Ok. I know that I am late to the game but a woman has to be true to herself….and I’m a bit of a procrastinator. (That along with the fact that I just saw that the Equal Rights bill passed the House in Illinois …still has to go to the Senate…jogged my memory to write this. I went to a great event on International Women’s Day. All that energy in one room! It was an amazing feeling. Truthfully, I’m new to this aspect of my business life. I did not have a network of women coming together to support each other earlier in my career.
In fact, some of my most difficult working relationships were with women. (Note: I am willing to take some of the blame as well). In the beginning of my career, I had a number of women managers and found all but one was difficult to horrible.
However, I am willing to admit that there was some explanation for this. When I started in business, I wore suits with ties (a woman’s version but a tie none the less). Women were told that to get to where the men were, we had to act like men. So we dressed up to play the part and acted like a**holes because that seemed to be what most of us saw from our male colleagues…..Act tough and you’ll get ahead. In fact, at the beginning of my career, I supported a female and male sales person in a technical role. The female sales person was a peer and we had a great relationship. She got promoted and literally (not figuratively) she turned mean overnight. I never saw such a drastic transition but it was a life lesson for me. This was what we were being told. There were few leadership positions for women in organizations and the unwritten rule was that your biggest obstacle to promotion was the woman above you. It created a dog eat dog environment. This, I believe is at least part of the reason my relationships with women were so tough.
So when I got pregnant with my first child I decided to start my own consulting firm., Between the fact that I was a new mother and I didn’t want to be travelling all of the time and I wanted to continue to work in consulting, I really didn’t think I had much of a choice. I exercised what I thought was and an obvious and single option. . I’ve been told that that took a lot of courage because that is not the choice that many women may have made at that time. I never really thought about it like that. I happen to be a risk taker and figured that I had a number of potential “do-overs” in my life so I just went for it.
Full time employment options that allowed flexibility to raise children were few and far between at that time. Women in my position (new mother) either gave up on the workforce or worked full-time (foregoing the flexibility that was so important to me). Neither of those options were desirable outcomes so I created my own consulting firm. I don’t remember being scared. I never thought twice about the process. I believe that I had a very healthy attitude about the business. I wasn’t afraid of failing.. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t many times that I felt alone. At the time, I lived in a bedroom community and often felt like an outsider. Most of my friends and neighbors were stay-at-home Moms. While I never questioned their decision, it would have been nice to have a network of working Moms to commiserate and support each other.
There were some groups focused on working women’s issues back then but meeting after meeting, the time was spent discussing work life balance issues. I stopped going to these meetings. The truth of the matter was that I’m pretty good at balancing work and life. So I decided that my time was better spent with my kids at home in the evening than talking about wanting more time with my kids.
I’m proud of where I am and what I’ve accomplished and wouldn’t have changed my direction. Do I wish that we would be well past discussions of discrimination/bias and equal pay for women? No doubt. I got through it all trying to ignore all the signs. My naivety kept me sane. My method was to blend in and “be one of the guys” without compromising my values. It wasn’t a stretch for me given that most of my best friends growing up were guys. Comments such as “Did you sleep with the boss to get your role” didn’t make me pause. Maybe it should have but I didn’t have many women at my level to commiserate with so I just chalked it up to another stupid person that I had to deal with in my business. (Plus, my great comeback lines always come to me 24 hours later.)
Truthfully, I never wanted to be hired because I’m a woman-owned business. I wanted to be hired because we happen to be the best in strategic delivery. That still holds true. Many years later and additional wisdom has made me realize that I’m okay if someone wants to bring me on because we are a woman-owned business. I can prove to them that we are the best after we’re in there.
I’ve also come to realize that initiatives focused on making special efforts to drive inclusion do help. I look at today’s environment (International Women’s Day) and I see a lot of momentum for women in business. Strength comes in numbers.
Please understand that this will still take time. The fact that we are still talking about equal pay over 40 years later is sad. Yet, sitting in that meeting with over 1000 women (and men) for International Women’s Day makes me hopeful that my daughters will have greater opportunities and a better support system as they progress in their careers.