By Carol A. Salter
I haven’t always been a woman in the corporate world. In fact, my beginnings as a wage earner actually began when I was about 12 years old when I was earning $.50 per hour as a babysitter. Before that, I worked in my community mowing lawns (with a hand push mower), ironing, and even writing a column for our very small community newspaper, where I was paid $.05 per column inch. I had my first full-time job working as a nurse’s aide in a local nursing home at the age of 16. I guess you could say I was “driven” by some inner force to become self-sufficient. I loved being independent. So, how does that translate to my growth of actually entering the “Corporate” world of work?
As I continued to follow my personal passions, I eventually found my niche, which was to work with people who had challenging conditions. I had a desire to use my unique skills and abilities to balance the inequities of the world, in any small way that I could. I found out I had a talent for identifying workplace solutions that would benefit individuals with disabilities, older job seekers, at risk youth, formerly incarcerated individuals, etc. while benefiting the employer by modeling to them how diversification of their workforce would actually give them a higher ROI.
There were many years where I worked beneath, under, around and through corporate white males, inserting my experience and ideas when given the opportunities and sneaking my ideas onto their desks when I wasn’t given the opportunity. It was a delicate dance to artfully suggest solutions that might have been counter-intuitive to the hierarchy of the male dominated corporate world allowing, at times, for my ideas to be built on with little or no recognition of my contribution. Putting my ego out of the way, and understanding that the end result was to make a better life for those around me, made it easier to cope with some of the passed opportunities for self-promotion. I did insert myself in places where I was not invited. I attended various board and committee meetings and volunteered to work on projects that were not always in a straight line with the essential functions of my job description. It was important to stretch my comfort zone, to act as a resource to other community based organizations, and become influential outside of my niche. Eventually, however, I found that people who saw my work and understood my motives would start coming to me for advice and would listen to what I had to say. It was then that I was invited to work on more boards and commissions where I would be considered a “subject matter expert” and gained some of the recognition I earned.
Today, I sit on numerous boards and commissions. I am in a place where I can balance my activities outside my immediate job duties with those positions where I can actually influence decision-makers. I have testified before congress, presented at conferences, and mentored younger women; all the while continuing my own growth through life-long learning opportunities. It is not an easy path to climb the corporate staircase. And there are many landings on that may seem to last longer than necessary. But eventually, the next door opens and I have prepared myself to enter the next phase of my professional journey. I leave you with this thought: When one door closes, knock loudly. It IS a door!