Growing up in a family of 11 with 6 sisters and 2 brothers, Fern has had first-hand experience in unequal favouritism and treatment between men and women. “Though we had a helper, we, girls, always needed to do a lot of work around the house, particularly housework, and even our brothers’ laundry”. Fern said it like it was a memory of yesterday! For her mother, she believed the best thing for daughters was to prepare them to be good housewives. “I felt neglected and less important. It also made me promise myself “if I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her go through what I went through”.
“When I was young, I was really good at long distance running. I came first competing with 400 other students”, Fern said proudly. She didn’t pursue that talent simply because she was demotivated by her mum and everyone around her who kept saying that running was a waste of time! “I was so demotivated by adults around me, even my teacher at school. I really became passive because I knew that even if I could change things, I would be in trouble for being a rebel”. Since she could not get any motivation from anyone around her, TV was her only motivational friend! This statement really caught my attention. Sometimes media could be our best friend as it allowed us to be in our own world, but it could also be harmful. To what extent then should we monitor the use of media in order to ensure the negative consequences are minimised? Or should the control start at the production – the supply side rather than the demand side – the receivers – the audiences?
Fern’s memory of her very first job was not pleasant. Comments from male supervisors like “you won’t get the promotion if you don’t please me” was something Fern had to cope with at her workplace. “Gender equality was my main criteria for a good workplace as it bothered me since I was growing up.” Being raised to fear her parents, rather than to love and respect, did not make it easy for Fern to stand up against what was considered to be the ‘norm’. She said to me “I have learned in my life that there is no meaning to stand up for what was right, if you don’t stand up against what was wrong”. Would you do the same?
Respect is what everyone wants – to be treated equally as a human being and not because of the title you hold or the sex you were born with. Fern shared with me a story. One day a lady (Maria) came out of the meeting and said to Fern “every person matters, your skin doesn’t have a name tag attached to it and everyone should be treated with respect regardless of the title they hold”. Maria’s daughter was working at a legal firm in New York. One evening she had to work until late. She did not finish until 2am. The cleaning lady came and finished her job at 10pm and she said to Maria’s daughter “just do your work and I will wait here with you until you finish”. The cleaning lady kept her company until 2am so that Maria’s daughter would not be at the office alone! That was the power of treating people with respect! If it were not because Maria’s daughter always was a down to earth type of person who engaged and treated everyone with the same respect regardless of who they were, she wouldn’t get that friendship and support.
I asked Fern what she would say to someone who may feel lost, left out, hopeless, not important or valued by their colleagues. She said “if you have a complaint, see where you can make a difference first. It starts with you! You can make a difference – seek where you can make a difference and what you can do!”. Her story answers so many of my questions – the power of childhood and our up-bringing, the power of society and media on our lives, the power of workplace and most importantly the power inside us! The change you want to see and choose to see begins with you! Not your sex, not your title, that is why the power of YOU matters!
What is the tiny little step you will take in the next 24hours to embrace the power of you matters?