Dinnertime storytelling drove my interest in equality. Now this same interest drives my career at SHE Community.
Some of the stories from your grandparent’s dinner table have been told many times over, chock-full of exaggerations and new facets with each rendition. As an adult, I try to absorb all the stories I can, knowing there are only so many times we’ll still be able to hear them.
There’s one particular story of my grandmother’s that resonates differently now that I’ve edged into my career. She told us when she first entered the male dominated field of accountancy, her feminine first name in correspondence was garnering unwelcome reactions. She saw a rapid change when she adjusted her signature to her first initials and last name. Assistants would book meetings, hotels and flights expecting a Mr. Lemos to arrive, and a skinny blonde woman would show up with a firm handshake, rarely acknowledging there could have been a confusion.
A 2020 Perspective
In 2020, many would like to think we’re lightyears away from judging an individual’s competence based on their name. For others, it won’t come as a shock to know we still live in a world full of unconscious bias towards women and those of diverse backgrounds, an inconvenient truth supported by well-grounded proof.
My grandmother had an entire career built around not using her full name. Fifty years later, because of constant pop-culture references, being a young woman from Los Angeles with the name Brittany means I may not be taken as seriously as the Elizabeths or Catherines of my graduating class. I now reflect on my slight insecurity with a new perspective, knowing that it is nothing compared to the minority groups that feel compelled to “whiten” their names to please Western norms.
The Ageless Battle of Our Foremothers
A common theme in the Insight Magazine will be to continuously raise awareness about the unconscious biases people from every corner of the world carry with themselves and need to become more aware of. Individuals need to acknowledge there is a problem, and only after recognition can we work to develop early educational methods and affect measurable change.
Nothing in a civil rights movement goes quickly – marches march, protesters protest, and the media keeps it in the spotlight until it fades to the background, only to be taken up again when a new heinous violation pops up. Despite media coverage or not, women are still fighting an ageless battle to live free from discrimination.
We have a responsibility to keep the stories of our foremothers alive. Broach the subject with any modern woman and you’ll hear anecdotes of not receiving financial backing until they had a male partner, or even scientific accomplishments being eclipsed by the male team leaders who were the face of the project. Countless women hid behind a man’s name to pen novels for hundreds of years, and my grandmother’s story is not uncommon even in this day and age when having the perfect CV is the first impression potential employers have of you.
“What’s in a name?” or in layman’s terms, “What’s so special about a name?” Shakespeare famously asked. Joe is your everyday guy and Karen is mad at everything—we’re thoroughly ingrained in our stereotypes and archetypes. As a Brittany, I fully expect you to paint a picture of Britney Spears in your mind before meeting me, and I can only hope to live up to her legendary status. •