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Customer service manager combats sexism with professionalism and hard work

This female customer service manager with more than 14 years experience in the high-tech industry shares how she has been treated differently in the workplace because she is a woman. She also explains how the death of one of her team members was life-changing.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
My job title is Customer Support Manager in the high-tech industry, and I am in my fourth year in this position.

Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
Aside from reading and answering the flood of email, my most important job responsibility is to build effective professional relationships with my colleagues. Most of my peers are in other geographic locations, and we have never met face to face. Since our job responsibilities are interconnected, we spend our time solving various problems and finding solutions that benefit multiple groups. Meetings take up roughly half of each day and the rest of the day is spent ensuring that my team has everything they need to support the customers who call us.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what response worked best?
I am a Caucasian female and have always worked in the male-dominated high-tech industry. Discrimination has impacted me only a couple of times in a 14 year career, and I handled it by confronting the person who believed they were superior to me. The most important facet of responding is self respect. I will not allow anyone to treat me unprofessionally, and the ones who have tried, never do so again.

Do you speak any language other than English? If so, how has it helped you in your job?
I speak English, and I am very careful to speak it very well and without any expletives. Communication skills are the single most important job skill because every person is judged by their writing and speaking abilities.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
I would rate my current job satisfaction as a five because I have not yet reached my goal of becoming an operations manager. I enjoy working on the business operation side because process improvement makes every job easier and more enjoyable.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I have learned that the good old boy network is still alive and well in the twenty-first century. Women still have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts, and the conversations that happen in our absence do not resemble the ones when we are present.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
The fine art of influence would have been immeasurably valuable because every workplace has a currency of cooperation. People who are good at working with other people are effective because they know how to exchange help to someone else for what they need. Mastering this art can revolutionize a professional’s effectiveness in the workplace.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I was willing to start at the very bottom for a lower salary than I had to because of the company that hired me after college graduation. In a slow economy, those stepping stones are critical to the subsequent steps. The one decision I would change was the location of my first job which greatly impacted the first two years of my career.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
The strangest thing that ever happened in this job was when I walked into a fellow manager’s office and found one of his team members lying on the floor writhing in pain. I walked out of the office door just as the ambulance team walked down the hall. About an hour later we learned that he had a kidney stone.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
I really enjoy watching my team take care of a day with a high volume of phone calls when they do not need my help at all. Each person is very good at their job, and they have been trained well. When they handle the customer calls without me, I know that I have done my job.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
When every computer and phone system fails on the same day, I want to close my door and ignore the frustration out on the floor. Multiple internal support groups are responsible for maintaining those systems, and the days we are unable to respond to customers because of technical issues on our end are the most frustrating.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
Stress on the job comes from allowing other people to imply too many expectations. I have not maintained a healthy work-life balance because of my own inability to say “no.” One of the best ways I could take back more of my evenings is to have more commitments outside of work that cannot be avoided.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Salaries in the high-tech sector of the technology field run higher than most other management positions, and the range is from $60,000 to $95,000 depending on experience and geographical location. I would like to be about $10,000 above my current salary in the same position.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
We did a voluntary project as a team, and it took more than a full year to complete. When we did complete the work and the Vice President presented letters of appreciation to the team, I knew we had done something very special. The team was the driving force behind the process and the final completion of the project. Monetary rewards were not a part of the final “thank you,” but the entire team knew they had set the precedent for other teams to follow.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
The most difficult moments as a manager are always related to difficult life events in the lives of employees that report to me. Standing next to a casket changes the life of a manager more than any other experience. Laying a team member to rest leaves a sense of loss that never goes away. Another difficult situation is when an employee is fighting cancer for the second time, and the prognosis is not good. Privacy policy says that you must endure the walk alone, and the team wonders what is happening. On the other side of the coin are the life events where people get married and healthy babies are born. All of these events remind even the most business-minded manager that everything we do is about people.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A business degree with a technical emphasis is my educational foundation. I spend time every year in classroom training, and I love to read books about business. Relying on formal education will be a limitation on the longevity of a career because every industry moves so quickly. Passion for reading adds joy to life and makes people wonder how you know what you know.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
The highest priority anyone can hold is to balance life and work. Work hard and play hard to find the joy in life to make everything worthwhile.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I learned a number of years ago that the key for me to be rested is to take a full week of vacation at a time and be completely out of touch with the office. Even if I stay at home and work on the house or yard, I avoid speaking to anyone from work when on vacation.

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
The greatest misunderstanding about any business field is that the only way to get jobs is by knowing the right people. Hard work and mastering every position is the key to being successful for years to come. The person who plays the system is well-known and eventually washes out completely and must go back to the bottom and start over, which is called a career-realignment. Recovery takes years, and the result is usually not fun.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
I have found that managing a group of individuals is not my cup of tea. I love to work with people as individuals and be able to find the ones who want to excel. This job is about personalities, which means that a lot of time is wasted on the least important issues of the day. My passion is to help others achieve their goals.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to be consulting with small business owners on an individual basis and training them to use smart business practices to make their companies profitable and healthy.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
The most unique aspect of my situation is that I worked very hard for every promotion and recognition that I have received. I can look back at specific accomplishments that were the result of working well with other people and communicating like a professional in every interaction with others.

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  • Wow, this was informative. The question about the misunderstandings that you want to correct about what you do. I was raised in Nigeria, where no matter how much of a good grade you have, you still have to have connection in the company that you wish to work in. Its good to know that HARDWORK is the key to success.

  • I work currently as a customer service representative and I believe it has changed my personality and life irreparably. I had to learn to be outgoing and outspoken. I had to learn how to appease customers with humor and niceness, even when undeserved. I had to work at minimum wage for two years at a job that required me to work several ten to twelve hour shifts in a row without breaks during the day. I feel that everyone should have to work in this field at one point in their lives to teach them values such as humility, understanding, hard work, and kindness.

  • I was employed as an Office Aid in the Business department, Working in the department had quite made me bored because the Job satisfaction wasnt working out for me, because, hardly any customer ever comes by and its too quiet. I had worked in the office field for a 2 years, and no one ever comes for my assistant because I am transgender. Its for hard for me to get along with anyone who doesnt need my help. The only way I can be a great opponent is take a effort and take command to self motive my skills to face my fears.

  • I have currently been working as a Lead Customer Service Representative (CSR) for four years now, reading your post has changed my perspective on as a CSR. In many ways, I felt it was too stressful for the income I am currently being paid but you’ve helped me remember that this is not my final goal. This is just a step up the mountain and as along I have self respect for myself and demand it from other, do not allow myself to give too much time and effect to others (my job) and remember I need time to and for myself. Those few things will help me be happy but not comfortable.

  • Its great read about successful motivated women in the high tech industry. I think it’s a very competitive field that is strongly male dominated. Women are entering the market and are competing for high positions which makes some individuals fearful. I know from experience how women are perceived in the work force with a dominant male presence. I was raised by an African American single mother who I struggled throughout her years in the car industry.
    She often complained about how she worked harder than her colleagues. It was hard for my mother because she was forced to balance being a mother and career driven. Many times she didn’t get the credit she deserved. I believe it’s because she was marginalized as if her work would never be good enough. Sexism is something that is every open and pushed under the rug in the work place. However, the only way to fight it, is to confront it. People will call you sensitive but in the end they know you will not go down with a fight.
    Its great to read that women working harder than counterparts to prove themselves equal.

  • A team that communicates well is one that will always succeed. Like this woman, I find being a part of a team of motivated like-minded individuals to be extremely fulfilling and rewarding. Unfortunately, as she points out, not everyone will be as appreciative of the hard work we do, due to gender. As a Medical Assistant working in a doctor’s office, I am part of a specialized and highly motivated team which intends to help the physician facilitate the highest quality patient care possible. We must work together, and communicate with one another, and always be aware of our actions and the words we speak. Working with patients, like working with customers, can often be very stressful, and communication is key to helping the patient understand the doctor’s instructions, and helping the physician understand the patient’s symptoms.

    Working in a doctor’s office, I come into contact with people from all walks of life, naturally there are those who think women and minorities are inferior. One patient that I can remember distinctly, told me that the only reason women should go to college is to find a husband. I’ve had other patients make comments about minorities, saying things like segregation should come back. As a professional woman, the most I feel I can do in these situations is shrug or say few words. However, I can combat these opinions when co-workers say them to me, and I have confronted the physician when he makes racist comments. Racist and or sexist comments are not conducive to an environment of high quality patient care. In order for a team to be working together at high productivity, there needs to be an environment free from prejudice and hateful speech.

    I hope to one day manage my own team of health professionals as a doctor, where I can demand a high level of professionalism and ensure a supportive and prejudice-free working environment. I want to work hard to achieve my goals, and part of the journey will be to perfect my communication and soft skills. By providing clear, concise, courteous, and complete interactions with patients, supervisors, coworkers, and the physician will ultimately establish a higher level of patient care, patient satisfaction, and involvement in their health management.

  • Reading this article I could see myself in many things she said. As a woman in the business field the good ol’ boy network is alive and well, even in small town Nebraska. As a middle aged, plus size woman I also have experienced discrimination because of both my gender and my size. It is only after proving myself to be knowledgeable of the job that I earned the respect of those around me.

    I am also supervise customer service as one of my duties in my job and can relate to many problems and joys she mentioned. Working with a group and finding those individuals who stand out is always exciting. Helping those people to become better and more successful is a good feeling.

    Maintaining a balance between work and home is very important, and something I strive to accomplish. I limit the number of people in my business that have my personal cell phone number so only important calls interrupt my family time.

    I have been in my current position for five years. I enjoy most aspects of my job, but am looking forward to going back to school and finding something I love just as much that pays me what I am worth.

  • This is slightly different from my experience, however I have still been apart of the discrimination. I am a server at a restaurant and this discrimination is seen in that only females work as servers and bartenders. In this industry it is seen that the females will attract business and that through our looks more customers will come in. It was even mentioned that we should wear “skimpier” clothing so that we could make more money and attract more people. In the hiring process it seems that they hire people who look alike. I was even once told by a guest that they were confused and thought that someone else was their server since we all look alike. The majority of us are females of average weight, brown hair, side bangs, and average height. I believe this teaches people that looks will get you money. In this industry people believe that you are there to serve them and tend to their every need and they can treat you however they would like. This I feel also has to do with the fact that the majority of us are female and we are looked down upon. I am trying to further my education to continue to prove that women are equal and that there is no reason to look down on us. This article helps to keep me motivated and shows that women can also have a successful career.

  • This idea of sexism parallels that of racism. It is an inherent, false belief that a person or group is inferior
    in some way. As a double minority in medicine (African-American female) I have made it my personal responsibility to change the way people with my background are viewed in the medical field. Also, as I prepare to enter a residency position in orthopedic surgery where all women (regardless of race) are
    minorities, I would be remiss to remember that my performance will build a foundation of expectation for all those who follow me. It is my intention that my dedication to this role be reflected everyday in my work ethic and focus.

    When you bring into reach your own dream (one that nobody else has dreamed for you and one that rests outside of the umbrella of expectations that others have set for you) you have a freedom to do with it as you wish. Whether you inevitably fail or succeed is irrelevant. It is your moment to own and your personal sacrifices attest to this ownership. You should find immense satisfaction in knowing that nobody can ever take that away from you. Although, I will say that, personally, I feel that there is even greater satisfaction in sailing in an uncharted direction and landing with your own two feet on shore.

    When commenting on the responsibility that women in male-dominated fields have to other aspiring
    women, Amelia Earhart once said, “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”

  • Its unfortunate that this woman is not excited to get up and go to work every day. However, it is admirable that she has a goal to become operations manager. I can relate to this woman in that sense that I am also not in the place where I would like to be in life, but I do have serious goals and I am working very hard to meet them. I also believe that balancing social life and work life is incredibly important for a healthy well-being. The volunteer work that I do is a great way for me to get out of my work and school setting and participate in things that I really enjoy while helping the community.

    I appreciate her honesty and her advice to women everywhere about the dangers of gender discrimination. She thinks that it is important to maintain professional relationships and make sure that everyone is treated with respect.