Having worked offshore, I can confidently say that gender adversity is a very real challenge for women at sea. More often than not, my first reaction is to get angry when someone says something inappropriate. But, are there situations when anger may not be the best reaction?
During one rotation offshore, I stepped off the helicopter to walk straight into a large government audit. This audit was a very involved process with 3rd party auditors, a team from the office to serve as ‘handlers’ for these auditors, and multiple interview sessions for the leadership to attend.
I wasn’t originally scheduled to be offshore during this audit – a hurricane evacuation the previous week had postponed the audit to the week during my rotation. Saddling up and ready to hit the ground running, I started my rotation as the main engineering contact for all audit questions – not a small task!
I sat in small group sessions, looked up requested documents, and supported the leadership team during this 3-day process. I was proud to be a part of this team and receive feedback afterwards that we had done very well.
At the end of all of the sessions, the auditors waited in the briefing room for the helicopter. I found myself sitting with one of the ‘handlers’ from the office who was an older gentleman. I had interacted with this man during the last 3 days – pulling documents, answering questions and helping him direct the auditors.
During the audit, our conversations were kept brief and professional.
Now, in the conference room by ourselves, the man came over to me and shook my hand saying, “Thank you for all your help with the audit, Sita. You did a great job.”
“Thank you.” I replied. “It’s all part of my job out here as an engineer.”
The man then looked at me, paused and then said, “I hope to see little Sita’s running around some day. It’s great you are out here, but some day you will have to put your family first.”
At first, I had no idea what to do, except give him a bewildered look!
In a split second, I thought, did this man just tell me that even though I did a great job, I’ll eventually have to quit and have babies? Was he insisting that as a woman, I’m obligated to do so?
I started to feel the anger rise up.
What right did he have to comment on my personal life? How could he say this to me, but not to any of the men he interacted with during the audit?
I wanted to tell this man that what he said was completely inappropriate and to not make assumptions about my personal life.
During that split second, I also looked into this man’s eyes and, to my surprise, I found neither malice or judgement, but an authenticity. He had no idea that what he said was inappropriate. He thought he was helping me!
I knew then, that anger was not the most effective response.
Had I gotten angry at him, he would have completely written me off as a crazy woman and never listened to the point I was trying to make. I decided instead, to use that opportunity to say something to him that would hopefully lead to an understanding.
I promptly replied, “Thank you for your advice. I certainly hope you give this same advice to your male mentees because we all know it is equally important for men to put their families first, as it is for women.”
I walked right past him and out of the room.
I have no idea what this man thought or how he reacted. What I do know, is that I came out of that situation empowered and hopeful that instead of alienating this older gentleman, who probably said what he said in a fatherly way without understanding why it was an inappropriate comment, I had taught him something:
I taught him that assuming things about a woman’s personal life (or anyone’s personal life for that matter) is not okay. I taught him that both men and women have an equal right and responsibility to choose if they want to have a family, and if they do, how to provide for their family.
And, at the very least, I know that I taught myself that anger isn’t the answer to the inequalities and adversity we face in life.