“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” Hillary Clinton
NOTE – This is not a political post, so if Clinton’s name inspires you to rant, take a breath, relax, and hang with me as I muse in other directions.
The United States made history this week when a major political party, for the first time ever, nominated a woman to run for president. During her acceptance speech, Clinton made the statement above about ceilings, and I could not help but think about my own career and how many ceilings have broken since I entered the workforce in the early 1970s.
Back in 1973 when I joined the Soybean Digest staff as editorial assistant, I didn’t recognize what a major step my boss at the American Soybean Association took when he named me the first female editor of a national ag magazine. There were women home page and recipe editors, but no women editors of ag topics.
Yet, his willingness to push the boundaries only went so far. Each year when Secretary’s Day came around, the men took the (women) secretaries to lunch, and they invited me, too. Each year, I argued that I wasn’t a secretary so I shouldn’t be included. Each year he said I needed to go. Each year, I went along and enjoyed lunch with the other women. Then after lunch, I went back to the office and reimbursed him.
Every job I had in my career trajectory showed the challenge to shifting attitudes and acceptance of women.
As a member of the American Ag Editor’s Association, I participated one year in a panel of ag editors, including a (male) editor from Successful Farming magazine. During the panel discussion, that editor commented that his magazine would never hire a woman in an editorial position because a woman could never know enough about agriculture. At that moment I thought, Hey. I’m sitting right here.
In that moment, I was embarrassed, but also silent. He was completely comfortable saying what he did, and neither I nor anyone else challenged him. That was the time.
The upshot of this story is that nearly 10 years later, that same editor asked me to interview for one of the positions he’d said would never go to a woman at that magazine.
In my early years at CMF&Z (the marketing agency I worked at for 20 years), we pitched for a major national account. The agency knew that the prospective client would have a woman at the table, so it was agreed the agency needed one, too. And they wanted me to be that woman. Cool. Right? But I had specific instructions: Do not say anything.
I must say, I played my role perfectly. When I returned from that pitch, though, I vowed that I would never let myself be put in a position like that again. Nor would I let it happen to anyone who worked with me.
Over time, the attitudes of men at CMF&Z changed. Capable women were hired in account management positions, they led major accounts – including ag accounts, they were successful.
Men had to change their attitudes, but women did, too. Some women at CMF&Z felt that if one woman held an account management position, that was all there could be. Because I was there, they considered the path closed to them. That wasn’t true, of course, but only time could prove that.
I didn’t consider myself as breaking ground – or cracking ceilings – though I see now that I was. So we’ve come a long way, baby. All of us. And I agree with what Clinton said. When we break a ceiling, there’s upside potential for all of us.
What do you say? Have you broken ceilings yourself or helped someone else do it?