’t making serious money. In fact my wages were a joke and I mean a real joke. For someone who makes over a million a year for the company my leaving salary was just over £14,800 per annum and that’s before tax. Faced with the prospect of a nursery bill of £1,050 a month I kid you not we had some serious financial planning to do. If I paid the bill every month I’d take home less than £100. So I quit my career to look after my kids. In doing so I had to generate a living. Everyone had always said how great I was with children and someone has jokingly said why don’t you become a child minder. The week before I left I sat on a board meeting about how things were going with the new property system. I was the only person there that wasn’t a Managing Director, a Director or a Line Manger. I’d been asked to lead the meeting in relevance to the progress we were making at that time and to basically name our price as to what equipment we needed. My production manager was in heaven at the time because we got all we asked for and more much to the disgust of the regional IT Director. When asked how long it would take me to deliver the final package I turned around to the Regional MD and said I’m leaving soon. His face was a picture. He never did understand that I chose to quit my career at the height of my success. He asked me if there was a package laid down for me to stay. I shock my head. He was flabbergasted that no one had even been attempted to put the wheels in motion for me to stay.

I was off to take on women at their own game. Not only was I going to be a stay at home Dad I was going to be a child minder governed by Ofsted. If women in football think they have a hard time I can promise you on the flip side that I encountered all sorts of prejudices in my time taking on women at their own game. Our Regional MD for reference pulled me aside after the meeting and asked me to name my salary. I told him that no money would pay for the opportunity I had to see my kids grow up first hand. He told me I had a job for life if ever I chose to come back to the industry.
At this point I owed all my success to women and I’d made some serious money for the company. After eight and a half years or success after success I was about to try take on a totally female orientated world at their own game.

It's worth pointing out that my Director of Advertising was a male who we liked to call Bambi on the sly on account of the fact that he never stood up for any of his staff. I genuinely got pulled into the office on one occassion and received a dressing down from him because I didn't join in with the banter enough. I asked him if he was serious that I was being given a bollocking because I came into work, ran my nuts into the ground, made the money I did and didn't get involved in the gossip and office politics. He was serious as well and I was stunned into utter disbelief quite frankly and I lost the tiny ounce of respect that I'd ever had for him in the first place. So far apart from me second under manager all the women I had ever encountered in business were winning hands down for me.

I can remember my first ever appraisal with my Advertising Manager. It consisted of about 40 seconds. She told me that my work was first class and that she didn't have any complaints about me and that she wished she had a team of me as her life would be a doddle. She asked me if I had anything I'd like to add and I said no and that was the entire appraisal. The woman that had gone in previous to me had taken well over an hour as had the one after me. I jokingly started clearing my desk when I came out and said I'd been fired. It was one of those great Kodak moments for another twenty seconds before my boss came out and asked me what I was doing and the game had been given away.

Again our advertising team apart from myself was made up of all women. I'd like to tell you that I didn't have one sexually based comment made towards me during all the years I worked on the team but I would be lying. The banter was quick and fast and I can promise you that sexual remarks being made to people isnt the exclusitivity of women by any means. I put up with so much of it yet I never said a word to management. People might say as a man that I would have enjoyed it? All I can say is that I wasnt working for the Hugh Hefner in the Play Boy mansion. Fun it wasnt.

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