I laid all my clothes out the night before my big day, a light blue top with ironed dress pants. I spent the previous three years wearing yoga pants and a black T shirt to work. I was finally leaving food service and getting a desk job. No more slinging sandwiches. No more smelling like eggs and cheese after a long day. I was about to dive head first into a new chapter in my life. I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I did not sleep much that night.
The day was finally here. I woke up two hours early to do my hair and panic. My favorite podcast played on my commute to work, an interview with a famous actress. Please explain to me how someone can walk red carpets and preform on television while I cannot walk into an unfamiliar place without sweating. No time for movie premiers, this sweaty and nervous woman had arrived at her destination.
Walking in for the first time presented many challenges, such as figuring out where the hell my desk was and trying not to cry. Once I got settled in, everyone wanted to talk to the new person. I do not have hobbies, I am not married, I have a daughter, and my commute is 20 minutes. I was ready to post a sign in front of my desk. It was like answering a questionnaire to see if I was eligible for a clinical trial- I was waiting for someone to ask me for my social security number. Once my nerves calmed down, I noticed something that would shape the next year of my career.
There were so many men, 12 to be exact. As for the women, there were two in accounting and only one in sales- me. I kept telling myself I knew that it was going to be like this, after all how many women do you know in construction sales? After a short adjustment period I started settling in. My peers quickly caught on to the fact that even though I was a young woman I would not be disrespected or talked down to. You should have seen my coworker’s face the first time a customer called me cupcake. Unfortunately it was only one of many times I have had to defend myself to a man. I also know that it will not be the last time. I learned fast.
I love my job and I am extremely good at it. However, women only make up approximately 5% of the entire construction industry. That was so intimidating to me when I learned what a SERIOUS minority women are here. This is not because women are afraid to work hard and get dirty (Lord knows we are not). The problem in this industry is discrimination against women by fragile men who think that women cannot possibly be strong enough or smart enough to do their job. To this day, young women in schools are steered to a home economics class while young men are in woodworking or mechanical classes. We, as women, are subtly pushed towards gentle and nurturing roles from the day we are born. Gentle, nurturing, hammer swinging, steel selling women. I can’t say that I felt adequate for this job when I started, after all that’s the way I was made to feel since childhood. The moment I realized I was working with mostly men, I wondered if I could be as knowledgeable as they were. I was worried that my male coworkers would feel threatened by me, and want to drive me out of my position. I could not have been more wrong. My coworkers instilled knowledge and confidence in me to make me the kick ass employee that I am today. They encouraged me and stood up for me. Each and every one of them has helped shape who I am today.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I do leave work feeling mentally drained. It is not all sunshine and rainbows now that I’m comfortable here. Some days I feel like the world is caving in on me and I can’t keep up. Some days if I forget to return a call or respond to an e-mail I feel like I have failed my customers. Most of them understand that I have so much to juggle in my position, however my boss still gets an occasional phone call from a disgruntled man. I will hear the muffled voice on my boss’s phone say “That GIRL I was talking to…” and get fired up. Some days I get angry. Other days I am purely amused.
There are still days where I answer the phone and the voice on the other end asks for a man. I never let that discourage me. I use it as a chance to prove myself. To prove to the voice on the other end of the phone that there are women here—and everywhere—who know what we’re talking about. When a male salesman walks through our door who does not know me they will not introduce themselves to me. They will stand in front of my male coworker’s desk and wait for him to get off the phone until he speaks. I don’t let it get to me.
My journey has not been easy and it has not always been fun. I had to earn trust and respect from people who did not know me. I had to teach people about my values and heard the word millennial a few thousand times. I am proud of the work I do and the people I work with. I am proud to say I am quite literally building the future.
Madison lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is a single mother to a sweet, brave four year old. She loves traveling, hiking, yoga, and volunteering.