I'm on a plane – again – to Chicago. I am grateful to be headed to the FIRST Women's Safety Summit, put on by ASSP's WISE Common Interest Group members. The best in the world are headed to this event, and I am a lucky tag-along. My mentor has been heavily involved with planning, if not pioneering this whole thing, and she encouraged me to attend. I'm feeling overwhelming gratitude as I reflect on my journey that's led me to this exact point. When I was a child, I saw it. I knew that something was different between how far men got and how far women got. And I didn't want to be associated with the latter. I gravitated towards men as leaders, favorite teachers, friends, and people who were in roles I aspired to mimic as a result. I was almost disdainful towards women who didn't do the same or want the same. Now I recognize this as internal oppression, carved by a sexist society, teaching me to dislike myself for nothing more than my own biology.
In college, I was introduced to a world of mentors who took form other than that of the white, straight man. I found the most remarkable spaces in rooms full of people of color, women, women of color, non-binary folks, LGBTQQA-identified friends and role models, and people whom I aspired to be like. It was in that world that I've felt the safest, most accepted, most loved, most challenged, and most encouraged that I've ever felt. In my internship my senior year, I worked for a company that, at the time, had women in almost every single one of their executive leadership roles – and all of them were powerhouses…. forces to be reckoned with.
It was there I learned that I could work for a company led by women and still be supervised by an unaware sexist. It was evident to me the difference between how I was treated, and how a co-intern was treated by the department manager, a man. I was tasked with administrative work while he was frequently taken on the floor to do EHS-related work. 6 months into my internship, about 2 after the co-intern was hired, I let my feelings known in a department meeting. While I did not explicitly say that I was being treated differently because of my gender, I did point out that for this internship to qualify for my graduation requirements, I would have to either start doing some actual EHS work. Fortunately, another person in the department who had been through my program took me under his wing. He worked me hard and I learned a lot from him. I was able to achieve the requirements for graduation over the next 6 months of working with him… but I had to demand it to happen. I graduated from college and have both worked hard and been lucky every step of the way.
I worked with some incredible people in Michigan, my first supervisor being one of the most remarkable women I've ever met. She was doing “it all”. She had a governmental job where she served underserved populations in a STEM capacity. She had a happy marriage, two smart and happy children, and the support to pursue her dream of attending graduate school for a Master's degree, which since working for her, she has indeed earned. She actively worked to enable me to succeed, and I am forever grateful to her for it.
In my next role, the closest woman around was the HR Manager – another ambitious, intelligent woman who is clearly making waves with her professional work. While she never supervised me in a direct capacity, she made it quite evident that she had an open door, was available to help me work through relational challenges that I had, and escalated them appropriately on my behalf. She advocated for me, celebrated my successes, and encouraged me to grow in ways that none of my three male managers at that job ever have. She and I watched together as woman after woman left their leadership roles at our company, only to be replaced by white men. When she left too, my heart cried.
I had the opportunity to request a mentor in my own field through ASSP's WISE group, and I was paired with one of the founding members of WISE, another woman who “does it all”. Within the short time, we've been formally paired as mentor/mentee, she has helped me earn an ASP, a CSP, and transition to reporting to Plant Leadership. She has also guided me through the realization that I am underpaid in my current position, according to industry standards. As I continue my journey, even if our formal relationship ends, I know that a huge component of my professional success, both now and in the future, is due to her involvement in my life.
This last person brings me full circle to why I'm sitting on this plane, headed to this Summit, where I expect to be surrounded by women who are far more experienced than I. My mentor has been working on this idea for years, and is, to put it plainly, excited that it's finally come to fruition. It is with this as the foundation that I put my best foot forward in working toward equality and equity for other women in my field. I think of all of the women who, intentionally or otherwise, have paved the way for me to attend this Summit, to succeed in school, college, and professional life…. to have the position and credentials, dreams, and aspirations that I currently have. I am grateful for their work, their strength when faced with adversity, and their relentless efforts to work for what is right, beyond their own. I hope that the work I am a part of tomorrow does the same for other young brown women, and that [she] never knows that it could have been any other way.