International women's day 2024 - An interview with my mum!

Candice Mason Helen Vaughan

To celebrate international women's day, I interviewed my Mum! She's been a major inspiration to me growing up. Allowing me to believe that anything is possible. 

The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2024 is Inspire Inclusion.

When we inspire others to understand and value women's inclusion, we forge a better world.

And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there's a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment.

Collectively, let's forge a more inclusive world for women.

I wanted to find out from my Mum how times have changed for women since she was growing up.  

Can you give us your name, age and introduce yourself 

I’m Helen and I'm 64 years old. I grew up in Borehamwood. My dad worked for the BBC studios just round the corner from my house and My Mum stayed at home to care for us. Dad was a solder during WW2 and Mum was an evacuee child from the war.  

What did your Mum & Dad encourage you to do with your life?  

I was always encouraged to just be Happy. Just enjoy life and ensure whatever I did, I was happy as a result. It’s been a good grounding for me.  

What were the expectations on you as a woman growing up? Were you expected to study? Work? Raise a family?  

There was always an emphasis on raising a family and typical ‘girl/domestic’ jobs. Any work that was expected of me was gender typical for that era for anyone without children e.g., office based secretarial roles. It was a sign of those times and I didn’t know any different I started working in 1976 at the electricity board. My second job I went to Argos, I had a female supervisor in this role but she didn’t have any children. All serious management was male.  

Did you ever feel out of place as a woman growing up?  

Not out of place as a female but generally I was very shy and retiring most of my young life and early youth.  I’m still apt to sit on the fence to keep the peace so it wasn’t in my nature to think about the differences between what girls and boys had, I was just happy to be an observer.  

Any examples of when a man was given more power than you? 

I’ve worked in a male environment a number of times and can’t think of an example right now. I guess in some way the men did have more power because it was very uncommon to find a woman in a leadership role. Job roles for women veered towards administrative unless you were gifted or grammar school educated and then you could look at the professions, i.e., accountancy, Doctor, dentist etc. 

You went back to work after having me, what were the options for job roles for women? 

My going to work after having a baby was met with a varying amount of disapproval, more so by healthcare professionals and even the boss who I worked for at Argos as his Secretary.  He told me he would never allow his wife to return to work! He was a chauvinist man and he made no bones about it, he tried it on with me when I was at work!  

I remember taking you for a health visitor appointment and I was welcomed with “Oh yes, you're the Mum who’s gone back to work!” I remember feeling singled out and embarrassed, I wasn’t a very confident person as a youngster and I didn’t like it because it drew attention to me. I was cross with her for making the comment because it belittled me and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the first place so that didn’t help.  

My confidence and coming into my own happened in my 30’s when I started to do all of these extra activities that were typically very male, like skiing, it really helped me to think I could do anything any of the men did.  

What were the reactions from other women and men when you returned to work? 

I justified my actions only to myself and immediate family (Dad) in that no one was suffering, and I was able to make a better financial contribution to the household and therefore make better provisions for you and Hazel (Sister).  It made me feel good to be in the working adult environment, making a real contribution and because it made me feel good, I felt I was a better mother for it as it equipped me with valuable skills in a way that I don’t think I’d have had as a stay-at-home mum.  Another practical advantage of working was that it kept me in touch with the ever changing technology and advances for example; from typewriter to PC  

What have been your biggest achievements in life? 

My biggest achievements, aside from raising a family, was gaining my pilot licence and running my own business in a male dominated industry. I started my own bookkeeping business and believing in myself that I could achieve in any area I chose, given the right set of circumstances.   

I learned to ski in my 20’s, got my pilot licence in my 30’s, attained my full motor bike licence (man’s world again) in my 40’s, took up running and triathlon in my 50’s, made my own hot air balloon in my 60’s.   

When I gained my licence (in the 90’s) to become a hot air balloon pilot with the intention to fly passengers to run my own business. I started doing book keeping at home around the flying and that side of the business and that what I still do to this day. So, I was running two businesses for a long time, most of my friend were employed.   

When I was flying the hot air balloons it was very dominated by Men, I was of only about 12 women in the industry when I started. If I landed on a farmer field they would ask my crew men where the pilot was, no one wanted to believe 

 

What world an opportunity did you want for your two daughters? 

I’ve always wanted my girls to be themselves and believe that they can achieve anything they want in whatever environment they chose, so long as they were happy.  There is nothing females can’t do that that men can, but we do have to acknowledge that we are not built the same and that brings some limitations.  I’m not a typical women’s libber but I do believe in equality and equal opportunities. 

Additionally, I would add that without the support and encouragement from Dad, some of this would not have been possible.  The era I grew up in was traditionally male & female roles and other menfolk could easily have blocked or forbidden their wives to pursue returning to work and other activities outside of the typical domestic roles.  It was on the change but not the norm. 

 


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