How – if at all – has gender played a role in YOUR career?
I recently was invited by the Co-founder of Fairygodboss, Romy Newman to be a guest on her podcast. It was an incredible learning experience and gave me a chance to reflect on some very thoughtful questions. The first one...and maybe the most difficult one was....
How – if at all – has gender played a role in your career? How do you think it might have been different if you were a man (if at all)?
So my answer began with the idea that I have worked my whole life to live in a world where gender doesn’t matter and that you can be valued for what you contribute and what you are capable of achieving. A tall...Utopian order to say the least...and we are seemingly still a long way from achieving that goal....but it doesn't mean I won't stop trying.
My earliest recollection of "trying to live in a world where gender doesn’t matter" was in elementary school. I grew up in a really small town in the back woods of Canada and I was raised by a feminist mother and a Dad who believed I was his first born son. I basically had very little awareness that there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do if I made up my mind to do it.
As the story goes....the school did a fruit drive fundraiser every year by selling boxes of Florida oranges. The day before the truck was due to back up to the gym they would ask the boys to volunteer to unload it. This meant that the boys got out of classes for most of the day and the girls didn’t. As I looked around the classroom of scrawny, pre-teen boys, I realized that I was taller and more capable of unloading the boxes than most of them. So…after school…I marched myself into the Principals office to launch a formal complaint.
Why wasn’t I allowed to participate? Was he worried I would get hurt…was I not capable…why couldn’t I decide that for myself?
After a short deliberation, the Principal, Mr. Bull realized that it was pointless to argue with me and from that moment on they just asked for volunteers regardless of gender.
So with that as the backdrop…the rest of my life and career has been a lot like that.
When I went to university…I took Engineering and I was the first female president of the Engineering Society at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. Who said a women couldn't lead the men?
When I started my professional career, I did Mechanical Engineering design for commercial buildings including Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). I did site inspections, climbed around roofs and everything that the other guys did. I even wore a tie to some site meetings just to be cheeky.
When I changed jobs to IT, I networked the office on my own and strung Cat 5 cable through the t-bar of the ceiling…down to the wall…and I was 9 months pregnant at the time.
I would like to believe that my life and career would be the same if I were a man or a woman. I never let gender come into the equation and stop me from doing what I know I am capable of doing or building strong relationship with others (men or women). I believe I set the tone and expectation that we should work together as people regardless of gender.
A big part of my ability to look at the world this way comes from the support from my family and especially my husband. We have been married for 25 years and we are the proud parents of two amazing girls, Katie 22 and Emily 18. About 15 years ago, we made the difficult decision as a couple that Jon would stay home and raise the girls while I would be the primary bread winner for the family. I have always said that his job as been harder than mine and thanks to his sacrifice our girls have been set up for success in life. This arrangement has had it share of ups and downs with no shortage of pressures...but honestly...I wouldn't have it any other way.
I'll finish off with these thoughts....
Recently, my daughter Emily had to write a short essay as part of the college application process and the prompt was...
“What has been one thing that has influenced your life the most?”
Here is what she wrote….
“Both my parents were amazing influences on me growing up and at every chance my family reminds me that my character is a near perfect reflection of my mother’s. I take it as a compliment every time because she is persistent, confident, and resilient. My family dynamic is unique in that my mom is a powerful business woman who earns our family’s income while my dad made the choice to stay at home to care for me and my sister. This was never odd to me, her and my dad were always on equal ground with my dad’s “job” being just as important as my mom’s. They did not raise us telling us to break away from gender stereotypes they just showed us a life where gender stereotypes do not exist. We were never told to be powerful women we were just taught how to be powerful people. I carry that with me in every aspect of my life. I believe in taking control of my future, going after what I want, and getting myself through any challenges I face. I try to pass this on to the people around me by example as my mom did for me.”
I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by her words. As we go about our busy day to day lives full of travel...laundry...work...etc...we are very often unaware of our impact or impression on others....especially our children. I am proud that what we wanted for our daughters is what they experienced...even with all the mistakes we made along the way.
I want my daughters to live in a world where gender doesn't matter. They should be known as strong people being judged on their merit and character alone. My lesson learned is that it takes each of us leading by example and taking action consistently...even on the days when we don't think anyone is watching.
Leadership Questions of the Week for YOU:
How - if at all - has gender played a role in YOUR career?
What examples or stories from your childhood shaped your thoughts around gender in the workplace?
What changes/decisions have you made...or would you make...to your life that would not only improve your chances of success but increase your overall quality of life.
If you have kids...what would YOU want them to say about the example you have set?
Thanks for reading….and remember…YOU make a difference!
Please continue the conversation by liking…commenting or sharing this article. You can also follow me on twitter @marciedwhite