I work in financial services, in digital product marketing.
There was no master plan for what I was going to do after college. I went into the Peace Corps, which my parents had done. After that, I went to work on Capitol Hill. It was a great experience for a young person.
I went to graduate school for public policy, thinking I’d go and work for the World Bank, but I ended up in the private sector as a consultant. I liked the problem-solving aspect of it. And as a woman in a place that was 95% male, I felt like a pioneer.
At first, the intensity of it felt kind of cool and sexy. But I started to get tired of the pace and the travel. My colleagues were almost all these engineering guys, and lunchtime conversation was verbal warfare. It was exhausting.
I started to have this nagging fear that I didn’t fit, that I wouldn’t ever get the respect I wanted there. I couldn’t see myself pitching to be on the partner track. All of the partners were guys. Most had wives who stayed home.
As a student, I never thought being a girl had any impact on me—I was competitive, and I did well. Effort led to reward. In the work world I began to see how your success could in fact have nothing to do with what you knew or even what you did.
A graduate school friend invited me to move out to Salt Lake City and join a technology start-up—an Internet-based enterprise software company. I joined as head of marketing, which at the time I knew nothing about. I had no right to have that job.
The technology was fascinating to me, magical. And I got to blaze a new trail, which has always appealed to me. When I’m dropped in the deep end, I learn quickly. I loved the work, and the work-life balance out there was a revelation. But it made me realize how lonely I was.
Returning to New York, I went to work for a very large bank. This was my first entry into a big corporate hierarchy, where I learned that women are expected to project sunniness, to make others feel good. I’ve never conformed to those expectations. I express my anger; I speak up in meetings.
It’s a classic double bind. If you display “normal” female behavior, people may like you, but they won’t necessarily reward you. The range of acceptable behavior for women is very small.
I assumed I was doing well, but my year-end review reflected otherwise. I was told, “You need to work on relationships.” It was like everyone was speaking a different language. I tried to temper my personality. I felt like the world had torn up a contract with me.
Now I’m in Virginia, in the same field but in a new job. I’m nearer to my family, and my son is in a great school. For all sorts of reasons, I’m optimistic that this was the right move. But sometimes I think about starting my own business—taking what I know and doing something on my own terms. It’s appealing. As a single mother, though, it’s really scary.
Interviewed on January 24, 2018