I’ll always remember the hat pin my grandmother gave me when I went away to college. It was meant to protect me from “boys who got too fresh”. The signals I got from my earliest years were about my powerlessness, and the assumptions about what I wanted and could have for my life.
I’m excited to continue my career in challenging these assumptions, and building power for women, in my new role as State Director for 9to5 Wisconsin, and to introduce myself to all of you.
The inspiration for my journey started with my mother. She’s brilliant, artistic and hard working. She should have been able to do almost anything she wanted. She clearly would have been happier with her own career. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of opportunities in rural Minnesota for a woman coming of age in the 50s. She shared her belief on the limits of what women could do with me, her eldest daughter, as I grew up. I was told that my career choices were teacher or nurse, either of which I should quit when I had babies. Of course I ignored that advice.
Instead, most of my career was spent in corporate America. It was not a time when women were expected to take on big leadership roles. I enjoyed defying expectations and trying things other people thought were inappropriate or dangerous. I spent much of my career in international sales, traveling alone to countries, being warned about not doing anything alone. Again, I ignored that advice and had wonderful adventures, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean.
But I also experienced the problems with the world as it was. I repeatedly found out I was underpaid compared to male colleagues, even when my work was better. The #MeToo movement didn’t exist. While some of us shared our experiences of sexual harassment and/or assault by bosses or colleagues, many others were too afraid or ashamed to have those conversations. I saw my parents struggle financially and thought about how things might have been different if my mother had been allowed to have the career she wanted.
In the ten years since I left the corporate world I’ve had the opportunity to work fulltime, for social justice as I had as a volunteer. I was Political Director for SEIU in Virginia, where home care and county workers are fighting for better pay, benefits and a secure retirement. I also worked as the Executive Director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, leading a coalition to create the Virginia Progressive Leadership Project, which is develop amazing women leaders who are changing Virgina forever.
I’m thrilled to come back to the Midwest, to do the important work of leading the work of 9to5 in Wisconsin. My grandmother’s hatpin wasn’t enough to protect me from challenges I would face as a woman in the working world. But I know that women, coming together, organizing and building power, can create the world we all want to live in and want our children to inherit. I look forward to doing that work with all of you.
I’ve always liked a challenge, the chance to take on the bullies and to make big change. I see that opportunity in the work at 9to5 in Wisconsin. I can’t imagine a more important place to be going into 2020; fighting for the changes women in Wisconsin need to thrive both at work and in their personal life.
State Director, 9to5 Wisconsin