I kept a secret about what happened to me behind closed doors, with Andrew Yang, at Manhattan GMAT*, two days after my honeymoon ended, for many years. I buried it in the recesses of my mind, because I wanted to move on with my life. I kept my secret because the alternative would have been more humiliating. All these years later, it’s still humiliating. I was fired from the company that I helped build solely because I was woman, who was successful in a small business and then, got married. What Andrew Yang did to me matters.
One of the most profound memories I have of early Manhattan GMAT Test Prep*, before we even had an office space, was my quest to find a location for the very first Three-Week Manhattan GMAT Boot Camp*. The founder, Zeke Vanderhoek, asked me to help him put it together. He was in charge of instruction. I was in charge of everything else. I scouted spots all around midtown Manhattan but booked a place on Wall Street. Then I had to find students, a whole other set of pride-swallowing activities related to photocopy fliers taped to bus stops, cold calls, and postcards stuffed into Kaplan® books. I even attended a competitor’s free workshop and placed notices of the boot camp on their tables.
The Manhattan GMAT Boot Camp was set to begin on October 1, 2001. Then, on September 11, 2001, the world changed. Like all New Yorkers, I was stupefied. Manhattan GMAT*? Would it fail before it ever got started? I had successfully recruited enough students to attend our new program, but the Wall Street space was vacated in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse and would remain so for some time. We had to find a classroom. This was the trigger for Manhattan GMAT’s* first full time location, and then, for my full time job. Permanent space meant an ongoing marketing operation. And thus I became the first employee of the company.
My story matters for four reasons, and the very first reason is that Andrew Yang was not the entrepreneur behind Manhattan GMAT*. He is selling himself as the entrepreneur of Manhattan GMAT*, but Andrew was hired by the founder to run the company after Manhattan GMAT* was already a multi-million dollar revenue generating firm. Anyone who has owned or managed a small business understands that the first million dollars in sales is the hardest. Yang didn’t invest an ounce of sweat equity in the nascent Manhattan GMAT*. But Andrew Yang has allowed the narrative to be crafted around “his” test prep company, taking credit for the blood, sweat and tears that were shed before he arrived six years into the operation. The assumption of credit and rewards of success when others deserve them highlight how our country continues to fail regular people. This matters.
The second reason concerns the circumstances of my firing. Do some women deserve to be fired from a successfully growing company, not in a recession, two days after their honeymoon? Weeks after my story first went public, not a single woman has indicated that they were sacked right after they got married for a legitimate reason. In fact, I’ve yet to hear from anyone who has been fired with the cruelty of such timing. Moreover, the data are 100% clear on my performance. My job was to grow Manhattan GMAT*, and that is exactly what I did between 2001 and 2007. I still have a letter that the company wrote for me in November 2009, two years after I was fired, when I was still collecting a small monthly stipend. This HR letter confirmed me as the company’s first employee and went further to indicate that I was “largely responsible for the growth of the company from its first official group class to an international firm with test prep centers in seven cities and greater than $6 million in revenue.” This type of letter is not written for an employee who was fired for low performance. So why did Andrew Yang fire me? The answer to this question matters.
Third is the reason that Andrew Yang gave me for my firing. When he asked me to come into his office, after everyone had left for the day, I expected that we were about to talk strategy for some new idea he came up with while I was on my honeymoon. Hearing the words come out of his mouth that I wouldn’t want to continue working as hard as I had for the last six years “now that I was married” will never be erased from my memory. It is simply not possible to forget hearing a sentiment that I had fought to prevent my entire adult life. Andrew’s decision to terminate my employment via this conversation should be a red flag to anyone who cares about women in the workplace. Yang has joked about how he has an excellent track record with women, and that he would never had had success in business if he treated women the way that I say he treated me. Yet, corporate America and Washington D.C. continue to optimize success for countless men regardless of their inappropriate behavior towards women. The logic doesn’t make sense at all.
The final reason is that this incident is all we have to go on with Andrew Yang. If he were a community servant, an elected official, we would be talking about his advocacy and/or legislation across various subject areas. Reporters would be writing about his body of work the way that they write about Kamala Harris’ track record in criminal justice, Cory Booker’s priorities in education, Elizabeth Warren’s creation of the CFPB, etc. But we don’t have any of this background on Yang. Reporters are eager to write about his crowd surfing and dancing because he’s young and hip, which is great. But where’s the journalism here? He called me a liar on national television, and his hosts on ABC’s “The View” of all places, didn’t even probe him. They know that women don’t make up stories of this kind. Why aren’t reporters looking into what really happened at Manhattan GMAT*? This was the only successful company that Andrew Yang led, and two years in, he was trying to sell it. He walked away with a multi-million dollar cash out from Kaplan® Test Prep, a public company, having only worked there a few years. This deal, which financially rewarded two men, should be under greater scrutiny. How Andrew Yang became a multi-millionaire matters.
He is now a legitimate candidate in the Democratic Primary, and voters deserve to understand more about him. That’s why my story about Andrew Yang matters.
*Manhattan GMAT and Manhattan GMAT Test Prep refer to Manhattan Prep® a Kaplan® owned company.
(Sept 19, 2019) In Person Testimony to NYC Commission on Gender Equity: https://youtu.be/2n39Htgaacs
(Sept 19, 2019) Medium Link to Written Testimony: https://medium.com/@kimberlyrwatkins/fired-for-getting-married-bae2cce9f968
(Sept 20, 2019) Gotham Gazette Opinion Piece
(Sept 21, 2019) Speaking the Truth About Andrew Yang via Medium