04 / 3 / 2015 1.05pm
Kate Milton is senior equality and health inequalities manager, workforce, training and delivery at NHS England.
My mum was considered old to have a child in 1965, and with a two year old at home had no choice but to be a stay-at-home mother. Not one to conform to convention, she worked as much as she could balancing it around her family. She started working for a bank in 1974, one year before the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA). Assuming to prove that she wasn’t going to have more babies she had to put my date of birth on her application form, as I was her youngest child. It remained on her records until she retired in 1989, and every appraisal she had, had my date of birth at the top of the form – my, how we have moved on.
In 1978 we moved house. Working for a bank, mum got a staff rate for a mortgage, but because she was a woman (even three years post SDA), was only granted the mortgage based on my father’s income. Despite Mum being the one to liaise entirely with the estate agent, all correspondence from the estate agent was addressed to Dad. I remember mum being justifiably incensed. When similar things have happened to me I have raised the issue with the culprit and it has been taken seriously – although that wasn’t in 1977.
And so to my own experience. I started work in 1986. I remember being given a booklet called something like interviewing for women. Oh how sage that advice was. Wear a suit, high heels and make up. You will be taken more seriously. Do not wear trousers. 30 years on and my work wardrobe comprises more trousers than skirts or dresses. I do still do the heels though, but that is because I’m quite small.
I was married in 1992. I chose to take my husband’s surname only because I preferred it to my own. What I didn’t take was his first name, but the amount of post I get addressed to Mrs A Milton is incredible. Even birthday cards from family are addressed this way. I almost feel like returning them with not known at this address. I did not choose to morph my identity with his, but to become his life partner, and importantly to me, his equal.
I was interviewed for a job as a practice manager a few months later, and was asked when I would have children – I didn’t know, and funnily enough, wasn’t appointed. When I became pregnant, I was appointed to a HR post with a large accounting firm. Upon learning of my pregnancy, I was told by the staff partner no less oh, that wasn’t very good timing was it. Couldn’t you do anything about it? That comment about my daughter, who is now a beautiful, intelligent and engaging young woman herself. Of course I couldn’t do anything about it!
So, how to conclude? We have come a long way over the last 50 years in the quest for equal rights for women, but we still have a long way to go. There will be laughter, there will be tears, but bit by bit, it is getting better for my daughter, and any daughters she may have herself.