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Schoolboys in Suits

I love sitting on the bus and eavesdropping on conversations happening around me.

I don’t use the term ‘warm fuzzies’ very often but I feel like seeing a baby cooing and grinning with an old lady battened down with shopping smiling from ear to ear warrants it (as you can see yesterday’s bus home was an exceptionally cute one). Other times its neighbours discussing the deets on Belinda’s new front gates or old friends having a chance meeting during rush hour.

Last August, I was sat on a crowded bus on the way to Edinburgh Airport. I’d spent an amazing few days at the fringe festival, some shows were so “out there” they probably warrant their own piece. (But if it takes as long as it’s taken me to write this one, needless to say, you’ll be waiting a while) Anyway, back to buses.

So, there I am, sitting in the back row of a shuttle bus, squashed awkwardly between a family of four on my right and two men in suits on my left. My phone was almost dead, I had no sweet escape of music to get me through the 30-minute journey across the city, not that I needed one. I popped my headphones in and let on to anyway.

The two men sitting to the left of me drew my attention at first, mainly because they were louder. Their conversation didn’t interest me as much as it seemed to interest them.  They discussed their golf caps or scores or whatever it is you do during golf, the holidays they’d booked, workplace promotions – it went on and on and slowly it turned into white noise.

To my right though was a much more captivating conversation, a teenage girl and her mother, sitting across from someone who appeared to be her grandfather. They had travelled up from London to the Fringe. They were chatting excitedly about the shows they’d been to, which they liked the most and how good “those singers” they’d just seen actually were.

“I mean they weren’t tone deaf or anything right, but, like, they’re not professional either.” “He did sound a bit off.”

As far as everyone was concerned I was obliviously listening to some major tunage. The conversation to my left suddenly caught my ear again.

“You know, she’s a great girl. A beautiful girl! Great girl, great figure y’know? And she’s got a great presence for someone so young.”

“But, I mean, I can’t introduce her to all of them. And now it’s not about me, it’s not about me. I believe she’s great, but once I do, if I put her up there in front of them, they’ll just go y’know? They’ll start cackling like schoolboys.”

Ten minutes into the journey and I wished I really did have some tunes playing. Instead, I just sat in agitation for the rest of the journey.

I’ve very limited experience of working in a traditional office environment, having spent the past year working in retail (for my sins). But, the idea that that sort of attitude still persisted, if rarely spoken about, baffled me.

The first question I asked myself was how grown men, so immature, could continue to raise in the ranks of a company or business? The answer was in the question.

The discussion around how women are perceived in the workplace seems to have fallen by the wayside. This is despite the fact that just a quick google will throw up a plethora of articles on the subject. Studies have shown employer’s place a preference on men over women, even when they are both equally qualified.

What struck me most was the fact the second man just laughed and nodded in agreement. I don’t know what the relationship between the two men was, for all I know his reaction could’ve been in awkward agreement in the hopes of moving the conversation along, but the fact that this man’s colleague’s comments were left unchallenged speaks volumes. Complacency is the biggest threat to women truly succeeding in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how many achievements you have if attitudes like this still exist.

Now, one overheard conversation can’t speak for the state of the glass ceiling dilemma, but current reports can give us a sense of it. Women outnumber men in in positions which offer lower pay and less chance of a promotion. Women are still expected to choose between family and career oftentimes sacrificing professional life due to inflexible hours. And the pay gap? Although shrinking (according to Eurostat) women in the EU, on average, earn 16.8% less than men.

What had started off as innocent eavesdropping turned into me spending the rest of the bus journey composing point after point in my head as to why this man’s point of view was wrong.

And, after leaving the bus, and while queueing for some sub-par, overpriced airport coffee I came to the conclusion that it seems that no matter how accomplished a woman is, no matter the experience she has, unless the attitude of the schoolboys up top change, women in the workplace will still find they have to work twice as hard to thrive.