I work in a well-respected place of education and sought out our female head of department to ask her advice about career progression with a view to getting her to know my name as there were new vacancies in the department that I wanted to apply for. She told me about her journey through various posts then said “now I’m going to do something I’m not supposed to, but how old are you?” I hesitated, then replied and told her my age (late 20’s) and she replied “hmm, well you need to bear in mind at your age there are things that will get in the way of a career, like a family”. I expected better from a woman with a family of her own! Although maybe she was just warning me about what it’s really like.
A few years earlier I was mid-20’s and in an interview at another institution, interviewing for a 4-year post. The lead interviewer, again, a middle-aged female, looked pointedly at my hands and said “this is a 4-year post and we want someone who is committed to doing the full 4 years. Is there anything in your immediate future, personally, that would stop you from completing the full 4 years”. In my naivety I stuttered something about “well I’m not planning on getting married and having kids in the next four years” and she nodded, said something like “good” and wrote something down. If that happened to me at the age I am now I would have spoken up and complained, but at that age I was too taken aback and desperate to impress that I didn’t realise what I’d been asked until after the interview.
I know we talk about everyday sexism coming from men but it really hurts me when it comes from women too, especially when it’s from women in more senior positions. It makes me feel like I haven’t got much chance of getting ahead if even they are against me.