“That’s just how things were.”
“You’re too pretty to do work like this,” he said. I spent 2 hours teaching a CEO how to use LinkedIn and then sat at his desk, in his chair, with him hovering over me as I imported his resume. His breath on my neck, in my hair. His eyes down my dress. His body hovering over me — a 27 year old Social Media Specialist that never saw in my job description once, “Teach executives how to use programs for their personal pleasure.”
He was a nice man. He went to college. Got his MBA. And when he left academia, his first career was at a hospital and his first title was Chief Financial Officer. Four years later, he was appointed CEO at a hospital. He was 31 at the time. “Make sure you put that on there, CEO at 31. Do you know how important that was? 31.”
I’m a nice woman. I went to college. I took the LSAT, almost went to law school. Maybe I should have gone to law school. I freelance write and once — single-handledly took it upon myself — to get a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade for a brand I helped establish. My first title was Marketing Assistant. I barely made $15 an hour. I’m not 31 yet, but I know CEO of a hospital won’t be on my resume when I am.
As I sat there, in his fancy leather chair, with him hovering above me being told to “make sure to add that I was appointed CEO at 31,” I couldn’t help but wonder … do women become CEOs of hospitals at 31? Do women become CEOs at 31 if they didn’t start their own company? Do women graduate college and go to grad school and suddenly rise to CFO or CMO titles without work behind them? Do women do the work to get where men just land?
Sheryl Sandberg tells us to Lean In. Beyonce tells us to get in formation. We’re told to sit at the table. We’re told to speak up. We do these things. We put the work in. We aspire to climb the ladder. We play on the jungle gym and make our careers work as much as they can. We ask for more, but it really never seems to be enough. So ultimately, even doing all these things and doing them the right way, it feels like the system is rigged. My friend Miranda has started to say maybe the only real chance at success is to Lean Out…maybe she’s right.
How do you become a CEO at 31 when you have no real experience? Can you even become a CEO at 31 if you have a vagina (at a place that isn’t your own company)? I’m not sure.
So I did what I know how to do. I ran my mouth with the question: “How did you become CEO at 31 when you had no experience leading up to that?” He had no answer. I didn’t expect him to. But he did say, “That’s just how things were.”
Is that just how things were back then? Is that just how things are now?
Is that how a man, breathing down my neck and into my hair with his arms over me pecking onto the keyboard, sits at the head of the table in board rooms for over 30 years? Is that the key to a career where you make six figures and have a strong 401(k)?
I like to think that my career is impressive — or at least on the edge of being impressive. My friends have bright and bold futures too, and every day, they are stepping into their offices or pulling out their desk chairs at home and doing incredible work. They are impressive women with hearts of gold and brilliant minds. They are strong women who believe in the Shine Theory. They are interesting women who believe in taking risks and putting their career first.
But no one — no one I know at least — at 27 or 31 is being asked to become a CEO. No one is asking us where we want to go next. No one is taking the time to put together a track towards that vision, that plan of climbing the ladder. I asked my old boss for one many times — she said it was doable, it would come. But it never did. I don’t think she had a plan for herself, so why would she have one for me?
I’m posting this because it hurts to ask and work and look around for a path, a vision and to hear from a man with coffee breath inhaling your perfume and being gross like an inappropriate uncle would: “That’s just how things were.”
It feels like I’m being stabbed in the heart because I wear dresses, rock red lipstick, get my period and maybe one day want to push out a baby. It hurts because my friends are hustling and no matter how hard they hustle, it often feels that even in a “I’m a feminist” world — being a woman and in the workplace will never truly be enough.
And I’m not okay with it. And I don’t want to keep quiet about it. I want to talk about it. So, can we talk about it? Is there actually hope for women to smash the glass ceiling alongside men or are we too far gone? Or is the only way to truly get ahead for us to run our own companies and bootstrap for the rest of our lives?
What is it we need to do to play on the same field?