Updated: Jun 10
It's been eight years, and I'm still angry. Angry that I had so little control over my own destiny for so many years. I have vented my frustration and resentment amongst close friends and family for quite some time, but I have never spoken publicly about this pivotal part of my life. When I think about where I am today and why I became an independent equine nutritionist, I realize that gender discrimination is a motivating part of that story, and I'm ready to tell it.
Long before the ME TOO movement and long before I had the vocabulary, I experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. I finally recognized it when I was 29 years old and newly married. At that point I had been working for a large agricultural cooperative for six years. My boss was a regional manager (recently promoted), and we were meeting for my annual review. I can still see it in my mind like it happened yesterday. I can see the nearly empty restaurant, the salad plate in front of me, and my orientation in space. I remember shifting and seething in my chair.
The manager, attempting to wrap up the review, asked me where I saw myself in the next few years- I had only been married for a few months. For whatever reason, I turned the question back on him and asked where he thought I’d be in the next few years. His response is what awoke my consciousness to gender discrimination in its authentic form. He said something like "now that you’re married, I imagine you’ll slow down". What he implied is that I could not/would not want to meet the challenging travel demands of the job in my new role as wife. He assumed that I wanted children and that my obvious role was at home caring for them. In that instant I understood why I had been discouraged from applying for the promotion behind a colleague everyone knew as the class clown- who "networked" for business at the local bar. I understood why, a couple years later, I was turned down a second time despite my excellent employee record. And I do mean rockstar excellent. I had entered this company like a Tazmanian devil and transformed the distribution territory, the marketing, and what was possible.
Many of you will read this and think "what's the big deal? or "how can you be sure that's what he meant?", but that moment in that restaurant was crystallizing. It was one of very few SHIFT moments in my life time. A moment when the summation of your life experiences come together for "oh...now I see". The veil of naivety was removed, and the certainty of that experience was the most gut wrenching, demoralizing thing that has happened in my professional career. It changed everything.
This was not the first nor the last time that I would experience gender discrimination working in agriculture. My young, naive brain had leapt over previous discriminatory signals, comments, and challenges like road bumps, because it was "just the way things were"on the road to a fulfilling career. I accepted them as the only female in a male dominated "good ol' boy" sales team for many years, because I was young and I was "one of the boys". Several years later, when I once again was runner-up for promotion behind a colleague with far less experience in the company, I was told that other management would not work with a female leader. Of course, I called Human Resources, but that was before I understood that HR Departments are advocating for the company's protection not the individual employee. What was interesting about that call to HR several years after the restaurant moment, was not their reaction, but mine. I cried. So. Hard. That cathartic release to the HR woman made me realize just how deeply I had been hurt. I deserved those promotions. I believed it then, and I believe it now.