Wednesday, 11 April 2012

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

So if you read part one of my blog and wonder where the story goes next I’ve now decided to make the tentative steps into entering a world which is a field entirely dominated by women and being a man taking these steps the level of pressure I felt was immense not only from within but from society as a whole. Not only was I making the choice to quit my career at the peak of its success to go and look after my children I was now training to become a child minder. Once again I was to be the only man surrounded by women but so far I had always managed to more than hold my own but could I go one step further and take on a female dominated profession at their own game? Time would tell.

I started writing this blog as homage to women and the women in my life that have made an impact on how I’ve handled my working career. Without them I wouldn’t have been the success that I have been down the years. As a Portsmouth fan since 1986 and off the back of last week’s programme about Sexism in football, I firmly believe hand on heart that from experience if our club would have had a female CEO in place instead of Peter Storrie that we wouldn’t have ended up in the financial trouble that we did. My first ever manager knew how to handle men in the business world. She knew every approach in the book on how to handle members of staff and she was an absolute gem and I owe her so much its untrue. She would have been able to handle Mario Balotelli better than Mancini does at Manchester City. I state this as a fact because I was a bigger pain in her arse to her than his high profile on and off the field antics for Manchester City this season. Sadly as you’ve learned I was never on the same money and have never been or will ever be close.

I could and should have been fired on many occasions during my apprenticeship. The first words I ever uttered to our Managing Director was that I would have his job one day. The irony being that several years later he would turn to me and say do you remember what your first words to me were. I cringed. He told me hand on heart that he fully believed that if I stayed in the industry that I would indeed have his job one day. I’ve had no higher words of praise from a man I learned to have the uppermost respect for in business and in life. He knew everything that went on within our company and when he was in charge the entire company pulled together. He could tell you what time you farted and what you’d had for dinner the previous evening. Honestly nothing got past the man he was a total genius at what he did. He was an outstanding leader and I’ve never come across the likes of him in business again and doubt I ever will. If I am half the boss he is then I feel I will be doing well towards the staff I currently lead.

The impact of women on my working ethos has always been huge. Apart from my first MD I haven’t met a male boss in the top echelons who I have thought has done an outstanding job yet I have encountered so many female managers that have done an amazing job that never seems to be recognised alongside their male counterparts. Far too many organisations have taken an old boy network approach as to who gets fast tracked. I have worked under and alongside women who are far more capable than men at their job yet haven’t been given the chance to fast track their careers in the same way and I fully believe that businesses are missing out in the long term by hiring the wrong people. I cannot imagine a female CEO at Pompey who would have signed her name to some of the utterly ridiculous contracts under written by Peter Storrie. They were JK Rowling esque in the utterly ridiculous notions of what he promised players and the sums of money involved could never be sustained. The average stay at home mum working on a limited shopping budget every week would have quickly flagged that if you had fifty pound to spend on your weekly shopping that when your first two entries on your shopping list are Moet and Truffles that the budget isn’t going to have stretched by the time you get to Tampax and Spaghetti hoops. It’s an absolute no brainer and to write yourself a win bonus when you’re a fat man in a suit making bad calculations really does take the biscuit as far as I’m concerned. I re-iterate the point most strongly that a female CEO at Pompey would not have allowed the same situation to have arisen at Pompey and I stand by that statement 110%.

Sod it make it 120% just for good measure.

So I’m now spending my weekends learning about being a Child Minder and working towards the necessary qualifications. During the week I’m working on the house getting everything up to scratch and working on every angle to make the business a success but there’s a big arrow above my head whilst this is going on and it says the word male. I cannot hide the fact that I am a man training to look after children and I’m looking after my infant children at the same time.

I qualify from my course and I’m now an Ofsted Registered Child Minder and I can advertise the fact. The question remains having done all the ground work and I’m now advertising my services would I manage to persuade any parent to entrust the care of their children to me – a man in what has always been a totally female dominated world. I was and I’m being honest here – totally gob smacked when I got my first phone call within a week of being qualified from a lady asking if she could come and talk terms about looking after her son. She was totally honest with me and said that she had gone through three child minders in the space of four months who couldn’t deal with her son and was hoping that I could look after him pre and after school and during the half term. I asked her if she minded if I spent a little time with her boy and had a chat with him and she had no objections. I wanted to make my own opinion up about the lad and not listen to anything that had gone on in the previous few months with other child minders. I wanted to judge the lad on his merits. So off we went and we started bouncing outside on the trampoline. I asked him about his interests and his hobbies. From just a few bounces I ascertained that he was a compulsive liar but not in a harmful way. It was attention seeking stuff and that like all boys he was just trying to make his mark in the world. He certainly needed a lot of help but I was more than willing to take him on. He was a good kid at heart if not a little wayward and needed some guidance. His mother also identified that he was dyslexic and had certain learning problems. I stood by my claim that like a finger print no two children are ever the same and that I would tailor my care towards his needs on a daily basis. Both parties happy I had my first child to look after. I had set out on my own in business and I was also a stay at home Dad. Anyone who’s had an email from my Daddy Day Care email address and has ever wondered where it came from, you’ll probably now be thinking this makes sense all of a sudden.

Not long after I signed another two lads up to holiday care and things had started for me. They weren’t flying in comparison to other child minders in the village but I had started and that was the main thing. Then came the inspection from Ofsted a little under three months into starting. Any teachers reading this will share the anxiety I had at that point but worse for me was the fact I was a male taking work that has always been considered a female’s job and on the day of inspection I was about to be judged on my handling of a young boy who’d gone through child minders like hot dinners.

The female inspector came early on in the afternoon. We chatted as I amused two small children and she went through my paperwork and did various checks on safety around the house. She stayed in her car outside the house whilst I went on the school run and returned with my two and said boy in toe. The previous day he couldn’t understand something in his lesson and I had promised him faithfully that I would get my computer out and show him what he had missed. I sat with two wriggling toddlers vying for his attention as well as his and somehow managed to hopefully demonstrate that I was capable of looking after children for a living. After his collection and my partner at the time had returned and had taken the children off for dinner I was sat down with the inspector and praying I’d done enough to be considered that I could do this for a living not only to the basic standards but to a good or better standard.

I will never forget the words she said to me. One of the basic premises you have to outline as a Child Minder is all the aspects of care that you will undertake for the child when they are with you. She told me that in over twenty years of being an inspector that my handout to parents was the best and most detailed she had ever seen. Her last words to me were that I was an example to men everywhere and she hoped that more would follow my lead and start to join the profession – We need more men like you. At the end of the visit she said I didn’t need another inspection for two years and she was rating me as Good on the score chart and that she fully expected me to be on the outstanding list when she made her next visit. Once again I had no idea how I’d managed it but I felt I’d arrived and certainly managed to stick two fingers up at the rest of the profession.  Mostly though I was heavily relieved.

My competition in the village consisted of two main people both of whom were women. One didn’t have the best of reputations but I wasn’t worried about her. The one woman to dislodge was like competing against Ghandi or Mother Theresa. My partner’s eldest two children had been under her care and she was considered by even my partner to be the bee’s knees. I can state quite categorically now looking back and now she’s retired that an involvement with the local girl guides and brownies associations on top of being a child minder doesn’t actually qualify you as being a good child minder. Every child I was privileged to look after had their own programme based on their needs. After I left the profession both my two were looked after by the aforementioned woman and I can hand on heart say they never received anywhere near the level of care and attention that I provided for all the boys and girls that I looked after in my time as a Child Minder. I wonder now what I was worried about when I first set up. Whilst the children I cared for came from circumstance like broken homes and no male role model, I can look back and know I’d made a difference in all their lives and a real positive contribution. The first lad who was seen as the trouble maker actually had a problem with expressing himself and making himself understood. We changed basic things to the way he phrased certain things for example he would take things in a literal sense. Say to him have a good weekend and he would reply I will. Knowing him as I did I knew how he’d processed the information and replied to it. We worked and practised on him changing positive sentences towards him being ended with two simple words – you to. I’ll never forget the look on his teachers face as she wished him a good weekend and he smiled back and said to her “You to,” I thought she was going to melt.

I stuck my neck on the line for the lad and had said to his teacher that she needed to give him time to fathom out his answers in his head to questions rather than punish him for saying the first thing that came into his head which would often lead him into trouble and him being sent out of class even if it meant saying to him she’d ask his answer in a minute and get him to put his hand down. Under my guidance he flourished and on his last day of primary school the Head Mistress took me to one side and candidly admitted that the school had gotten things wrong with how they’d dealt with the lad and what an absolute pleasure he’d been since he’d come under my wing. She said I’d done wonders for the lad and that the school had learned a lot at the same time at how children should be educated. These words meant more than you can ever imagine.

Another lad that came into my care was as smart as smart can be yet his parents couldn’t handle him at all. To them he was the child from hell and they would apologise for his behaviour when they picked him up and wouldn’t ever accept that he’d been an angel for me. I never once had an ounce of trouble from the lad and quickly ascertained that he was just very, very bright and needed challenging at a level above his peers. I taught him a memory trick to do with words whereby he had to remember a sequence of twenty words in a correct hour. I managed to get him up to the level where he could easily remember 100 words in a sequence like he was reading them off a list in front of him. He blew me away. He’s now hoping to study to be a Doctor and is still using the same techniques.

My most challenging work involved three young lads whose mum was in a coma fighting for their lives. They were the grand children of an ex work colleague and they had grown up in London and never really visited the countryside. They were with me for three weeks and all aged under ten they had no understanding of how ill their mother actually was and that she was fighting for her life. The boys had an absolute blast as did me and the kids during their stay with me. Their grandmother bless her heart has exclaimed that when I die I should be listed as a Saint. As a Pompey fan that’s always the biggest no, no in my book but I didn’t take issue with it under the circumstance. She wasn’t worried about the cost of childcare during those three weeks she was watching her daughter fight for her life. I didn’t worry about child care costs either at the end of the three weeks. How could I have taken a penny under such circumstances? The boys were an absolute pleasure to look after and how can you take any money in those circumstances to profit from someone else’s pain? I couldn’t take a penny, just knowing I’d been able to help during their time of need was enough for me.

During all this my first born had been diagnosed with having cerebral palsy which unlike most parents who would have been knocked for six, I took it all in my stride. She had been born seven and a half weeks premature and had spent her first night on life support fighting for her life with none of her vital organs showing any signs of kicking into gear. I had been told to expect the worst and that she wouldn’t make it through the night. I spent her first hours darting between her and her mother who was high on morphine tying to look after both of them and encourage her mum to come down onto the ward and visit the child she thought she had so desperately failed at this juncture. I lied through my teeth and kept telling her how our new born baby daughter was fine fearing that if she were to die she would never have seen her. She kept asking me if I was telling the truth. I was lying through my teeth. With my then partner totally out of it high as a kite of pain killers, I spent the rest of the night with my hand through the incubator stroking my new born daughters back and talking to her telling her how much I loved her and anything else that would come into my head as the nurses and Doctors watched on checking all her vital signs as she fought for her life. All through the complicated pregnancy I’d spent hours talking to a bump about football and how my day had been and how I couldn’t wait for her to be born. Here we were now hoping that a miracle would occur and that she would live beyond her first night on earth. I have no idea looking back that first night how I didn’t shed a tear. Something came over me and the will and determination to make sure my little girl survived just kicked in.

It was a week later when I was given the honour of first holding out daughter in my arms covered in wires still fighting for her life. I have a picture of us at that moment which always reminds me of how small she actually was and how close we came to losing her in her early days. I can remember the doctors diagnosing her with cerebral palsy, I can remember them telling us how she’s most likely never speak, how she’d never walk. Well I can tell you aged eight her mouth is truly like her daddy’s and she’s an opinionated so and so and although she may sometimes need to use a wheel chair and relies on her walking frame in school to get around, she is more than capable of walking when she puts her mind to it and it’s very rare she feels any different to any other child. Her daddy made sure of that  in the time that he looked after her when she was knee high and I pushed her and pushed her to ensure she had the best physio I could provide day in and day out. It wasn’t easy but life never is and there is no way I was going to let her grow up feeling any different to any other child just because she has a disability. Wisely aged 8 now she’s decided she wants to support Arsenal rather than follow in her Daddy’s footsteps and be a Pompey fan and I don’t blame her quite frankly but she did make me smile on Saturday morning when she said to me if Pompey lose to the scum this afternoon I will be well annoyed Dad. I must have done something right with her.

Things didn’t work out between me and the kids mum for whatever reason and I found myself back in the real world working for one of the largest companies in the world which at that point were turning over 8.5 billion Euro’s a year. The interview lasted two days and at one point you had to undertake a NASA test I kid you not. For the first time in my career I had entered a totally male dominated environment. We were working with builders and carpenters as clients and whilst we had female reps on the road it’s safe to say that the team ethos was built behind a lads philosophy. One of our main rivals had employed a female rep on one of my colleague’s patches to try and take the business away from us. These were the heady days before the recession hit where deals were brokered on a daily basis that wouldn’t happen now. Our clients would phone the rep up in question and get her down on site just to eye her up and had no intention of swapping their business from our company. The sad thing is she ended up sleeping with the rep on my patch just before he left under a murky cloud and she left with my price book on every price that my new clients were paying for their goods. Had she gone in with half a brain and blown me out of the water on prices I’d have lost even more clients than the previous rep had managed to alienate. Luckily she had tried to undercut me by pennies rather than pounds and using what I’d been taught by successful business women I re-cemented the business. Then the recession hit home and it hit hard and unemployment followed which was hell on earth for me and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

As I write I’m back in full time employment running a wines department. Always breaking the mould as always. The conclusion to this blog is to highlight the role that both men and women can bring to differing jobs in businesses were one sex is the most dominant. I took women on at their own game and I succeeded. I never totally broke down the barriers and I’m sure no man ever will manage it, but it’s not to suggest that had I been able to carry on in my career that I wouldn’t have. I split up with my ex and I no longer had a house to operate from as a child minder. Career over – Null and void and such is life I will never know. But what I do know is that the women who have shaped my career I believe could and should have been given the chance to replace some of the men I’ve had the misfortune to work under.

I’m going to leave it to a man far more talented than I will ever be, Mr Sam Cooke – A Change gonna come. Whether it happens in my lifetime I’m sceptical, but one day women will rightfully earn their places in the top echelons of businesses including football on their own merits.

Just remember though there are men more than capable of challenging women at their own game. Perhaps one day we’ll all meet in the middle and find a level of acceptance. I doubt it will ever be in my lifetime though sadly.

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