This week, I spent a day filling out about 20% of a very long form to apply for promotion at work. I had no intention of applying for promotion, and I’ll still probably chicken out. In fact, when my boss called a meeting with his boss, him and I, I laughed in their faces when they suggested I apply for promotion.
The criteria for promotion at our place is ludicrous. Historically, people used to get promoted by going for an externally advertised job, because they were more likely to be successful in an external application than an internal one. That is how difficult it is.
I laughed in their faces. Like out loud. Not a chuckle. A laugh.
And that got me to thinking why? Why do I view myself as impossibly ineligible? I am sitting in a meeting with two people telling me to go for promotion, and I am telling them the idea is ridiculous.
1. It is difficult to understand which period they are assessing when you’ve had career-us interruptus ( i.e. Mat leave).
I’ve been back at work four months. I had two years off.
And yet, in my research interviewing women partners in accounting firms, I didn’t bat an eye at a woman getting promoted to partner whilst on mat leave. I could understand that. It makes sense for other people, but not for me.
2. I have always had imposter syndrome
I never feel like I know what I’m doing. Even ( especially) when I do know what I’m doing. . It’s a particular problem for women, it’s worse for academics. If they ever come up with a medication for imposter syndrome, I’m just mainlining it.
3. I come from a professional background, but I’m judged on academia ideals and qualifications.
I don’t have a PhD. Or a masters. I have a degree, a grad dip, and a professional accounting qualification. But I don’t tick the boxes for academics.
4. And here’s the clincher. I am not her.
If they are looking at my last five years’ performance, i do not know that 2011 woman. She could work back until 7 or 8pm without calling anyone, and remember 120 student names. She was beginning to get a research career going. She knew stuff. She remembered corporate systems and could have intelligent conversations at conferences…so intelligent she’d get contracts from publishers out of it. Students rated her teaching. Highly.
I am not her. I am running to a daycare drop off balancing a just cooked veggie pizza for jman’s lunch on a pile of assignments and a bag of nappies and a sippy cup, while chasing him down the footpath as he runs away from the car we are late getting into . I am answering emails and talking to colleagues with one eye on the clock for daycare drop off. She worked 5 days in the office and extra at home. I work on the same conditions but work three days in the office and patch and patch and patch to get things done around the rest of the time. It is more organised. It is busier. It is less visible.
She used to care so much. She cared so much it exhausted her, it stressed her out. Now, my care box is full with one special little face, and the rest of it? I do as much as I can then say I’ve done everything I can. And for now, that’s good enough, most of the time.
Who would they be promoting? Her? Or me?
5. The gobstopper
My employer likes to tout that the are an Employer of Choice for Women.
In my theory unit, I talk to students about a theory called legitimacy theory. Firms in a society are viewed as having a “social license to operate”, and society must view them as legitimate for them to have continued access to resources, and thus, survive.
One legitimising strategy is to deflect attention from an area of concern, to an area of strength or a symbol of legitimacy.
That is what “employer of choice for women” is. It’s a badge. It does not reflect the underlying reality of a school where at least two women with small kids have left without another job to go to. Because it is that bad. Or it can be. They can ask you to teach at any time between 9am and 10pm mon- fri, on any subject, and you may not find out your programme until three weeks before it starts. Every six months, it changes. Completely.
Try doing that with a daycare that has a two year waiting list.
But all of that isn’t the real gobstopper. There’s an equity section on the application. It asks you to bring to the attention of the promotions committee anything in your personal circumstances that should be taken into account when assessing your application.
I filled this out.
There is only one other time in my life I’ve filled something like this out.
In my academic studies, I never once requested an extension or a special consideration. I never failed a unit. But once, a friend made me fill something similar out in high school. A little box on a little form. That form, that little box, got me into university when I fell a few marks short. But me, I felt like a cheat. I didn’t think it was fair for them to take into account that my father had a terminal illness, I knew, and he died in the middle of my exams. I thought I should be able to do well anyway. So yes, not a great history of cutting myself any slack.
But here was this box. What equity factors should they take into account, in assessing my performance? That I got my (tiny) research grant during infertility diagnoses and two rounds of IVF? That I recruited some interviewees for the research whilst I was lying in bed hoping my unborn child didn’t die? That the gap in my research and teaching performance was me lying in bed praying 24/7 , for six months that we’d make it? That the next gap was not just maternity leave, it was a nephew’s dying in tragic circumstances when jman was 9 weeks old, it was my mum in three separate hospitalisations with two operations and two falls with broken bones and weeks of rehab? That I ran from childcare centre to childcare centre for weeks, a year later, unable to find anywhere with space that I could actually leave j in?
That I don’t want to work nights or 9am classes, because jman is still breastfeeding at 22 months!!!?!!!??! That I don’t want to start early, because when he wants to point out a bird on a wire to me, or, like today, we stop the car on the way to daycare to watch a digger for ten minutes, I don’t want to have to say “sorry mate, we have to go”?
I filled in that box. I filled it in, and I stared at it, matter-of-factly. If I was a member of that promotions committee, I don’t think I’d believe it. I left a quite a few things out, in the end. The digger didn’t make the final draft, for one. But I read it, and went bloody hell. What a few years we’ve had. We are lucky to be still breathing in and out. We are amazing for still breathing in and out. I thought to myself, when I finished that box (incidentally, the only part of the form that is actually finished with a month til the deadline), I should get a bloody trophy, for that three years. We should get a bloody trophy.
Then I remembered. We did.