This story comes from a woman serving in the military. She was one of the first women to share her story with us. This story illustrates the aggression women are faced with, and the need to be so much more competent as a woman to be taken as seriously as any male counterpart.
Working on aircraft in the USN was a thrilling experience. But as a female in a male-dominated industry, it was not uncommon for my peers to doubt my physical and emotional strength on the job. I knew that being the first female to receive orders to my command in the maintenance department was going to be a struggle in the beginning, but I had experience in facing adversity and wasn’t going to let a societal gender construct define my abilities.
At first it started with remarks of judgment about keeping up with the physical demands of my job, with comments like, “you look like you can use a hand,” or “why don’t you let me do that.” And then it became about my intellectual abilities to comprehend the mechanics behind multi-million dollar aircraft, with condescending grins and comments as I tried to learn more about the design and engineering process from my supposed mentors and leaders.
That was a horrible feeling, and one that I still feel the effects of now in my current position.
Having been forever tainted with the feeling that I am inadequate in my intellectual abilities to understand, always doubting myself, and needing reassurance.
As more and more women checked into the squadron, I knew we could band together and Kick. Ass! At this point I had learned how to use my body weight to my advantage and how to “run with the boys” so I took a lot of my female counterparts under my wing and explained what they would encounter and how they could overcome some of those dreadful experiences.
Because leadership didn’t see this as a gender issue, we were too afraid of the consequences if we brought it to their attention. We could have been reassigned to issuing tools in the tool room, or being put in first lieutenant, which was basically being assigned as a glorified janitor. No, thanks!
We took matters into our own hands and put our noses in the books and maintenance publications to learn what we could about the aircraft and how to perform maintenance with our small lady like hands, which actually worked to our advantage. We formed a strong bond with one another because we faced the same discrimination.
And while I wouldn’t trade those friendships for anything, it’s complete BS that we had to come together because the men were intimidated that we would out perform them. Which was another disadvantage of being a female in aviation — men were more likely to be recognized for their accomplishments and rose through the ranks at a faster pace than the women did. But we acknowledged each other’s abilities and would give credit where credit was due! We studied hard and would lift each other up when things got rough.
Unfortunately, my story is only one in a plethora of others, as many women in the military experience sex discrimination on a daily basis. And the women who experienced far worse harassment than I did, do not have the proper support they need to cope and heal through the uniform code of military justice.
I have heard countless stories of devastating sexual harassment, and women who were too afraid to seek help because of the consequences it would have had on their careers. Those are not my stories to tell. But I feel for them, and all the people who experience workplace harassment who feel like they have lost their voice. Thank you for letting me share just one example of why this issue needs to be addressed in our nation.
This writer experienced some very prevalent forms of harassment and discrimination. Let’s break down some of the major roadblocks she faced in her work:
Devaluation: Writer was not taken seriously from the get-go. While offers to “help” her may seem well-intended, these are often thinly veiled reminders that someone does not “belong” in the role they hold.
A Higher Bar: This writer spoke about her response to this situation, by working harder and studying more. Of course, her effort is incredible and should be rewarded, but the fact that in order to be taken as an equal, she had to work twice as hard, is a standard women are consistently held to.
Safety in Numbers: Our writer was able to find some safety by working closely with other women. In areas where there are not other women, or where the other women are not willing to work together, this can leave women exposed. In addition, the need to band together isolates women from the core group. Making our workplaces safer means that women wouldn’t need to band together in order to get through the workday.
Denial of the Issue: Our writer mentions that leadership did not see these issues as “gender” issues. However, the higher standards set, the isolation of specific groups, and the devaluation of women are certainly systemic gender issues. Many women we talk to have this experience, with people in charge denying that a problem even exists.
Failure To Promote: This story’s author talked about men being more likely to be recognized. This isn’t about a pat on the back, it directly translates to promotions and pay. Women in these situations were left to teach themselves, manage their own education, prove themselves twice over, and not be taken seriously. In the end, it translates to a direct impact on their wallets.
This writer talks about the way these issues impacted her career later on. While she was resilient and able to build her own safety net, she carries these lessons with her. Other women carry these same early experiences. Working to navigate a constantly shifting dynamic by being as perfect as possible, working harder, and insulating ourselves. This limits our opportunity, but the alternative exposes us to risk and punishment. By sharing her story, we are able to name the issues, and start having real dialogue.
Disclaimer: Enlightened Solutions has not verified the accuracy of these stories. All stories are submitted anonymously and are published with the intent of allowing people to speak about their workplace situations without identifying information.