"I don’t need empowerment, do I?"

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5th Mar 2021
Posted By Tina Brown

Blog written by Tina Brown, Managing Director of CCM Creative.

It’s that time of year again, International Women's Day, when women across the world are asked to celebrate and reflect on how far, or not, our gender has come.

Whilst men (and women) ask, why is there not a celebration of International Men’s Day? And why is it only the females who need empowerment? My initial response to writing a blog on female empowerment was, “but I don’t want to, it isn’t relevant to me.” Whenever I hear the term empowerment I ponder on its definition - noun. authority or power given to someone to do something - and found the term somewhat patronising and irrelevant.

After all, I’m a successful career woman, I don’t need to be given power or authority. Empowerment is for others, not me.

And then I reflect on how I got here, where I am now and where I want to go and this gave me a sobering pause for thought.

To get to where I am now I have had to rise above a lot of the prejudice and inequality bestowed on women in the workplace. When I initially entered the print industry, my interview included a ‘tour’ of the shopfloor, which I was later affectionately told was a deliberate parade amongst the workforce for me to be rated on ‘how fit’ I was. Thankfully this took place in my early 20s and not now. As I progressed in my career, at every step up the ladder I had to grow ‘bigger balls’ and be one of the lads to fit in with the all male management team. Even then my voice was not always heard, on more than one occasion I have sat in meetings where I’ve heard a point I just made being paraphrased by a fellow male manager to be heard by the team for the ‘first time’. I was ever so grateful when a colleague who was sitting next to me in one such meeting acknowledged what had happened by saying “Didn't Tina just say that?”. Thank goodness, I wasn’t going mad after all.

Even in my personal life I’ve seen a similar pattern. I coach a girls football team which constantly throws up the challenges of female empowerment. My girls regularly recite stories of being shunned by the boys (and girls) on the playing fields when they want to join in on an impromptu kick about. Weirdly I have also had similar experiences as I did in the boardroom of not being heard. I am by no means softly spoken and I can easily make my voice heard on the training ground, yet time and time again when I need to get a male referee's attention during a game I often need the help of an opposing male coach to repeat what I am shouting (loudly) to get his attention.

Generally I feel comfortable with the place I am at in my career, but I admit I am worried about where I’m going next. As a woman in my 40s I worry that I am more likely to be feared than revered.

My masculine, beer swilling upbringing has given me that edge, the mask of a no‐nonsense career woman crushing young men on my way to the top. No female gets to the top of the ladder without breaking some balls, right?

Even now I get told my direct approach scares people. What does that say for my future? Who wants a scary, washed‐up old (insert female derogatory term here e.g. hag, witch, biddy, crone, battle-ax, and now see how many you can think of to describe an old man) working for them? And I’m left thinking, would being direct instil the same fear in others if I was a man?

So back to the question of do I, and do females in general, need empowerment? Whilst women are still underrepresented in so many areas of society, not by choice but by not being seen or heard, and whilst women are consciously and/or unconsciously, held back by their own and others’ perceptions of what they are capable of, and whilst our sons still tell our daughters they can’t join in their football game, then hell yes we still need empowerment. I still need empowerment.