Guest opinion: Taking the good with the bad
By Wendy Marsh | Shareholder, Nyemaster Goode
I have had the honor during my life of being surrounded by many strong women. In the 1920s, my grandmother was a bit of a pioneer by obtaining her college degree and becoming a full-time teacher. My other grandmother left home at 16 and worked for 40 years on the assembly line at Firestone. Her stories of her experiences in a workforce composed almost entirely of men made me highly admire her toughness and survival skills, especially in an era where sexual harassment claims were unheard of.
Even while these iconic women offered their nuggets of sage advice for navigating sexism in the workplace, I also received well-intended advice from others that instilled insecurity and self-doubt. At the beginning of my law career 25 years ago, I remember being told by one woman in my office that she never wore high heels because she did not want to appear taller than the male attorneys. Another woman advised that she only wore skirts, not pantsuits, in the courtroom so as not to offend the judge or jurors.
Sometimes friendly advice turned into sinister intent. I have experienced female co-workers who viewed and treated other women as their competition, not their comrades. On one occasion early in my career, my female supervisor refused to teach me how to use a particular software program needed for our legal specialty because she had had to teach herself how to use it, and she was not going to “give me a leg up on her.”
But more frequently I have enjoyed the highs of a workplace where women go out of their way to lift up and champion the women around them. One-to-one mentoring efforts, women’s affinity groups and broader networking opportunities have woven their way into the fabric of today’s business world and stand as a testament to the progress our generation of women have made.
The upcoming generation of women in the workplace, including my own daughter, will be experiencing different challenges from those encountered by their mothers, especially with the recent advent of the #MeToo movement. It is my hope that we are able to weed out the good advice from the bad, and use that wisdom to empower the women around us. While there is still much to be done, the workplace environment has clearly improved for women since the days my grandmother worked the assembly line at Firestone.
Wendy Marsh is an intellectual property attorney and shareholder with Nyemaster Goode in Des Moines. Connect with her on LinkedIn.