This article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald’s family column, written by me, in October 2013. Due to requests from various sources, I’m reproducing it here.
The day I met Holly Scott-Donaldson from Pewsey, she was sitting on the sofa trying to get comfortable as she awaits the imminent birth of her third child.
None of this stopped her talking to me, sorting out the washing and taking the odd telephone call.
For some, especially those in a corporate world, Holly, now 41, is a nesting mother-to-be luxuriating in being a stay-at-home parent. Appearances can be deceptive.
Those odd telephone calls related to her new business, Donaldson Business Bureau, which is growing fast and particularly engaging women in the county. Her clients are blue chip companies and small one-man or woman bands. Business is continuing as well as preparations for a new family member – a little girl.
When Holly started out in her career she could not have imagined being where she is now, living with her husband Rod, sons Magnus, five and Ranulf, two, in a picturesque rural town in Wiltshire.
She’d had a career in banking, IT and marketing after completing a degree in international business studies at the University of the West of England – UWE. She’s been headhunted for virtually every job she’s ever done. She’s travelled the world professionally and also spent time helping her father run his own hotel in South Africa.
“Single people in the corporate world will often realize that some of their colleagues are more settled and they are prepared to be more flexible. However, if you are not careful that behaviour can become a habit. In my job I was one of the last unmarried people so stuff rolled downhill to me which I did, but which weren’t necessarily part of my role.”
However on returning to work after having Magnus, the expectation was that this ‘stuff’ would still keep rolling Holly’s way.
“My professional relationships changed. I returned to my corporate job to a new team, new tech and I was in a situation where I was a cog in a wheel and my view of my job had changed. I was married now with a baby.
“I was trying to start everything from scratch, I had masses of guilt and I wasn’t feeling appreciated. I was so tired and often not emotionally strong enough but the demands on my time were still there.”
So when asked, Holly jumped at the chance to work for a smaller company as head of marketing. A happy couple of years followed.
“It was a great job until the day when I said one word to the directors – ‘miscarriage’. It was a Sunday, I’d had a miscarriage, was in hospital and was due in London the next day. I called one of my bosses, explained the situation and I feel I was never treated the same from that day onwards.
“The relationship collapsed. Previously I was part of the management team and we’d meet and discuss our direction together. Now, even though my job hadn’t changed technically, I was out of the loop, I was not included in those discussions and was issued with a set of instructions.”
However, Holly found herself in a professional trap. Doing a job she no longer liked but needing the money and feeling unable to move. Plus she was now pregnant with her second son.
“I reasoned with myself and thought I would just do my job and go home. But it was demoralizing, having my professional input denied just wore me down and over time it actually changed my personality. I was in a depressed state, and felt I was just living a humdrum routine with no vitality.”
Then she was told she was on ‘redundancy watch’ and her role was reduced from five days a week to two.
“It was equally devastating. My husband was unemployed at the time and I was the breadwinner. Overnight our finances plummeted. But I had to go on with it – I had no choice. So for two days a week I ‘played job’, it was so hard.”
Anxious to earn money for the other week days, Holly did what many mums do – enter the direct selling market.
“I found that time and again I was called on to train other people who wanted to sell the products rather than selling the products myself. I decided to make training and business advice, the focus of my own business and I pulled out of the direct selling.”
However, a few months into her third pregnancy, she was made redundant from her two days’ a week role. She believes the two things were linked.
“Looking back just a few short months later, I can see that I needed that to happen. I needed to lose that job. If you have got people sitting on your shoulder every day telling you they don’t value you, it’s no good.
“The first Monday when I got up and didn’t have to deal with that was the best day of my life apart from my wedding day and the birth of my children.
“There are so many women and mums out there in my position. They are worried and they have to put up with so much corporate stuff and often are made to feel second class. They are worth so much more than that.
“My message to anyone out there who is stuck – remember anything is possible. You can do anything you want to do if you’ve got the right people around you.”
It’s Monday and, as some of you will know, yesterday I blogged about gardening.
Such a mundane subject when, on the same day, I read a blog from a friend talking about being a victim of domestic violence. Gardening seems such a trite thing to talk about in that context.
It was one of those blogs where you reflect on what you know of that person and you think ‘what? I’d never have thought it!’
Which just goes to show that domestic violence is no respecter of intelligence, personality or income. There may well be some evidence that if you’ve been brought up in a violent household, then you are more likely to be attracted to that kind of environment later. Work I’ve done around domestic violence murders, does seem to suggest this can be the case. But not having that kind of background, doesn’t mean you won’t be a victim of domestic violence.
I know this because I was a victim of it too. Not the ‘mysterious black eyes’ or facial bruises type. But the ‘you’re ugly’, ‘you’re fat’, ‘you’re stupid’, ‘you’re no good at anything’ type. All the signs were there at the beginning – but when they say love is blind, well it certainly was for me. This was one occasion in my life when I thought I’d got it all. I finally got the good-looking guy, the man everyone wanted to go out with. He had piercing blue eyes, appeared successful and very attentive.
When I first met him, he ‘shared’ a flat with a woman who’d been his partner but they’d split up some time ago. I visited at his invitation and found, to my surprise, there was only one bedroom. But I conveniently overlooked this fact.
Then soon after, we were running to cross a wide road in Bath and I was accidentally left behind, a little slower than him and lost his hand. I laughingly crossed the road after him only to get a tirade of verbal abuse about how I’d humiliated and embarrassed him.
As I said, all the signs were there.
There then followed a roller coaster of two years of emotional abuse, interlaced with break-ups, reunions and the end period of living together. Along with the personal stuff (I was watched over all the time) there was the debt collectors and the lies, the money borrowed in my name and more which I just cannot go into here…
In the end it was a small thing which made me see the light. Something so small I can’t even remember what happened. I just walked out, called my parents, and asked for sanctuary. Luckily they agreed.
I’d made the mistake of agreeing to buy a house with this character – but luckily my name was on all the paperwork and I decided to go ahead on my own. A brave decision as I was responsible for a large loan, taken out without my permission and in my name, for motorbike parts, which I had to pay off for two years in order to not be blacklisted.
Once the relationship was over, I saw this man for what he was – a pathetic, sad little man, more pathetic than I had ever realised. I was stalked for six months, where he would turn up when I was out covering an event, he would call my parents and slag me off in terms no one wants their loved ones to hear, he would phone me at work especially if I was on a late shift. I always asked where my money was – he always said he’d pay with interest – I’m still waiting. That was over 20 years ago.
Frankly, it was cheap enough to get rid of that man. The experience taught me something important – I am deeply sensitive to any man who criticises me in a personal capacity when he barely knows me. Some short time after this relationship, I had a couple of dates with a man who told me he didn’t like my coat and thought I should get another – I never went out with him again.
I don’t judge anyone who puts up with dv for a period of time. It’s so easy to be blind – or to truly believe you can change someone or to be so downtrodden that you just cannot see a way out.
I also sometimes dream of that time and then wake up and feel a rush of relief that I’m not back there. I count myself lucky to have broken free and found someone I can be myself with and not be fearful for my safety or sanity.
Just felt the need today to blog about the whole discussion over sexual harassment in the light of the latest debate surrounding a particular politician.
I’ve faced up to sexual harassment – but did I do it the right way or not?
I listened to a discussion on a weekly political show, on a weekend discussion programme where the issue was discussed in some detail. It’s a mixture of women, men, power, control and sexual desire. A variation on the whole theme of the ‘casting couch’, ‘men in power’ etc etc.
It made me reflect on more than 20 years working in various areas of the media and the times I’d encountered such practices. Which have been few, I should hasten to add. There is no part of the media where I’ve thought ‘can’t work there too many men with wandering hands’.
However there have been a small number of occasions where the behaviour of some men, and women, have surprised me. I won’t say shocked as it takes a lot to shock me.
Please bear in mind, I’m not talking about inappropriate flings or relationships here – I’m talking about moments or revelations which happen and which completely blindside you.
I should set a context – I’m a naturally tactile person, many journalists are, I’ve noticed. I will often touch someone while talking to them, it’s part of my natural body language I suppose. I can be flirtatious but I have a line which cannot be crossed. That is where healthy contact and banter becomes something overtly sexual, makes me feel uncomfortable or seedy. But I’m good at making it clear when that line has been crossed.
I can think of several occasions both professionally and personally where my outgoing personality has led others to think I’m romantically interested in them. I have had to have several difficult conversations about the feelings not being returned, reminders about the fact that I’m married and I take that seriously, and, in some cases, friendships and connections have remained intact. I had these conversations when I was single and when married.
Occasionally however, none of the above apply and here are three incidents I’d like to share.
What do you do when, as a very young green journalist, an older journalist who is always friendly suddenly thinks it’s okay to touch you inappropriately? In this case, it was a man in his 50s, probably, who thought it was okay to stroke the back of my neck. Not abusive but creepy to me.
When it happened the first time, I let it go. The next time, I told him not to touch me again. I have no memory of his response. I think he beat a hasty retreat.
I did tell my boss at the time but I was postively encouraged to take it no further. After all, nothing had really happened. I was told that the person would be ‘told’ about it. Must’ve worked, it didn’t happen again. I just hope it didn’t happen to anyone else.
Another time was personal. A man known to me, retired and someone I saw relatively often, pinned me against a doorframe in his house and tried to snog me. A whole tongue down the throat affair while his wife was in another room. I was a teenager.
It was completely vile and even now, I can recall the feeling of disgust.
Again I told the man, who was in a senior position within his community, to ‘never touch me again or I’ll tell your wife’. Seemed to work.
But I’ve always wondered if he ever did it to anyone else….I also spoke up about it at home but I think it took a long time for my parents to believe it had happened. I know for sure, that my natural revulsion and pushing him away, may have stopped things being much worse.
The other incident I recall was far more recent – within the last five years. I was working alongside someone I’d known for a long time but had not worked directly with and we were in a small room together, we had to be for the job we were doing at the time.
A discussion was taking place which had got around to families and relationships. Nothing unusual in that. Then he asked me a question which really threw me – he asked ‘if I liked three-in-a-bed relationships?’
I looked at him and I think my reply was something bland like ‘I’m a one-man woman me’ and tried to forget it.
The context didn’t set up a question like that and I immediately knew this could all go horribly wrong. I also felt I didn’t want to work with him again straightaway. I did, however, finish that task and nothing happened. I never worked with him again.
I didn’t ever complain about this inappropriate moment. But I find myself asking the same question yet again – did it happen to anyone else and was it even worse?
My conclusion is that most women will have experiences like these both privately and personally. I feel I dealt with them to the best of my ability at the time. I have no idea if I was right or wrong. I can only say that I trusted my judgment of how it made me feel and acted accordingly.
I’ve worked with many small businesses and charities over the years and have found that plenty would like to have a regular presence in the media or online but few have the budget to match.
PR takes time, and while a couple of articles in the press may help with instant publicity, often what is needed is a long-term strategy to develop a brand and continuous plugging away at getting customer recognition. Many small organisations lack the skills internally and can’t afford to hire someone on an on-going basis, so how can they build a media profile?
Fiona and I have been puzzling about how to tackle this issue for a while. We were talking with social media whizz, Jackie Hutchings and fellow blogger and journalist Jo Smyth, it turned out that they’d been pondering the same thoughts too.
So we’ve decided to join forces and run a course on – to put it bluntly – do it yourself PR.
We have more than enough experience between us to teach the basics on how to get started on social networks, to engage an audience, blog and write a press release. We find that many small business businesses have stories to tell but they don’t know how to communicate them effectively on or offline. There is a method in writing a decent press release, and there are strategies to deploy to give that story more chance of being used. This day will help delegates understand how the media works, what makes a good story and what doesn’t.
We are prepared for complete beginners, who find Facebook, Twitter and Google+ a complete modern mystery, and for those who use social media but would like to engage in a more effective way. By the end of the day you should be able to identify and write a good story about your news and know how to maximise the ways of communicating that message. Our aim is that delegates walk away with real, practical skills to build on what they already know.
And the final thing is, this course is aimed just at women.
We want a relaxed vibe to the day, where questions (however basic) can be asked with no judgement.
My DIY PR takes place at the Mechanics Institute in Milton Rd, Swindon on Tuesday, October 23rd.
Anyone interested can book here