It seems that I have always chosen jobs that put me in a ‘boys club’ of sorts. Selling cars, and tech having been the most notable of them. There have always been numerous, swept under the rug comments about my place in an industries like these, which have only prompted me to work harder, feeling as though I have to prove myself because I’m a woman.
Having worked, also, in female dominated workplaces like retail and administration, there are still things that come up as obligatory just because you’re a woman. Those seem to have been more habit-forming than challenging in my own opinion. When I worked in retail it was all about keeping up – hair, nails, clothes. When I worked in administration it was all about getting people coffee and dressing professionally – god forbid I express my personality a little bit.
This to say, I have worked on both sides of the spectrum: boys AND girls clubs. My propensity for male-dominated industries came hard and fast when I decided I wanted to sell cars. Shortly before those stints as a salesperson, I remember having a conversation with my father. I was broke. Living in my own apartment at the age of 18, and simply not able to make ends meet (mostly because of my choice to move into an apartment alone at the age of 18, granted). My father has always been well-to-do, so I figured explaining my situation and asking for help would be met with open arms.
It wasn’t. I was told that I would always have to work harder to prove myself because I was a woman, and that this situation I was in was no exception – he would not help me. It was probably the reason I turned to credit cards, in retrospect. I decided, that I would stop asking for help at that moment, and though it may not have been the right way to deliver a message like this to an 18 year-old – I have not asked for help since.
When I was selling cars, I found myself on the other end of another comment like that. I was working at a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership, and it was my “up” (meaning the next customer was mine). A young(ish) woman walked in, and I kindly asked if I could help her with something. I was clearly a salesperson, as I walked up to her and wasn’t sitting at reception. She proceeded to look me up and down and say “Is there a man working? I’m looking for a truck and only a man can help me”.
I was absolutely appalled at this statement. Afterall, this was another woman saying this to me. Sometimes, as women, we expect to hear this shit from men – it just comes with the territory. With that, I walked away. I didn’t say anything, despite my screaming inclination to rip this woman apart. I sat at my desk and bewilderingly stared at my computer screen, wondering what just happened. Eventually, she wandered over to my desk and apologized, but all I could do was give her an insincere smile and aimlessly crush the keys on my keyboard.
Now, working in ‘Digital’, I am constantly surrounded by men. Mind you, I work for an organization that pays female employees equal (if not slightly more) to their male counterparts, and has more women in management roles than most agencies I’ve seen in this city. Sometimes, though, I wonder why there are so many fewer women than men when I look around my office. The truth is that women are scared to get into technology, or they simply do not think that they have a place here. It was the same feeling that I had looking around a car dealership with over 20 salespeople, and only two of those salespeople were women.
In both of these instances, you can’t blame the organizations, you have to realize that there are just so few women applying for these positions. And in my current job, I don’t receive any ‘sympathy’ for being a woman, I am treated the exact same – which is exactly what I want.
I am constantly in amazement at how many articles I see about ‘leaning in’ or teaching women how to negotiate better salaries. I used to agree with this movement of educating and spreading awareness – and part of me still agrees with some of it. But at a point, I find it to be extremely frustrating. Granted, there are women that are helped by this kind of literature, and that’s great. But it needs to be about more than that.
It needs to be about teaching girls and women to fight for equality, so that we don’t have to read and write these articles anymore. Feminism, after all, is all about the equality of the sexes, not man hating. Instead of building yourself up to negotiate a better salary, women should have a place at the table – not just because they are women, but because they have earned it, just like the man sitting across from them.
When men and women are completely equal, we will not have to be taught how to negotiate, it will be a skill we acquire throughout the course of our lives – and we won’t have to big ourselves up emotionally to be able to do it. Men, oftentimes, walk into a room when they have received a job offer and evaluate if that’s what they deserve – often times leading into salary negotiations before the job even starts. Women, it seems, all too often, just take what they are offered because they see the job offer as a determination of their value.
Why do you as a woman have to work harder for something? Why do we feel that we’re always trying to prove something – to be given the exact same benefits or compensation as a man. If I work harder than a man does and achieve better results, I expect to be given more – NOT the same. The Lean In movement has been progressive for career women, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that we are still in a place where women don’t feel comfortable or confident in what they bring to the table is straight up wrong.
I can’t wait to be in a time where my daughter (should I have one) will not have to worry about comments like the ones that have been made to me. For them to be able to choose to work in tech instead of administration or childcare because that’s what they want. Every day, I work hard. I do this because I strive to be a good employee, not because I have to prove myself because I’m a woman. For the longest time, I felt like that was what I was after – proving my value as a woman, not just an employee. I have earned my place, and I deserve it, which is the feeling I hope that most people feel, let alone my female friends and coworkers.