I graduated from college in 2008, probably the worst time for a college grad in recent history. There were no jobs for experienced people who were laid off, never mind recent graduates. I landed my first job, at an accessories manufacturer by making a mistake in my interview. The owner gave me a series of numbers at the beginning of the interview and told me to just “hold on to them”, I wasn’t permitted to write them down, so, instead of memorizing them, I started adding them up in my head. I’m so smart, I know! I thought he was testing my basic math abilities, turns out he was testing my memory and although I knew the sum, I couldn’t remember the numbers. I thought it was the worst interview I ever went on and figured I had no shot of getting the job. Well, I did get it…go figure. The office was small; it was owned by two male partners, and employed three other women and one man. On a daily basis one of the women would be brought to tears by the CEO. He was rude, ruthless, and cruel to all of the girls. To the only male employee he was respectful, he would joke around with him, take him on business trips, invite him to business lunches, etc. Oh, it was awful, it was even more awful because we needed that job, we had to stay. The women there all had families, spouses or rent to pay. The man still lived with his mom.
I left there after a year in a half and landed a job at a very popular Fortune 500 fashion company.
This company is so popular that I would bet most women reading this own or have owned at least one of their items. Well, a publicly traded company, especially one focused on women’s fashion wouldn’t have gender bias, right? Wrong! On the entire executive team there was one woman, out of 12 people. In my department, there was an Operational Group, in that group, there was one woman, out of 10 people. That probably would not be weird for most companies, but very weird for a company where the majority of the employees are in fact, women. For example, out of 100 people in my department there were 20 something men. The men executives had their own assistants, the women who had assistants shared between them. There are so many examples I could give you about the men I saw grow faster in their roles than their female counterparts. Maybe it’s because the man performed better, maybe it’s because once a woman had a child she felt overlooked and stopped trying; there could be many variables one would argue, but whatever the variable, an inequality existed, that much is obvious.
My most recent role was with a tech start up. In the time I was there they went from 50 employees to over 300. My husband started at the same company not long after me. He had less experience than I had but was offered 20% more salary and 10x the amount of stock. After my first year I got pregnant. Right before my leave I was asked if I was really going to return, then I was told that because of company re-structuring my current role would be eliminated but the new undetermined role would be one a mother could handle. What was most shocking to me was hearing another woman say it. Of course I reported this to HR, but there was no clear action taken. Imagine the hormonal mother-to-be in that meeting?!
These are just three small examples of my experience, which is not to say this is the same for everyone. I’m sure there are many companies that treat women equally, where women regardless of whether or not they are married, or have children are judged and treated solely on their performance and their experience. I do think that we still exist in a world where there are more “boy clubs” at companies. There are a lot of gender contradictions you see all the time in society. The mother is the main caretaker of the kids, expected to attend doctor appointments, drive the kids to extracurricular activities, and coordinate all of the action of the household; meal planning, food shopping, laundry, baths, bedtime. But on the other hand, at work, she is expected to be there 100% if she wants to grow. How do you manage those conflicting expectations? What I want women and men to know, is there is still a lot of work to be done; a lot of walls to be broken, a lot of ceilings to be shattered. We aren’t done yet, we’ve only made small dents and chips. If women are expected to perform professionally in the same capacity as men then they should be compensated as such; the same doors that open for men, should open for women.