I have written several previous posts about sexism and its prevalence in many aspects of today’s society. Although there are numerous examples of the removal of gender barriers in many segments of the business world, there remains, in my opinion, an assumption among many people that, being “the boss” means being a man (and a white man, at that). Thus, even when there are clear cues to the contrary, people who hold sexist attitudes will usually defer to, attempt to build consensus with, and establish eye contact with a man, instead of a woman, when meeting them for the first time. Even when the woman and man are dressed similarly, in a business suit (including the woman wearing pants, not a skirt), and there is no reason, other than gender, to determine which of them is in charge, people with sexist attitudes usually conclude that “the boss” must be the man. I have experienced sexism throughout my life, from high school, through college, through graduate school, and in my entire career; it is just as likely to occur now as it was in my younger years. As an example, when I worked in a hospital upon receiving my Ph.D., most people jumped to the conclusion that, because I was a woman who worked in a hospital, I must be a nurse. I cannot begin to count how many times I replied, “No, I am a doctor, not a nurse,” only to observe their astonishment that I, a woman, could be a doctor. In the unfortunate meeting David and I attended that has provided inspiration for this series of posts, the person with whom we were meeting, in an attempt to curry favor with David, remarked that clients of Magnus must retain the services because: (1) David has vast experience as a consultant; (2) they have heard about David’s excellent qualifications from other attorneys; (3) they were impressed by David’s expertise upon working with him; and (4) they like, respect, and are comfortable working with David. Never once did this person consider that the sole reason Magnus’ clients retain our company is because of me, not David! Sitting there, listening to this man’s misguided sales pitch, I didn’t know whether to laugh, yell in anger, or vomit in response to yet another example of sexism rearing its very ugly head. Instead of doing any of these things, I did nothing and said nothing, preferring to wait for the sexist person to place his foot more deeply into his big mouth. The look on his face was priceless when David said, “Well, Melissa is the boss and the only reason our clients hire us. I operate the business aspects of our company, but she has always been the expert with whom they want to work.” Yes, folks, that “lil’ lady” sitting next to the big man just might be the boss! Welcome to the 21st century! Who knows, we may soon have a woman POTUS!
I have always been cognizant of the risks of assumptions – there is that adage about assuming which works pretty well. I want to know who’s who and would never want to “step in it” as the person Melissa describes. My career is fairly unique in that I have mostly had women bosses. Even now, Melissa is the Sr. Partner in our company, Magnus, for many reasons, some of which she touched upon in her post. I’ve also experienced reverse sexism. I’ll never forget when the woman for whom I worked in my first job in the trial consulting world, my only job in the industry prior to starting Magnus, said, “You must not have any experience working for women” when I dared to disagree with one of her many crazy ideas. It was fun for me to be able to respond to that sexist comment by saying, “Perhaps you don’t remember what you read on my resume` about my prior jobs, but most of my bosses have been women.” And, they have. As a photographer, I very often worked for in house public relations departments, advertising agencies, and the like. Most of these were staffed and directed by women, though not always. (Two exceptions are men who have been lifelong friends as a result of working together way back when – Bob A. and Rick P.) Of course, as a photographer I had many women “bosses” like the countless brides whose weddings I photographed. Most notable among my prior female bosses was the opportunity I had to spend working for the wonderful Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne (as written about in a prior post on November 5, 2015). I worked for Dr. Kinne while I was a junior and senior at Jacksonville University. She is one of the most remarkable people, of either gender, that I, or most anyone, has ever met. She experienced many firsts for a woman – first woman Dean of a Fine Arts College and first women President of a University in Florida, and first women member of the Jacksonville Rotary Club. These are among her firsts and, though she does not dwell on these firsts, or gender discrimination, the sub title of her 2000 autobiography is telling. The main book title is “Iowa Girl,” but the full title is “Iowa Girl: The President Wears a Skirt.” So, yes, the woman can be the boss, and assuming otherwise has its consequences. This point was reinforced in an article I read recently recounting the story of a now Senior Judge on the Federal Appellate court who experienced a group of men jumping into a taxi she had just hailed to get to a hearing – only to find out she was the judge to whom they would be arguing. I’m sure they were quite surprised to find out that the boss could be a woman. Unfortunately, such assumptions still continue.