Customer Service Diversity Career Stories

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.