Maggie Coombes on the challenges of working in a male-dominated environment

The designers and the other assistants I think were pretty welcoming, but I think there were issues with some of the tradespeople that I worked with in the construction shop – again, mainly it was fine, but I remember them telling me, I think in my first week, somebody down there said to me, “Oh, we had a woman once, she didn’t last, she burst into tears.” And I thought, “Right, that’s it – whatever happens, that’s the last thing I’m going to do.” And I don’t know, I suppose because you were running up and down stairs in the studio and running downstairs to the offices in the construction shop, which were on the first floor, I mean… and just because you were working… if you were down in the construction shop, it was a dirty environment, so I didn’t run around in heels and skirts, I wore jeans and what have you, and again, I can remember being asked if I was a lesbian because I must be, because I worked with all these men, and it was a male department that I had chosen to work in, which was a bit odd. I mean, I thought it was quite funny, really. But it was quite strange in retrospect, I suppose.

I suppose late 70s, early 80s there were… a couple of other women came in, which was good – that was great, except the powers that be then decided that… before, designers were in one section and assistants were in the other, and that worked fine, but they suddenly decided that the women should all be in one office together, and I dug my heels in and said, “No – I don’t want to work in a ghetto, thanks very much.” Not that I didn’t like the other women, but I just thought that was dreadful. But other than that, it was fine.

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