When I was young I was taught respect. Mum says I was pretty perfect as a kid – not boasting just reporting but also that I was really stubborn and if I didn’t wan to do something it was unlikely to get done. I’m not talking little things but there were things. I never slept well and so I read really late into the night. Nothing would stop that. My dad was manic depressive (bipolar now) and he would not take medication so keeping the peace was the one thing that might stop an eruption. It didn’t really work but I tried. I knew that dad would fall asleep when he was driving so I stayed awake to keep him awake. I graded my dad’s university exams (multiple choice and even short sentence answers) starting at about 7. We lived in the middle of nowhere so the people I socialized with most were dad’s students – on field trips, at our house. The rest of time I was with mum at the middle school working for the teachers or socializing with them. I wasn’t a terribly normal child.
I learned though. I learned how to talk with adults. I learned how to read. I learned the importance of math, of science. I learned the value of work. I was always helping the teachers. Seeing what else they needed done. That was the ethic I took into my life. My brother grew up in the same house but I think now that he lived a different reality. He wasn’t at the school with me. Maybe because he had more friends or he was older. I know part of it was because he was a boy. Nothing was going to come to me. College was always a plan but paying for it – that was mine. My brother was never so sure on college but he was never expected to pay for it. He never expected to pay for it.
My dad spent money crazily – manic shopping sprees – especially after mum left him. That taught me the the value of money. I worried about it and the only thing I ever asked for was books (and comics) but mostly at the used book store that also sold those comics. I worried about money every day more than my dad did – I’m not sure my brother noticed.
When I went to work I always worked hard and I always looked for that next thing to do. I always did my best and tried to find a way to do things faster, better, easier. When I got a one day temporary assignment working at a placed called COMET – I worked hard for them and that day turned into 3 months and then 6 and then it was a permanent job. I worked there 23 years until things changed and I was laid off.
COMET was an education program. We trained National Weather Service forecasters, we trained Navy and Air Force forecasters, and through our distance learning education we trained the worlds forecasters (and students and people around the world) – the program still does that – www.meted.ucar.edu. For years its been online and free. It’s an incredible resource and I’m really proud that I worked there. That I helped build something that special. My program was/is the real thing – we used primarily government funding (US & international) to form partnerships that did with the sum of the whole what no agency could do on its own.
I was a woman working in a man’s world. I started as a secretary and became the business manager. I knew my stuff. I know the rules and regulations backwards and forwards. I knew every contract, every cooperative agreement, every grant, every contribution agreement. I found creative solutions to problems working with a great team of people who were willing to explore options. I learned IP law so that we didn’t violate anybody’s intellectual property. I knew all of our HR policies and procedures. I managed a budget of $5 – $8M per year. I watched my job get harder as rules became harsher. If someone big violated a rule the small agreements were more closely watched.
I learned how to work when I was the only woman in the room. I spent a fair time as the only female manager in my program. There were times when there was too much testosterone. I became famous for what my boss’s son called the “Lessard glare”. I knew when my ideas would not be heard so I filtered them through our Deputy Director. He did the same with me, in a different way. He would talk through what he was going to be talking about as a test run. Our ideas would meld and become stronger for the partnership. I dealt with a sexism, some of it blatant – men harassing me – some of it more ingrained. I earned something that it took me a long time to realize that I had – respect. It wasn’t until I had our sponsor representatives saying that they didn’t want to waste MY time before I realized that I was an equal to them. I had signs. I knew that my annual reports were used as an example by one agency. I knew my proposals were too. I knew I was respected on the business side of the house but I hadn’t truly realized that I held more respect than that.
When my boss retired I was asked more than once why I wasn’t applying for the job. I had thought about it, and I had a flip answer but the real answer was deeper then that. One I am careful in talking about – burn no bridges. I wasn’t sure I really wanted the job even if I could have gotten it – in my industry and my field I wasn’t trained to think that way. Looking back – I don’t know…
This whole long post is about one thing – the lessons I have learned over a lifetime working in what was a man’s world – it’s slowly changing but most of the time it’s still easy to be the only woman – or one of a few. That experience says that we women have to stick together. After a quarter century in the workforce I know that there is still discrimination, harassment, that the playing field is not even. I loved my job. I love the field. I loved the people that I worked with. The meteorology field is working to change. It’s slow though, as change often is.
So I’ve got an ages worth of experience and what I can say is that no one is perfect. I can say that we are still in a place where we need to support our fellow women (and there are a lot of guys who feel the same way). I also know that attacks on women are still our there and that a woman seeking power can be seen differently.
I want to speak to young women who have a perception of Hillary Clinton and think that she is not necessarily the “perfect” candidate. I’ve heard them say that we’ll have another chance at the first female president. Or I don’t want to support her “just because she’s a woman”.
What I’m here to say is that if one of the most qualified candidates to ever run isn’t “good enough”… If the candidate running on one of, if not the, most progressive platform isn’t “progressive enough”…. If the most honest candidate running in this race – check the records – isn’t “honest” enough for you…. If she isn’t “likeable” enough for you… If you won’t look through the media and Republican web of lies around her and you just let those judgements lie then you are working at cross purposes to the equality, the progress that we have been working so hard for.
If you want to wait until you have the perfect candidate before you get excited by the prospect of the first female President this country you may have a very long wait. If we let the horrible treatment that we’ve seen both against Hillary Clinton, but also against “regular” women, stand we are ignoring the experiences I and millions of women have had.
Use my experience. Use the experience of others like me and get excited for Hillary Clinton. Learn who she is.
And know that if we can’t elect the first female president when she is so qualified it’s not going to be so easy for the next woman who tries. We talk about glass ceilings (or marble ones) for a reason.
This is a HISTORIC moment!!!!
We need to live this history. We have to support this history. We have to help Hillary Clinton get elected. We have to support her and as President Obama says we have to do for her what we did for him – pick her up and carry her over the finish line. No one can do this alone. The President of the United States needs help. No one does it alone – most especially the President.