It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a senior manager in a corporate bank-- it just isn’t in my DNA.
My Sicilian parents arrived in Australia in the 1960’s. Two short years later my father was a successful manufacturing jeweler, my mother producing evening and wedding gowns. They figured things out as they went along. Overcoming obstacles was part of daily life for us.
True to form, at eighteen years old I applied at my first banking job. I was ready to learn, ready to climb the corporate ladder! The man interviewing me asked if I knew how to make a good cup of coffee. Well, of course! I’m Italian. I eyed a jar of instant coffee in the corner of his office. Smiling, I got up and poured a little hot water into a mug. I spooned a pile of instant coffee on top of that, and without even stirring, placed the mug in front of him. It was an insult to Italians everywhere, but a strong message to my new employer: no, I don’t make coffee. I was not there for very long, but I was never asked to make coffee again.
Fast forward to age twenty-two. I was a newly married woman and applying for another banking position. Although my potential employer seemed pleased with my qualifications, he remarked that it was unlikely that I would go very far as I would probably start having children. Did I plan on becoming pregnant soon? Baffled, I said that I hadn’t even spoken to my husband about that yet. Why would I discuss it with him?
I’d like to say that my experiences in the working world are not the experiences of other women. But I know that isn’t true. I recently spoke with a woman who applied for a position at a real estate firm. Without even mentioning her many accomplishments they indicated that maternity leave was a financial killer and she was probably going to have children soon...right?
How is this still going on? With years of Human Resources seminars and legal battles and media headlines encouraging us to be mindful of such behavior...haven’t we learned anything? Not to mention that I did end up having those babies that my employers feared would wreck their bottom line. And I raised them as a single parent. They were the driving force behind my work ethic. Nothing was more important than providing for my boys.