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Sales and marketing professional starts own business to escape years of sexist treatment

This working mother has 13 years experience in sales and marketing for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. Here, in her own words, she shares her story about how being a woman in a man’s field has been a constant challenge, and how she copes with sexism in her industry.

What I do
I don’t feel quite old enough to say that I have been doing my job for 13 years, but I have been. My title has varied from Marketing Communications Specialist to Business Development Manager. There was a point when I put a lot of significance in the title that I held, but the truth is it’s all the same. I am a sales and marketing professional who specializes in the dying industry that once was architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C).

Professional services marketing is quite different than business to consumer marketing. Essentially I sell people, or expertise. The process by which they are sold is different than potato chips at a convenience store. Gimmicks and coupons can make you buy that bag of Lays™, even when your thighs don’t need them, but there is absolutely nothing that I can do to make you, or your company, build a building. Professional services marketing is relationship based. It requires friendship development over years, and it comes down to the best written proposal, and the expert’s finesse in an interview. So that’s what I do: I make friends with decision makers, I submit proposals on design and construction projects, and I train experts to speak well in an interview.

Mothers are the hardest critics
There is a group of mothers at my daughter’s elementary school that I have known for five years; they hate me. On rare occasion I have mingled with them at kid’s birthday parties and felt that uncomfortable guilt that lingers right after you interrupt them talking bad about you. Recently I was told their collective distaste originated with my flirtation with their husbands. For the record: their husbands are middle aged bald men, who drive mini vans, and gave up independent thought when they walked down the aisle. The thought of flirting with them makes me nauseous, but I get it. Embarrassingly, I realize that it is with the fathers that I am most comfortable. I fit in with the men. I have been in this career for 13 years, and it has been that long since I have worked with a woman.

I learned to play golf for my job. I curse. I laugh at bawdy humor. I smoke cigars. I can drink whiskey all night if I need to. Yet, I have never mowed the grass. I have never gone to Walmart in my sneakers or without make up. I can do nearly anything in high heels. I am the woman that threatens mothers at children’s birthday parties.

Inside I would love to tell those women how hard it is to be in a man’s world, but how does one start that speech when one is simply not regarded? They formed their impressions and opinions of me, would the fight to change them be worth it?

Thirteen years ago, I thought feminism was dead. The eternal optimist in me said, “my generation is different.” However, when you are the only woman in an industry that boys have been apprenticing for since they got their first Lego set™, you learn that there are still causes to triumph.

Sexism at the office
If those ladies knew how often my gender has become an issue at my job they would look at me with pity. The truth is, there are too many occasions to recollect here. When I was younger, I didn’t know better. No one told me that having your 70 year old boss have you twirl to see your skirt from all angles, or have him standing too closely behind you while you typed was not an accepted practice in all industries. I would like to say that I took up those causes, stormed into HR, and that the old man lost his job, but I cannot. I learned to politely reject advances so as not to be perceived as a rebel rouser, but to protect my physical safety.

Years later I was at a regional sales and marketing conference in Las Vegas. After a day of long board room meetings with two VPs and a regional manager we were to have a nice dinner. The men of course didn’t want to freshen up, but I asked if I could have a half an hour to change and get ready. The red headed Vice President, who hailed from Texas and towered over the others said, “What, you gotta go change into your slut clothes?” The others, both of whom were also so called Southern Gentlemen, laughed loudly at my expense. When I began to protest one of them actually slapped my back and said “come on, it was just a joke”. The red head whose trousers sat below his belly like the white fluff that oozes out of a marshmallow crème jar when you peel the lid back said, “what is it with women? The get a little bit of authority and they become such bitches.”

What they didn’t teach me in school
Remember how I told you that my title doesn’t mean much anymore? I think that is largely because no matter what my job was, manager or assistant, I was always the one told to fetch coffee. I drink tea myself, with one Splenda™ and milk. At most of the companies that I have worked at, I felt as if my words did not matter as much. I would be a very wealthy person if I was paid per interruption. There is an art to remembering exactly what it was that you were going to say after the men in the room have stopped arguing amongst themselves; I am great at it. For years, this disregard made me insecure about my credentials.

Educational background
My undergrad is in theater, and perhaps I am not as smart as the people I worked for. To compensate, I studied my rear off for the GRE. It was awful, but I survived and I finished my master degree in international communication. I was laid off the day after graduation. You have to wonder, did they all wait because they wanted a piece of my graduation party cake?

Still feeling insecure, I enrolled in a second masters program in PR and marketing, which I also completed, along with a certificate of advanced study. None of my education increased my earnings with any significance. Truthfully, my job is exactly the same; except now I am a quarter of a million dollars in debt.

Pay
Professional service marketers in the A/E/C industry make an average of $47,000 (based on my industry knowledge). This is nearly half of what professional proposal writers can earn outside of the industry.

Professional struggles of a mother
I have been laid off four times, twice when I was pregnant. My last layoff came after the employer found out that I had kids and was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough flexibility in my schedule to do the job. For the record, all of the male managers were also parents. Here is what they don’t understand and may never understand about me. I was a single parent who worked full time and completed two master degrees. I learned to speak Mandarin Chinese and I never give up.

My mother told me to choose my battles, and I used to stink at that, but not anymore. It has been 13 years. I tried marketing outside of the industry and it felt like I was an intern again. Outside of what I learned in grad school, I don’t understand coupons and specials. I know how to write proposals that win and keep architects and engineers employed in a dying industry.

Making my own path
I have my own company now. My job hasn’t changed, but the way that I function in the workplace is significantly different.

Today, I am hired to perform a specific action and to provide a certain deliverable. I don’t get people coffee unless they are my guest, and I don’t work with barbaric men who have no manners. There are challenges to be sure, but I have a strong client base. When I speak, people listen.

I won’t pretend that I am rolling in it. My income hasn’t really changed, but I am happy. My best customer is a woman owned civil engineering firm. This firm is all women and is the only group I know that is thriving. While their competition is downsizing they are seeing record profits. I love watching them win over and over again. They inspire me.

Having your own business is challenging; there are all-nighters and times when you make a lot less than you expected during a pay period. However, the rewards are great. I get to meet my children at the bus stop on most days. I have surrounded myself with a team of talent that I envy. My office has non-stop laughter. Ideas are welcome and arguments happen that lead to progress.

We do great work.

I never knew that it could be like this. For years, I doubted that I was capable. How lovely it is to be wrong.

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  • First and foremost, thank you for sharing your story with the public. There are so many struggles woman face when trying make a name for themselves in the workplace but reading this article puts fuel under our fire. While I am not a mom myself, I can sympathies and appreciate all working mothers out there. I know it cannot be easy, especially for single mothers. Starting your own business is a dream for so many women but there is a stereotype that only men should be the “boss”. After reading this, I can tell from what I feel and the other comments below, how many woman it has touched. While I am too young to begin my own business I have thought about it before. My dad is an entrepreneur and I saw him try and fail many times before. Trial and error is inevitable and this article highlighted both but also presented what could be, if you set your mind to it.

  • Incredibly moving story. I can sort of relate to the fact that people don’t take you serious for whatever reason. As if you don’t exist & nothing that comes out of your mouth is important. This is only one of the obstacles that not only myself & this working mother have had to deal w, but people all around the world. Huge props to her for being able to overcome this adversity & stand her ground.

  • Thank you for sharing this story with us! It is truly admirable that you encountered these poor behaviors but took it upon yourself to write about it to inform others of what truly happens in the workplace. You’d think by now that women would not face this type of behavior after decades of being in the work force. It saddens me to think about it but it may still be a long time until we finally reach “workplace equality.” On top of running businesses we also have the responsibility of caring for our children and families, and you being able to do both without skipping a beat is truly inspiring. Thank you for writing this.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. It’s always inspiring to hear what one woman did to help shatter the glass ceiling in a male-dominated profession.

    As a future lawyer I know I will experience the same in a still male-dominated profession. So far in law school I have experienced sexist treatment from old attorneys, who came back to teach, serving as mock judges or adjunct professors. It was sad to realize that the men were only yelling at the women because they couldn’t hear them, or making comments about our bodies and how we should exercise. It was just as sad to realize sexism during oral arguments, where the male mock judge only paid attention to the males in the room, despite the two other women standing there with perfectly good arguments to share.

    Thank you again for sharing your story.

  • Truly inspiring story. You capture the essence of how hard it is to endure life’s struggles no matter how hard they may be, the lessons they teach you and how you have the power to overcome any obstacle.

    Currently, I am going to school full-time and working full-time, and there are many days when I feel that the whole world is against me. Whether it is people at work such as my bosses or just people in traffic they all seem to have this effect at times, and it is extremely draining.

    Your story has inspired me to work even harder at achieving my goals no matter how hard it gets, and that even at times when I feel disadvantaged for whatever reason, I can always break through and come out on top.

  • My first job was with Home Depot. I knew it was a physically demanding job, but I was ready to take it on; mainly because I was a broke college student. It was alright as a cashier, the customer that were mostly older men made me feel uncomfortable from time to time but my co-workers (usually my supervisor or fellow cashier) were a good buffer. However, when I decided I wanted to be a sales associate in the garden section and wonder the floors -the roles of comfortability switched.

    My coworkers seemed harsher and unwelcoming while customers would become my saviors. Unfortunately, there were days I wouldn’t want to come to work at all (people who know me I needed money like I needed air). Consequently, my whole personality changed which made my quality of life change as well. See, I became depressed-I couldn’t understand why the co-workers (mainly males) whom once would visit me at my register to say “hi” or “come join us in garden”, were now avoiding me or sending me off.

    In other words, I only worked well when I was alone. There was less stress to be the best and more time to take my time and help the customers to the best of my OWN abilities. Still, it had gotten so bad, I begin to move from the grill section to the birdseed section to finally outside watering the flowers every day! Anything to avoid co-workers. Because if they saw me they would have me doing something rigorous and unnecessary.

    With that said, even with all that avoidance, winter came around and I was restricted to inside garden. I can’t tell how many times I was sent to babysit an area making sure no customers were crossing it or if it was slow the front end would call me to be a cashier. I felt so useless in Garden dept. Also, I felt like the boys in garden were mocking me while I was at the register saying, “once a cashier, always a cashier” or “you’re only needed here anyway, stay there!”. They would stand around and pretend to help the customers. I was painful. Moral of the story: If you’re a female and you have a bubbly personality, do not work at Home Depot Garden dept.- find your place somewhere else in the world, where you’re appreciated like Panera Bread!

  • My first job was with Home Depot. I knew it was a physically demanding job, but I was ready to take it on; mainly because I was a broke college student. It was alright as a cashier, the customer that were mostly older men made me feel uncomfortable from time to time but my co-workers (usually my supervisor or fellow cashier) were a good buffer. However, when I decided I wanted to be a sales associate in the garden section and wonder the floors -the roles of comfortability switched.

    My coworkers seemed harsher and unwelcoming while customers would become my saviors. Unfortunately, there were days I wouldn’t want to come to work at all (people who know me I needed money like I needed air). Consequently, my whole personality changed which made my quality of life change as well. See, I became depressed-I couldn’t understand why the co-workers (mainly males) whom once would visit me at my register to say “hi” or “come join us in garden”, were now avoiding me or sending me off.
    In other words, I only worked well when I was alone. There was less stress to be the best and more time to take my time and help the customers to the best of my OWN abilities. Still, it had gotten so bad, I begin to move from the grill section, to the bird seed section to finally outside watering the flowers every day! Anything to avoid co-workers. Because if they saw me they would have me doing something rigorous and unnecessary.
    With that said, even with all that avoidance, winter came around and I was restricted to inside garden. I can’t tell how many times I was sent to babysit an area making sure no customers were crossing it or if it was slow the front end would call me to be a cashier. I felt so useless in Garden dept. Also, I felt like the boys in garden were mocking me while I was at the register saying, “once a cashier, always a cashier” or “you’re only needed here anyways, stay there!”. They would stand around and pretend to help the customers. I was painful. Moral of the story: If you’re a female and you have a bubbly personality, do not work at Home Depot Garden dept.- find your place somewhere else in the world, where you’re appreciated like Panera Bread!

  • Although I am not a mother this story really hit close to home for me. I work closely with many women and several of them are single mothers. Over the years I have watched my boss treat them differently than the other women we work with because he feels their “single mother” title interferes with their job. It is very frustrating having to witness this almost daily because these women he treats so horribly are wonder women. Their courage and the courage of the woman in this narrative is inspirational because I hope to one day be a mother with a successful career in the marketing industry. Knowing that a highly intelligent successful woman doubts her own abilities is oddly comforting. It reassures me that we all have times when we doubt our own ability to overcome but in the end it is possible if you just focus and do your best. Stories like these motivate me to work past sexism in the workplace and use those experiences to become a better person and work even harder advance in my future career.

  • As someone who shares your same passion for marketing and sales, I am honestly amazed at all your accomplishments and feats. It is terrible to know that in 2018 we are still dealing with small minded individuals who cannot comprehend equality and have to resort to sexism for their own personal gain. Your story was so inspiring to me and has pushed me to fight for a change in this world.

  • As a single mother working in sales, I absolutely understand this article! I, too, relate more with men, because I work more with men. In fact, working in sales was what pushed me to go back to school to better my life and my daughter’s life. I have worked at Walmart for eight years, so that is eight years of my life where I learned how to politely turn down men’s advances, one such advance was when I was nine months pregnant. While I do not have a degree in sales or marketing, I feel like I can really relate to this woman’s plight in a man’s world. I, too, have been despised by most women my age, because I can relate so well with other men, while still being feminine. The struggles of working in sales while still being a mother is difficult, as well. I am my daughter’s T-Ball coach, so I have to make sure I’m off work for all her games and practices, as well as being a full time student. I am a full time mother, full time student, and a part time worker. I am fully aware of the struggles of balancing home life, work life, and school life, but I know in the long run the struggles and mountains I face now will be completely worth it when I have my degree and I am in my chosen field. I am creating my dream life for my daughter and me.