Women's History: A Personal Journey
This year, Women's History Month focuses on "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." There are many amazing women who have done and continue to do this through poetry, prose, drama, and songwriting, and I certainly stake no claim to belong to this illustrious group. However, the National Women's History Alliance also includes "grandmothers" in this group of storytellers, and since I recently became one of those, it made me want to tell mine.
The year is 1986. Following my graduation from a forward-thinking and thought-leading university, I entered the workforce with the notion that women stood equally with men. Not a self-proclaimed feminist, for I valued then and still celebrate now the many gifts and privileges that come with being a woman; I still expected equal consideration in the workplace. I expected my brain to be valued unconditionally.
The first blow to this belief system came when I was informed that I would not be allowed to wear pants to work in my new role as a management trainee at a large financial institution. Skirts and stockings (or hose, depending on your vernacular) were expected every day. My voice was generally not considered worthy of hearing, except by a few wonderful managers, in this male-dominated world of commercial credit. I was young and female; what could I have to offer?
My experiences at the bank, such as being so nervous that senior leadership might throw a credit file at me if he disagreed with my financial analysis, left me with job PTSD. I couldn't wait to take maternity leave and control my own fate. Not only was I underutilized and bored, but the female leaders in my company seemed to achieve advancement by being more like men. My role models (although still in skirts!) didn't celebrate their gender or femininity but, in my view, minimized it. I stayed home with my children for thirteen years.
Women made advancements while I excelled in the greatest job I've ever had. Pants were allowed. Women were leading. But I felt like I wasn't good enough to reenter the workforce. I didn't like what I'd been doing in commercial banking, mainly because of poor management oversight from male chauvinists. I didn't think I was qualified for the business world now that I had been "just a mom" for so long. So what did I do? What we often do - go back to school.
Another Career Change
Teaching had appealed to me for a long time while home with my own kids, and I love being a student, so I spent five years earning my Masters in Teaching while raising three children and doing tons of volunteer work. I spent fifteen years teaching Elementary School in private, public, and laboratory schools and absolutely loved my job. The PTSD was still in the background, though, gnawing at my subconscious and causing me to second-guess my teaching practice. This was augmented by the entrance of a principal to my final school. He was a - you guessed it - insecure male whose comments often bordered on harassment. Despite the good I was doing at an urban Title I school, I eventually made my exit.
Final Landing Place
Taking a leave of absence, I literally headed west with my sights set on Ed Tech. Instructure is an inclusive company where voices are heard. Many companies will say they do this, but not many truly achieve it.
My career has been a long journey on a roller coaster. All the highs and lows can be considered for their educational value. But mainly, I am thankful for the advances we women have made, crashing through glass ceilings and being allowed to wear pants. Women in leadership who I now consider my role models are authentic and celebrate their gender, and don't try to cover it up! I have successfully taken a giant leap of faith and entered the ed tech job market at a relatively advanced stage of my life.
There are still many -isms in our world, but I hope we continue to put them aside and celebrate each other for what we each bring to the table as individuals. Thank you, Instructure, for helping me overcome my job PTSD once and for all and providing an inclusive, celebratory workplace. Thank you to all the women of the world who have made your voices heard to improve our place in the workforce. Let us all carry the torch and encourage each other to keep our workplaces fair and equitable—happy Women's History Month from a woman who has experienced the changes we can make.
About the Author
Laura Leach has nearly fifteen years of experience teaching elementary school and six years of commercial banking experience as a loan officer and assistant vice president. She has BA's in Psychology and Organizational Behavior & Management and a Masters in Teaching. Laura currently sells the Mastery Item Bank by Instructure to distribution partners.