Great moments are born from great opportunity. - Herb Brooks
Recently, I was given an opportunity to embark on a trip with 70 other woman to Michigan. The group I went with is associated with the company I work for and includes both active and retired employees. On this trip, there were at least 50 retirees. It sounds thrilling doesn't it? three-and-one-half days with 50 retirees. But it was a trip that completely altered my perspective on not just my career but my life.
I realize how lucky and fortunate I am that my company has an organization in which you can connect with and learn from woman who worked from decades gone by. I've said since I've returned that I learned more in those three-and-one-half days than I have in the three-and-one-half years I've been with my employer. In my opinion these women built this country, if it weren't for them, the business would have never ran as well as it had. They paved the way for woman like me in the workplace. The stories are all different, but they have the same common thread. These were woman who took pride in their job and pride in their company and stood up for themselves. The ladies worked in a time where woman were secretaries and that was all that they would be. But they weren't just secretaries, they did everything that was asked of them and more, with high heels on their feet and a smile on their face. Yes, some of them had degrees, some were chemists when woman weren't chemists, some had accounting backgrounds, but they were all treated the same which was that they would never be as good as the males. Some tell stories of how they were required to go to lunch meetings and maintain notes of business deals while keeping up with the men in drinks (for up to three or four hours!).
There is a story of a woman who started as a secretary, got her law degree, passed the bar and was still not given a promotion. Eventually she became an attorney for the company and then when she retired became one of the best in the country at what she did. There is a story of a woman who developed a patent during the late 60's or early 70's and when the patent got submitted her name got conveniently left off, excuses were created it but it boiled down to she was a woman. Law caught the "error" and added her name to the registration and her name appears proudly on the patent. These were just a few of the ones I was told. They all had these stories, these experiences that they over came. I would also add, that these woman didn't work for five, 10, 15 years... No, they worked for 30, 35, 45 years at the same company. There is an active employee that has been in the same job for 44 years. 44 years. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. These moments left me in awe, these moments changed my perspective, it was in these moments when I realized the type of employee or rather person, that I desired to be.
The resistance these woman faced, the discrimination they worked through, if it doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will. What was most inspiring to me, is they told these stories of hardships and triumphs and at the end of EVERY conversation they would end with "I could never say anything bad about the company. It gave me a good life and good relationships. I really enjoyed working there." They ooze of pride and loyalty. The didn't whine about the positions they were in or how they were mistreated (by today's standards). They put on their big girl panties and did their job, and excelled. When they recall their career, they light up. The smiles just cover their face, the eyes sparkle. They inspire me to excel at my job. They share with me their words of wisdom and the lessons that they learned to help guide me with my career. They have encouraged me in so many ways by their strength, their loyalty, and most importantly, their spunk. Unlike them, I know that there is no limit for my career. That is an idea I have taken for granted until these interactions.
I am so proud to be a part of my company knowing that I am following in these women's footsteps (no matter how big of a footprint they left!) Maybe they aren't famous, maybe a documentary hasn't been done about them, but the contribution to the company, to society that they made, should never be forgotten. It would be a great injustice to their legacy to forget their contribution. I will perform my job duties in an effort to maintain their integrity and work ethic and to keep their spirit alive.
It's funny how your perspective of your job changes when you talk to the people who really did it have it rough, those who didn't have the opportunities we have today. They were limited in how much they could achieve, but they didn't let it stop them and it didn't break them.
My father always told me, "Sarah, it's all of what you make of it." And I made this trip better than I could have ever imagined. This trip granted me the opportunity to have these great moments, and I accepted them with open arms. It was an absolute honor and privilege to spend a weekend with these ladies. It was a weekend that I know I will never forget. I am very grateful to have served as their vice-president for the previous two years and for the chance that to share these great moments with them. Knowing that I have earned their respect has re-energized my spirit.
To all the ladies who paved the way for my generation, which allows us to have the opportunities today, I thank you.
Take it easy.