Today I’ve posted the last of the old articles that I’ll blow the dust off. This one was written before the “me too” movement. It is a reflection on my experiences as a woman in the corporate world, especially my earlier career during the 80’s and 90’s.
As the world changes and as we grow, heal and forgive, sometimes it’s easy to look back and ask yourself, “Did that really happen?” In this case it did and I am glad I’ve documented the times that stood out for me.
The world has come a long way and women continue to find truth and courage to shatter attitudes long past their best before date. The next generation doesn’t even think about it the same way.
A certain amount of balance came to me near the end of my corporate career from a male Director who worked for me. He sat across from me in a meeting and described how he had tried to encourage one of his employees to apply for a supervisory position. She was rejecting the idea because she was pregnant. He told her that it didn’t matter, that being pregnant should have nothing to do with her decision. I almost cried. He knew nothing of my backstory described here. He was being genuine.
This is a historical document. I’ve written it for me and everyone else touched by similar circumstances. They say the best revenge is to live a good life and I am. If only that bank manager (who missed out big time by turning us down for our first mortgage because I was pregnant) could see me now.
Tipping the Scales
A reflection on my experiences as a woman in the corporate world
To this day, I cannot remember what happened at the executive meeting to provoke the Vice President of Sales to lean across the boardroom table towards me and exclaim, “You Bitch!” I do recall wishing the floor would open and swallow me up, because I desperately wanted to disappear. As no one in the room remarked on the comment, not my boss, who was the Vice President of Marketing, the CEO or any of the other Senior Executives, perhaps I did disappear.
I still resist the urge to take ownership for provoking it. That’s the belief most of us gals born in the 60’s grew up with. My place was in the home, raising a family, cooking and sewing, certainly not challenging a man. The truth is, I may have said something he didn’t like, but his reaction was clearly inappropriate. As the only woman in the room, however, I was the only one who seemed to notice.
When I went to University, I thought it was “just in case”. Yes, just in case I didn’t find a husband to take care of me. (For clarity, that attitude changed and I chose to pursue a career.) I was a member of the first Commerce class at the University of Saskatchewan that was 50% female. At school we talked about the dominant male in the work world and how to be taken seriously, such as wear a hat so people won’t mistake you for the secretary.
The only time someone mistook me for the secretary was after I had been in senior leadership roles for many years and agreed to represent a service club I belonged to, on a multi-group fundraising committee. The organizer looked around at the men asking who would chair, then at me and said I could take the minutes. I replied, “I’d rather be the chair.” So I was.
Back in the day there were no harassment policies and I certainly didn’t think there was anyone I could complain to. When I had been hired, it was conditional upon a visit to the company nurse who conducted a blood and urine test, certainly to be sure I wasn’t pregnant. When I did announce to my boss that I was expecting my first baby, he said “Well, we thought that might happen, but we didn’t think it would be this soon.” Happy wishes indeed. Of course this is the same man who asked if I could share the secrets of my success (top sales 3 months running) after returning from maternity leave or “Was it a hormone thing?”
There were no women in management let alone at a Director level or above. One day a miracle happened and a woman became a sales manager. I think every woman in the organization rejoiced and secretly idolized her. She went on to be a leader in her community and blazed the way for women and Indigenous people. It took an extraordinary person to break through the glass ceiling and I am grateful to her.
I would challenge you to find a woman who was part of the corporate workforce of the 80’s who did not experience some form of harassment. My very first boss out of university hit on me in the parking lot. Later, another boss (who was an alcoholic) was eventually fired for harassing a female co-worker by stalking her to her home. This is the same guy who hired me after asking in the interview what kind of books I liked to read and was surprised I didn’t answer Harlequin Romance.
My first management job was taking over a predominantly female team from a manager who had sexually harassed more than one of them. It was everywhere. I remember when the first harassment policy came out. I sat and read the little booklet cover to cover thinking, “It’s about time.”
As for ‘the bitch’, assertive women wore that label or dragon-lady and were often joked about as getting ahead by sleeping with someone. Many women gained a ‘reputation’, which effectively took any credibility away from their accomplishments.
We have come a long way. Today women lead countries as common practise. We have female MLA’s, City Councillors, CEO’s, and leaders in many fields. The opportunities are there and as we continue forward, each generation will start with less baggage to shrug off and fresh views to take us further.
Life gives us perspective, so as I look back I see that I’ve lived on a tipping point. I stood on the shoulders of those who went before me so that those who follow can stand on mine to reach new places, and I am grateful.
Ann-Marie Latoski, B. Comm.
Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Retired Chief Operating Officer, Author