Ouch: My First Encounter with the Glass Ceiling

by | June 29, 2010
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture

I’m very pleased to introduce guest blogger Hanna! Hanna is a freelance and copywriter in the Pacific Northwest, as well as an active blogger and vinyl-collector. She likes used dresses, deconstructing popular culture, watching old police dramas and running up and down stairs with her little dog. You may check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

It took me about a month into my first “real” job to realize that I was being treated like a working skirt.

My twelve-year-old-pro-choice-New-Moon-reading-self would have been aghast at how long it took to notice, but the fact is this: when you’ve never experienced chauvinism on a real, corporate, institutional level, you don’t know it when it bites you on the back of your semi-ironic pencil-skirt. It can happen to anyone, and it starts innocently.

You’re fresh out of your liberal-arts college, stoked to be out the service industry (where gender-bias is expected, but can be met with a middle-finger or a swift 86) and feeling like hot, pragmatic, educated stuff. You know you beat out a ton of other people for the gig. You get hired for a legit-sounding position, like “client development” or “project management.” They were so nice in the interview, and there were promises of upward mobility. But then it begins.

Ever feel like you're in an episode of Mad Men?

In my case, I was hire to be a ‘Client Services Associate,’ providing editorial, social media, and technical consult and education at a small startup. The boss was an ex-lawyer. An interrupter and arguer by nature, he’d be difficult to deal with regardless of my gender. But at least he was casual. We all got to wear jeans, but I liked to class it up anyway. Fortunately for me, this was not an office where sexual harassment was an issue.

However, it wasn’t long before the gender imbalances began to come out. Within a short period after my hiring, I realized that I was not only responsible for client care, I was also in charge of answering the main phone line, taking notes, and making appointments. This was not what I was hired for.

And then there were the subtle differences which, alone, didn’t mean much. But the more that they piled up, the more clear the real picture became.

When a mistake was made, it was seen to be made by our entirely-female department. We were told that we needed more “coaching” and that we had to be “tougher” and “more business-minded” (read: more male.) We were put in “triage” mode, (which allowed us to be compared to nurses), which meant every one of our projects or client issues now had to be given the CEO’s stamp of approval. This level of micromanagement was not only absurd, it was also extremely insulting and demeaning.

During meetings, ideas by my female superior were usually passed over, interrupted, or negated altogether. The male intern, however, was humored no matter how off-base his suggestions. On conference calls, when the present company was introduced, the women were explained by their titles. The men were extolled for their experiences, or the value that they’d be bringing to the call. My co-worker, who admitted to be “no feminist, that’s for sure” (really!) noted that she felt like she was being treated like a child. And she wasn’t alone.

And then there was the new hire. Although he was at least ten years my senior and had an MBA, “the ladies” were told that he was going to be lateral with us; doing the same work, answering the same phones, receiving the same training. All very equal. But naturally, this is not what happened.

Instead, on his first day, he went out to corporate lunch with the CEO and the EVP. Then, he sat in on development and management meetings “to learn.” Then, he was introduced to clients that no one else was able to touch with a javelin. He was clearly a man’s-man.

The new hire had moved to town to work for us. When he finally told us about his brand-new apartment, we looked at each other suspiciously.  The rest of us lived in dingy studios and stole internet from our neighbors; this guy’s new place cost at least four months of student loans. We theorized about how much they must be paying him. When our department was called in to CEO meetings, they slowly deteriorated in a jockular conversation between the new hire and the CEO, while the rest of us (females) sat with our arms crossed.

During this time, I applied for and accepted another job with more responsibility and a much better wage. It was a job based on my talents, not on my ability to operate a telephone. It was a job where I might actually be promoted, not passed over for raises and opportunities.

Reflecting on it now, it surprises me that I allowed myself to be treated like this for as long as I did. Me, who can’t help but point out gender inequality in every aspect of my life. Me, who reads dozens of blogs and writes articles of my own, usually with a thick feminist lens. Me, raised by a woman who would never have let a man raise his voice to her, let alone his hand. And me, sitting with my arms cross, shutting up in meetings because my opinion and my ovaries weren’t welcome at the table.

Unfortunately, it seems that as much as we may love to watch Mad Men and scowl about the Don Drapers that used to run the world and smirk at how far we’ve come, it’s just not true. It’s simply more covert. And while equal-opportunity employment is mandated by most standards, equal-opportunity employers are much harder to come by. You may have the same title as a man, and come close to the same salary as a man, but it seems that, despite what your college professors told you, you may still not be an equal in the workplace.

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  • Carla

    Thanks for putting a face on the issue of sexism in the workplace. Sucks that you had to go through that. Good luck with your new job!

  • Roo

    Always enjoy reading this blog and felt the need to comment today. I definitely don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water as you have made some very valid points, but I was caught off guard today by the tone of the post which I felt differed from the others I have read on this blog.

    One of the things I like about reading this blog is that for me (someone who wouldn’t straight up identify themselves as a “feminist”) I am always able to learn a little something. I feel the blog has been good at bridging the gap between people who care about feminist issues already and maybe those of us who need a little push to understand why such issues are important.

    All I will say is that today, in my opinion, the blog came across as quite negative, bitter, and very heavy handed. Again, many of your points make sense and I’m sure it was an extremely frustrating situation to be in, but it seems like a lot of what you were trying to say in this blog was lost in the over use of wit and pop culture references.

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