Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Object of... Part Two.

Heidi, circa 1996
Originally uploaded by Heidi Meeley.
Last night I used an example of the sexism I have encountered at work. It was not meant to encompass the whole of my industry, but just a warm up of sorts for my diatribe.

I work in an industry that is extremely male dominated. In the last twenty years, women have made headway, much like in the comic industry, but there is a long way to go.

I entered the agriculture industry 17 years ago as a customer service representative. Before even a month had passed, I had two male coworkers tell me that a woman could only go so far in our business and that the best I could hope for was a management position of some kind. Yes I could buy stock after two years, but that was more to coddle me, they explained. Okay. Super.

In the mean time, I am having to deal with guys like the one I used in the example from yesterday. "Little Girl, go get me a guy. I need to work out my vaccine program" was a common refrain. Or "You are way too young and pretty to know this stuff, go get your boss". Again, super.

Being a stubborn type, I stuck it out and worked hard. I learned quickly and before long, I knew that this was the job for me. I just had to overcome the rampant "old boys network" somehow. This was just a warm up for what I encountered that first summer when I went to my first learning seminar out of town.

Myself and four co-workers were picked to go on a three day, three night trip. I was very thrilled because there was a test at the end, and the boss was going to pay the high score $100. I studied like mad and got on the plane.

The first night we met up with other sales personnel from all over the country. There was a 6:1 man:woman ratio and it showed. The first night I got blatantly hit on at least a dozen times. I was single and green, so they thought I was easy pickings. Thank God I was raised that attention does not equal affection, so I stayed out of trouble and studied hard. The sad thing is that the next two nights were a repeat of the first, and the things that were said to me were so appalling that I won't mention it here.

The sadder thing is that for years after, every time I went to a conference or meeting, I got hit on mercilessly. Worse still is that I couldn't get taken on faith for my brain power- the guys couldn't get past my average good looks. The worst meeting was one where there were three women to 100 men. I cried every night in my room because mean and hateful things were said when rejection was given. It wasn't until I got married 5 1/2 years ago and gained some weight that I was taken seriously. Hmmm...

Back on the home front, it has been an uphill battle as well. In an industry that set it roots on male bonding and the infamous "good ole boy network", I have had to "lose my sex" and be so damn good at what I do that it doesn't matter. Ten years ago, a couple of my male co-workers still didn't think I could go higher then the managerial position I was in. Today I am a board member and manage multiple departments.

Do I still encounter sexism? Every day. But it gets better as I get older. Something about aging and having the experience under my belt has kicked in. Also, I follow Martha Stewart's advice "Women in business don't cry". I used to do that a lot, and it was embarrassing. Now I suck it up and state my opinion in the same forthright manner as any guy I may encounter. It works for me.

I still struggle for certain things that I need for business success. Getting a name in the industry is a challenge, and making sure the pay is equitable is always a concern. It is like the old saying about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire- "Fred was a great dancer, but Ginger did it just as well and backwards".

The picture I included in this blog is me in Spring 1996. I liked to wear power suits and tried to maintain a thin, pleasant appearance. I have since ditched the blond hair- my hubby found out how much it cost, and decided brunettes are better. Too funny. At any rate, this was the image I tried to portray, and looking back at it now, I just have to laugh. I tried so damn hard! Now I stick with a more severe appearance and wear pants, but back then I loved suits.

My point in all this is that in every industry there is sexism. I have worked my guts out for the past 17 years and I have achieved a lot. I had to figure out how to get past the preconceived notions and the comments and make it work for me. I like what I do and wasn't about to let some random guys chase me off.

I can understand that in some cases it isn't worth it. I have had fellow women in the industry run screaming for the door at the lack of mercy given and I don't blame them. It is all about choice and the commitment to change things from the inside out.

Later I will be back with some attempts at comic book industry related solutions. One thing I do want to say in closing is that I understand the sensitivity of the issue, but as someone who has been in the trenches for years, feel I can speak for woman kind in an informed manner.


Britt Schramm said...

And now for something completely different...

While I dig the whole "power suit" trip, I can see something peering underneath the facade. In fact, I would wager that after work you went home and changed clothes just so you could go out and have a ball.

"A Headbangers Ball"

You rock Heidi - \m/ \m/

Heidi Meeley said...

Well Britt you caught me. I always liked to go home, put on my Motley Crue shirt and relax. Too funny!