Happy International Women’s Day.
Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
Below is a personal essay, written by a young woman and Clackamas County resident, and what her experience has been at just 17 years old in the workforce. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can break the bias in our communities. We can break the bias in our workplaces.
When I turned 16, I decided to apply for a job at my local hardware store. My brother had worked there for two years and my family frequented the store for products every week. I knew the owners and had already built a relationship with the employees who worked there.
For me, this was a comfortable and safe place for my first job.
Once I began the job, I was pleased to have the opportunity to learn many new skills, such as mixing paint and cutting chains, keys, wood, and pipe. I even built patio furniture and barbecues. I was always supported by the staff while learning these skills. I felt as though I had found a place where I could feel confident and strong doing many things girls my age did not usually do.
After a few months on the job, I started to notice being overlooked by not only male customers, but also my male co-workers. Even though I had worked very hard to learn many skills, I was not able to practice them and fulfill the needs of the customers, because they were concerned that a man was not performing these tasks.
Not only did I get overlooked and ignored, but on multiple occasions I was also harassed by older men. When I was standing at the cash register one day, a man approached, overtaking a full line of customers. As I do with every customer, I asked him how his day was and started a general conversation. As I continued scanning items he looked at me and asked: “Do you have a boyfriend, young lady?” My heart sank and I began to sweat. I felt as though everyone around me paused and the store went silent. My fear started setting in as my brother who was working on the cash register next to me said: “Sir, she is a minor and that is inappropriate”. The older man brushed him off and angrily walked out. I was left feeling extremely degraded.
After that incident I realized that none of my male co-workers had ever had to deal with such behavior. That is what made me most upset. Although I possessed the same skills around the store as they did I was only wanted when I was appealing to the men entering the store. One particularly blunt male customer walked into the store and demanded: “Let me speak to a man!” I summoned one of my male coworkers, of course. But my colleague had not been working at the store for as long as I had, so when the customer asked him where the sandpaper was, he had to ask me. I told him: “It’s on aisle eight.” He repeats to the older gentleman: “It’s on aisle eight.” As he helps the man to the correct aisle, I see him signal me back over. The customer has more detailed questions that I know the answers to. But the man does not want to hear them from me. I happen to know a lot about sandpaper but for some reason, the customer won’t trust my advice, simply because I am a woman.
My job at the hardware store not only taught me workplace awareness and construction skills, but perhaps more importantly, how to recognize cases of discrimination, how to handle them, and how to heal from such situations. I am also able to better understand and assist victims of intolerance of all kinds, whether it be on the basis of gender, race, or other types of discrimination. I believe these are extremely important skills and values to possess, which will
serve me and others well at university and beyond.
Written by Anonymous, age 17 – published with the authors permission, edited to protect the identity of the writer.