I was blessed to have been raised by a father who insisted that I could do whatever I wanted to do if I worked hard enough. Ride a bike, buy a horse, road trip to Florida with my best friend in an unreliable 1978 Pontiac Sunbird, work my way through an Ivy League education.
These conversations never had the subtext of “even though you’re a girl.”
My father was a fan of strong women. My mom was a 3rd grade teacher, and a strong swimmer who aspired to swim across Lake Erie. She was the kind of person who purchased her first automobile, a Volkswagen Beetle, in cash, and then taught herself to drive a manual transmission on the way home.
I suspect that my father and I had conversations that made him uncomfortable as the father of a daughter as I entered a male-dominated workforce, but he never let on. He was my mentor, my sounding board, my go-to guy, and not just because he was my Dad. He was a steel-plant-foreman turned industrial hygienist when I was a fledgling in the hazardous waste industry. I was finding my way to a role in safety, much the same way someone gets around a track in bumper cars. Lots of swearing, a ton of collisions, sometimes from behind, and anything but smooth sailing.
There were times I did get treated differently, I imagine, as a woman on the job. I am a pragmatist, and I was well aware that in the late 80s I probably fulfilled some EEOC quota number, and that someone, or more than one someone, gave me a nudge up the ladder in management, attempting to make it a little less populated by middle aged white guys.
It was, and it is, a double-edged sword.
I never saw my gender as a disadvantage, because for every inappropriate comment, for every person I worked with that perceived me as less than, or felt I could not do my job well because of my gender, there was someone who treated me the way they would want someone to treat their smart and competent sister or wife or daughter. In fact, I’m confident that those colleagues far exceeded the naysayers in both numbers and enthusiasm.
How exactly is that a disadvantage? For every potential con, there was a pro.
For some time, I’ve been aware of the state and federal woman-owned business certification programs.
Not for me, I thought. Such that I didn’t apply for NYS WBE for my first business, Proactive, until a large client encouraged me to do so. That was when the business was seventeen years old. To say it was a challenge to find legible receipts from 1999 to prove the initial investment in the business was mine would be an understatement. Having to document over and over again how my husband could possibly not really be the brains behind the operation, well, that was more than a little insulting.
But I got it, and there it sits, a tagline on my emails, and probably mentioned somewhere on my website. <shoulder shrug>
A potential project came up recently. It was apparent being a woman-owned business could be a strategic advantage. I waded in again, this time for PCS, my newer safety eLearning business, starting with the federal application.
Once again, the part-time job of uploading hundreds of pages of documents, answering questions that felt like traps (even though I’m sure each and every one has a good backstory of why it exists), nervously answering an inquiry that was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
When the certification came through last week, I was relieved. I hope it’s what my client needs to bring us on for the project.
And yet, I’m conflicted.
I don’t want us to be hired for a project because I happen to be a woman who owns the business and had the time and energy and irrational level of administrative discipline required to complete the application.
I want you to hire us because we are really <bleeping> good at what we do, responsive and nimble and focused on resolving our clients’ complex issues in the simplest way we can, so they can rest assured we’ve created the best safety eLearning and LMS platform out there to fulfill that need.
The fact that we’re certified as woman-owned simply means I was born with two X chromosomes. And I filled out an application to prove it.
But if your company has goals for utilizing woman-owned businesses, by all means, hit me up and let’s chat. If this opens a door, by golly, I’m happy to knock and walk through that threshold.
However, I want you to hire us because we knock your socks off.
Hello, my name is Patti. I own a great business, and I just happen to be a woman.