For almost a decade now I have remained an unemployed/unemployable journalist; my workload stuttered and stalled as my kidney function teetered and crashed. Indeed, in the past ten years I have only had two articles published, that's a fairly low output for someone with the audacity to dish out business cards with the words 'freelance writer' emblazoned across them.
While comas, spells of blindness, dialysis and stints of being an in-patient may have served as valid reasons not to find work, transplant surgery put me back on a path where I thought I could be of some use to someone...somewhere. As I blogged my way through convalescence a chance meeting led me to emigrate to Sweden, where I currently look for work.
On balance I felt that moving to a larger, more international and ethnically diverse city abroad would serve me just as well in regards to employment as my backwater, market hometown in the UK. What with Sweden's supreme reputation for equality and fairness, I felt well placed. I was never expecting Swedish companies to be falling over themselves to employ me, and it is true to say that pickings are slim for English writers here, particularly ones with such a gaping void on their CV. It was always going to be a battle, but I felt aware of what obstacles lay in my way, at least I thought I did. Apparently, my gender can also potentially serve as a hurdle.
A job as a blogger was posted by a digital sales strategy start-up company, and as I read it I felt boxes being ticked - until I got to the last line:
'SEXISM!', I internally screamed before firing the link off to my Swedish wife and tweeting it to selected writers living in this city. 'Is that even legal?', one of them responded, another reporter made contact with the company in question and later that day the following article appeared. I am certainly not glib about the global gender inequalities in the work place and cannot distance myself further from men's rights activism, but such a transparent bias sat most uncomfortably with me.
A debate of 'what ifs' erupted': What if they had specified they had a bias towards men? What if this was a UK job advert? Even a passing conversation with a UK lawyer friend led to a resounding and disbelieving, 'they wrote what?' The reaction from my spirited, feminist wife was rather more telling though. This was, apparently, a non-story, and yes, for the record - I was dutifully informed - it is not wholly unusual for a gender to be specified when recruiting for a job - both male and female in equal measures.
I am a flag-waving supporter of equality: gender, race, sexuality, the whole kit and caboodle, but clearly there are some nuances lost to my ethnocentric UK brain. Even the CEO's defending comments in the press felt, in parts, baffling.
They wanted to address the balance of its largely male dominated workforce. Okay, I am down with that - a non-homogeneous work environment is surely of benefit. So far, so good. But then he continued:
"Men tend to be more T-shaped and less willing to give things a try, whereas women are the opposite. In general I'd say that women are more tenacious and function better in teams."And there his argument falls spectacularly flat on its face. A well-meaning philosophy rapidly descends into the same kind of logic that lies at the heart of the 'women can't parallel park' debate, i.e wholly ill-founded. It's putting genders in boxes, and that is something we should all get a little touchy about.
In fear that he may have been accused of trying to pretty the place up, he added:
"Not at all! That's why we despise the calendars that mechanics have on the wall."Did he mean mechanics or did he mean sexists? Because I think there is a pretty big difference myself.
According to Sweden's Equality Ombudsman, there are no laws being broken, the mark is only over stepped when a bias regarding ethnicity or race is made.
Still, at least my initial, accusatory reaction of it being sexist had been undermined; the company's heart is clearly in the right place, despite the train of thought it took to get there.
They later tweeted in reaction to the day's fuss:
'Don't you want more women in tech? We are suddenly strange for wanting to change the imbalance."
Fair enough, but I am left feeling frustrated and impotent and that's fair enough too, right?