Every day, I read about someone else’s #MeToo experience. Stories abound of frat boy culture and locker room talk being excused or even nurtured in schools, the workplace–everywhere, really. Women still earn roughly 80 cents for every dollar of the salary of a man in a comparable position, and we remain far outnumbered in positions of power. With every new story, we have to decide whom to believe, and frankly, that sucks.
Now it’s my turn to tell my story, but it’s not what you think.
Twenty-three years ago, I desperately wanted a new job. I applied to a company and ended up as one of the final candidates for the position. I didn’t get it, but the company president thought I had potential and hired me anyway. He dropped me unheralded on the VP of marketing and told him to find something for me to do.
(Lovable) curmudgeon that he was, my new boss didn’t want to be bothered with me so he found someone else to give me busy work. Within a few weeks, I had proven myself enough that my boss decided I might be worth mentoring. He moved me into the office next to his so we could work more closely together.
The problem was that my office wasn’t just adjacent to his; it adjoined his, with a door between the two. To everyone else, I looked like his secretary. Naive as I was, I didn’t even think about what that meant.
But he did.
Before I had put my things into my new desk, my boss laid out the ground rules. I was to position one of my visitors’ chairs in front of the adjoining door so no one could use it. (His office had another door for access.) He intentionally didn’t share his calendar with me so I couldn’t schedule appointments for him or look up his whereabouts for others. He handled his own correspondence, got his own coffee, and generally handled his own business. In no uncertain terms, he did not want me to look like his admin. That wasn’t why I was hired and he didn’t want anyone to pigeonhole me into the position.
His foresight and concern for my development became the launching point for my career in marketing. I worked hard for him, and he advocated for me. By the time he retired many years later, I had become director of corporate communications, reporting to the company’s CEO.
To be clear, I’m not tooting my own horn, but his. In a world where the battle of the sexes has become increasingly contentious, I bring you this glimmer of hope. There are good people out there. There are good men out there, men who are concerned about appearances, men who look at a person’s work instead of her gender, men who champion opportunities for those who deserve them.
I write this not to discredit the realities of sexism. Believe me, I’ve experienced that, too–in the very same workplace. My intent is to remind myself and maybe you, too, that we can still find good among the bad. And while we need to assign culpability and consequences for injurious behavior, we also need to effect a culture shift that eschews this behavior in the first place. We need more advocacy and less abuse. I just hope we don’t kill each other as we work toward it.
PS. Thanks, DRH. Under your gruff facade, you always had my back, even when I didn’t realize it.