I was envious of the five men with whom I shared the anonymous landscape office at the Volvo car dealership in Helsinki in August 1981. They all drove fancy four door company cars. I did not have any car. That was typical for all new graduates in Finland. Cars were expensive. The good public transportation system was extensively utilized.
“Maybe I am being discriminated against because I am a woman”, I pondered.
The real reason was most likely that I was only hired for four months, replacing the permanent secretary of this group of men. They drove around in Finland teaching mechanics how to repair Volvo-cars and buses. In my role as a secretary I was not expected to drive anywhere.
However, after the first two weeks, when I felt I had become an important part of the group, I looked over from my desk to the other side of the room, where our boss was sitting behind his desk, and I said bravely:
“Markku, I would also like to have a company car”.
Markku looked up from his papers, paused a moment and answered
“Hmm, you are still rather new. But why not, I think I have a perfect car for you. Please come with me”.
He took me into a mid-sized storage room with many spare parts and miscellaneous small stuff. I thought we were taking a shortcut to the garage. Suddenly he stopped, turned around and smiled like a cat that has just caught a mouse. I froze and a fear ran through my mind. Maybe it had not been such a good idea to follow him to this isolated storage room. What did I know about these kinds of male-dominated working places?
Then Markku reached out his hand and took a small brown box from one of the upper shelves.
“Here is your car”, he said, handing the box to me.
Surprised, I looked at the box and at him. I opened the box and drew out a four inches long golden-colored Volvo 400 De Lux.
Markku was laughing the whole way back to our office, while I had difficulties finding an appropriate facial expression…