"Are you going to make the tea then?" he bellowed at me across the boardroom. They all stopped and looked in my direction. I'm 23, fresh-faced and just out of college in my first assistant manager role. This is my first board meeting and I don't know a lot other than the fact I've never made tea in my life and I'm not about to start now. I swallow hard, my heart racing.
"No thanks, I'm good", I reply. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, everyone stares at me. I just look and smile and pause, my pen ready to take notes. The response comes.
"Ballsy for a girl, aren't you?". I just smile and don't dignify his sexist comment with a response.
This was the early 90's and I was a different person then; younger, more naive perhaps and certainly less well-travelled through life, but I knew then what I still believe to be true now. Just because I'm a women doesn't mean I should take on the support role everywhere I go.
I grew up in the North of England, a place to me that always felt a little behind the times and less progressive than the allure of the South. Where I grew up women knew their place and Sunday lunch consisted of the men going off to the pub and the women staying at home cooking, followed by washing up while the men relaxed.
Men seemed to have it all - they existed while the women scurried around to tend to their every need. I remember being perplexed as a child and often asked to do the fun things with the dads, but was quickly reminded that wasn't what good girls did. As I grew up and into my teens it infuriated me and my polite pleas to be excused from the washing up were replaced with a torrent of opinion about inequality, but I was just branded a trouble-maker.
The older I got the madder I got, with my anger aimed now more at the women who I considered doormats. I mean, why didn't they just challenge this outdated status quo?
Older and wiser now, I see how difficult it can be for women to escape such an outdated stereotype. The other night, after getting up at 4.30am, driving two hours, doing a full day's work and driving home, I found myself apologising to my husband for not cooking dinner! What was I thinking? Why does the cooking have to fall on my shoulders?
This conditioning runs deep, doesn't it?
As women we often find ourselves cleaning up after others, putting other's needs first, organising everything and going out of our way to help someone. We like being helpful and caring, after all, who else will do it? But all this extra help we offer isn't helping ourselves or anyone else and if we have daughters it certainly is not showing them how to be independent women. Often, no-one else is doing it because they know from experience that if they leave it long enough we will.
I feel we must stop feeling obliged to do this, we must stop feeling like it is our job If we want to raise a generation of young women who know it is not their job to clean up after others, who put their needs first and step more into their leadership role we must stop taking on the support role in all places in our lives. And that includes for our children too.
I'm not writing this thinking it is an easy task as it is not - you feel bad, you don't want to see your children fail and you like things to be tidy, but what if you decided that this just wasn't your job, that everything was a team effort and just because you are the woman doesn't mean that this is what you should do?
We can't be leaders if we put ourselves in the role of support staff in our work or homes. You have permission to let go a little, to not feel obliged and to ask for help. It's a much better thing to lead others than to be the one wiping up after them.