We started our little Restaurant Brewery with a small team of small women. We like small women, they have a tendency to be fierce in many ways. Actually it was more pure luck, than a conscious choice, and two very good team members fell from the sky and landed behind our counter. Our original plan was to hire a young man to brew with Andy. Silly plans.
I was immediately struck by more than just linguistic differences. There were differeing assumptions about what I mean when I say things like, “You OWN this area. Make a decision and it must be done by Thursday”, etc. There was even a little confusion when I would ask, “What is your opinion of…..?” or “Should we be offer nachos or onion rings?”.
Somewhere around week three one of the girls pulled me aside and said, “No boss has ever asked my opinion before. ?” I explained, I have no idea what I am doing, (nobody really does), and two heads are better than one. We are now in month three, and instead of wondering why I want them to lead, the bristle a little when they arent consulted about things. (YAY!) both of them are working toward assertive and are making active creative contributions.
The habit of taking responsibility, as well as authority, to make choices in those areas that you “own” is foreign, but they are getting used to it, and becoming not just workers, but team members.
Introducing the first male workers into the mix has been interesting. I have an entirely different set of assumptions about how workplaces run, and how men and women interact within them than they do. Or so it appears.
Trying to get one young man to pause and let me explain the brew system was pointless. I eventually took to watching him flip valve handles around (trying to move liguid from one tank to another) until he gave up and asked me to “call Andy”. I walked over and fixed the order of the valve handles instead. I wasn’t mad, but foolishly thought I had made my point. (that understanding the off and on positions does not require significant upper body strength, nor does breaking down a pump to clean it or fix it).
What at first appeared to be a polite effort to prevent the dueña from doing the job you were hired for, quickly turned into a more irritating habit. I climb a ladder to change a lightbulb, and get a lecture about how dangerous ladders are. I decide to light a burner manually, and get the lighter snatched, because I could blow up the building (tru fact…I could…. if I waited around talking while the gas was running first). I confronted a “very high” young man trying to steal our tip jar, and was quickly informed that I should call a man because I could get hurt. (Who knew? I thought talking to angry and intoxicated youths was was a safe thing to do?)
To me, an owner is responsible for the safety and well being of her staff, male and female, and their hard earned tips, so the natural choice for “who goes up front first” is “me”.
We have now had some interesting conversations, which surprisingly did not make me angry. Not even irritated. (I do get irritated when the attitude slows workplace process down). Here are some samples
“If he comes back you should call me. You are a woman. Ok, three women (compliment or fat joke, I didn’t know). But he is dangerous” ….. “Thank you, I appreciate the help. If he comes back we will be fine.” …. “But no no not you, let me handle it.” …. “Perhaps after 12 years in police work I am prepared for this.” …. “But you are a woman. Sorry, I mean three women.” (I now know he was referring to the fact there are two other women up at the front, though I do like the thought fo being the equivalent of three women).
(inquiring about a job for his wife) “My wife would like to learn something new. But of course she is a woman…..so…..” (I’m not sure if he was asserting his status as heterosexual, or explaining why she couldn’t (learn something new))
(I am driving him part way home after late shift) “Women should not drive at night.”
(waving a fitting around) “I dont know where is the adaptor for this” … “It is in the red toolbox on the left, I will get it” (he is conspicuously busy with a task) … “No, I will get it. I know which one fits this.” (Key point: There is only one, and I just told him exactly where it is, and the reason he broke down and asked me is that he had just tried to put the wrong one on, which I watched without correcting after a while, because I realized he wasnt listening)
And the list goes on. On and On and On. The other day a gentleman was out back assessing what needed to be done to repair our drainage system. I stood by for a while, but finally, irritated by the, “We need to talk to Andy” they were throwing around, (in reality, more of an expression of irritation than anything else), I walked away. It was far to busy a day to get into the topic right there and then. To save time, I just left. Any decision will eventually have to come through me anyway, so why not let them talk? Andy wouldnt be around till the next day no matter what.
Contrast this against being a woman in police work in the USA. You would expect trouble, right? But not really (in my experience). Now and then you “know” that some people have no confidence in you, but they dont say it, or act it out beyond subtle clues. So I let them think what they wanted, and had a great time in the job.
So it is very strange for me to constantly hear, “but you are a woman”. So foreign that it doesnt always register. I DO see the difference in my daughter. She has not lost any fire, she just lives in two modes. She has rules about what is acceptable in El Salvador, VS the USA. Smart girl. I think it is better than getting too wrapped up in it. In the meantime my fierce and adaptable and smart young Salvadoran women are running the company quite well.
The men are still too busy asserting their qualifications. Im not mad. Im not insulted. It´s just different. All part of an effort to appear assertive, protective, ready, and able. I think.