I started my career post 9/11 in a terrible job market and accepted a position as a graphic designer at a conservative douchebag firm. I toughed it out for a few years while my design aesthetic was second guessed by rookie enginerds and my soul was slowly sucked dry. There was no such thing as an open dialogue. After a seemingly good performance review, my boss was angered when I asked him why my raise was half of what he had promised. I could not go to HR, because it did not exist despite the over 400 mostly male employees and the lack of a paper trail. You quickly learned to keep your head down and not to ask questions. If I was ever in need of a book, it was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
As I read Lean In, I found myself murmuring clichés like “this is my truth” and “YES!” Her observations are spot on especially when it comes to gender and the workplace. When I completed graduate school, I proudly displayed my diploma in my cubicle. The same boss made a snarky comment to me that “at least you got something.” Meaning do not expect a raise, period. Would my boss have said that if I was a man? I would like to hope that companies have become more forward thinking in the last 15 years. We need more women leaders and more diversity in the leadership ranks.
Like many women, I stepped out of corporate America to find my own path to success. Working for myself, ensures that I no longer have to put up with toxic people or workplaces. I know that not every woman has that luxury and I am very grateful for the experience. As I look back on that crappy first job, two things come to mind. First, I met some amazing women with whom I am still close friends. If it was not for the strength of the community, I would not have been able to get through the day. Second, my boss helped to fuel my fire for success. I felt like each milestone on my list was a slap in his face.
Upon finishing the book, I encouraged my Asian-American boyfriend to read it. There are universal lessons to be learned from Lean In as we work toward equality. I quote Sheryl Sandberg “I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all.” Now is the time to start a conversation about how we can work toward change. Maybe it is by raising our rates or setting priorities for our next job or simply by keeping our hand up.