Several years ago, I was the general counsel of the Software Subsidiary of a Very Large Corporation. Most people at Software Subsidiary knew who I was, and were aware of my job title; conversely, at the time most at Very Large Corporation had no clue who I was.
One day, I was asked to participate as legal counsel for a project at Very Large Corporation. The project involved software and other technology, and since that was my forte, one of my colleagues at Very Large Corporation invited me to be a part of the team, having worked with me once before.
I arrived at the project kick-off meeting, and my colleague wasn’t there; however, 2 men who were engrossed in a private conversation were. One of them saw me enter:
"Hey, honey, could you get us some coffee? Thanks."
My first inclination was to strongly and vociferously express my intense indignation; my second was to explain (with obvious mock patience) who I was. But then, thank goodness, I decided to go with my third instinct:
"Sure," I said. "How would you like it?"
And off I went to get the coffee.
When I returned, I placed the coffee in front of the two men, and I sat down at the conference table with my own cup. Honey-Get-The-Coffee-Boy glanced at me, clearly bewildered at my presence. By then, however, my colleague had arrived, and begun the meeting.
"Thanks, everyone, for coming," began my coworker. "Before we get started, however, I think it might be a good idea for us to go around the table and introduce ourselves, give everyone your title, and what your role will be for the team."
Everyone took turns, detailing his or her name, rank and serial number. When it was time for me, I turned and fixed my gaze on Coffee Boy, and said:
"Hi. I’m Karen. I’m General Counsel for Software Subsidiary, and I’ll be providing legal guidance to this team."
The look on Coffee Boy’s face was priceless — I think he turned at least 3 shades of red. I smiled warmly at him and winked, which I think only increased his embarrassment. While he never apologized, for the rest of my career at Software Subsidiary (and later, at Very Large Corporation) he went out of his way to be helpful, and was always supportive of my ideas and opinions.
I tell you this story because as the mother of a little girl, I feel (rightly or wrongly) a certain duty to represent the best of what I believe it means to be a strong woman to my daughter as she grows up. And while some of you might disagree with how I handled Coffee Boy, to me, being a strong woman means sometimes knowing when to get up in someone’s face about something, and when a quieter approach will work. But it also means having a certain healthy sense of entitlement: it means being confident enough in yourself to know that you have every right to be where you are at that very moment. As women, sometimes we find ourselves believing the hype: buying into the opinion that maybe we don’t belong, or aren’t as good as the men, or aren’t talented enough to be invited to sit at the table. My goal is to make sure my daughter Alex never feels this way. And, as far as I’m concerned, she’s never too young to learn this lesson.
I’d love to hear what the working world has inspired you to teach your kids — please share in the comments!