We spoke to our management accountant Nelita do Rosario for International Women’s Day.
Why is International Women’s Day important to you?
For me International Women’s Day is like an extension of Mother’s Day, as the strongest woman I know is my mother. I was raised by a single parent, my mother, who was forced to leave school at a young age to help her mother raise her sisters and brothers. In the 1970s, and with two teenage boys, she found the courage to leave an unfaithful and unhappy marriage. Uneducated, in her early 30s, and with very little support, she still managed to provide everything her kids needed. Fast forward some years, she had me, another partner who didn’t financially support her, but again she was able to provide everything I needed.
Are there any women who have inspired you, whether personally or professionally? What impact have they and other role models had on you?
My mother will always be the first woman who inspired me to be who I am today. She has shown me how to always help people in need even when I don’t have much myself. She has taught me how to be strong through tough times. She has shown me how to work hard for what I want in life and to try and not depend on anyone else. She managed to provide for her children, she continued to show strength and endurance to keep moving forward. This has helped me in my career to never give up even when faced with challenges.
Professionally, I looked up to a sustainability director in a past job, who wasn’t your ordinary female. Soft spoken and polite, she challenged the CEO and other male directors, because her passion to make an impact on the environment was stronger than her fear of not being liked. I have learned you will either intimidate or inspire someone, and I’d much rather do that than back down and have no impact.
Throughout your career, how have you been impacted by the representation of women in your sector/area of work?
I work in accounting, which has traditionally been a male dominated profession. I previously worked in a team where most of my co-workers were male and the only other female was the finance controller. She was sadly labelled “cold, stern, crazy” and for a while I thought some of these things too. But I soon realised that what I was witnessing was a woman in a very senior position trying to manage men, and she had to fight for the same respect just because she was a female.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in the workplace and what – or who – has helped you to overcome them?
Out of the nine roles I have held, I have been managed by a man in eight. It was extremely hard to be completely open with how I felt regarding any discrimination or harassment as I could sense I was being viewed as “petty” so I wouldn’t mention things at all.
Over the years as I came across different women in the workplace and heard their experiences, I realised I needed to bring to light certain topics, otherwise things may never change. Slowly I started these awkward conversations around the topics I wasn’t happy about myself, such as equal pay and harassment in the workplace.
It took a while to get used to not being apologetic, “soft” or agreeing with everything all the time. I had to learn how to be stern but respectful. Another challenge I faced was having my ideas shut down continuously, or taken forward to more senior staff as someone else’s idea. I always felt I had to work at 200% to try and prove to everyone I was capable of being one of the “lads”, that I was also able to achieve great things.
What makes a good male ally in the workplace? What can men do to better support women at work?
Male co-workers being more supportive when they notice females trying to go above and beyond would help. Some of us feel we must work harder to receive the same amount of respect or to be recognised for great achievements. As managers, if innovative ideas are brought to the table, they should never be immediately shut down, but always discussed further, even if the idea ultimately isn’t taken forward. A good ally in the workplace is someone who is aware of others, who is able to notice when something is off; being empathetic can go a long way.