As the years passed after graduating college with a BA in English, I sometimes wondered if I should’ve pursued another path. I loved studying at The College of Wooster and met some amazing people there — inspiring acquaintances, wonderful friends, and my husband. But when I graduated during the Great Recession, and my loan payments were deducted each month, shortly after my retail job paychecks cleared, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps I hadn’t made the most savvy choice.
I loved working at both Substance and On Paper, and was lucky to have opportunities to flex my writing muscles by blogging and managing social media for both boutiques. But as time passed, I became increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t “using my degree,” and needed to prove to myself that I could be a Writer — with a capital “W.”
In a turn of events that felt fated, my chance came along in the spring of 2013: a potential business copywriting position with Columbus-based startup Fundable. For three months, I continued to work full-time at On Paper, and spent evenings and weekends doing contract work, immersing myself in the alien world of startups, venture capital and angel investors, writing crowdfunding profiles for businesses. In July, I was hired as the company’s first full-time copywriter.
Joining Fundable meant a lot of firsts for me: it was my first office job, my first writing job, my first time working for a male boss (who wasn’t also my dad), my first time working in a male-dominated field, and my first time in a workplace that was overwhelmingly male. At that time, the company was about 25 people, and I was one of three women. Teran, the operations manager, is as friendly and bubbly as they come, but when I first met Laura, the marketing manager, I was instantly intimidated.
Her confidence and competence were evident from the first; she spoke up in meetings with the kind of efficient eloquence that only comes from a firm understanding of the subject matter. Meanwhile, I was silently struggling to remember what ROIs, CPLs, and KPIs were. Laura’s perfectly straight blonde hair and cute-but-office-appropriate wedges seemed like a direct challenge to my frizzy brunette bun and scuffed flats. When I found out that she had been the president of her sorority at OSU, I wasn’t the least bit surprised, and I thought longingly of my own small band of college girlfriends, united in our introversion.
Do you see what’s happening here? After years of proudly, happily working with and for strong, smart women, I found myself in a male-dominated workplace and immediately (albeit unconsciously) pitted myself against my only female peer.
Holy shit, patriarchy, you’re sneaky af.
I wish I could say that I wised up quickly, but it took me months to realize that Laura’s “unfriendliness” (aka totally professional civility), “coldness” (literally just focusing on her work), and “competitive attitude” (nonexistent, and a projection of my own feelings) were figments of my imagination.
Over time, I became more comfortable and confident in my work, took on more responsibility and started working more with Laura, as our areas of expertise naturally overlapped. And you know what I found? Laura was as kind as she was competent, as humble as she was confident, and though at first she seemed perfectly polished and poised, she was also hilarious and warm and silly once you got to know her.
Laura taught me volumes about marketing, business funding, and startups, and always rooted for me when I took on new challenges. When I was feeling overwhelmed or pessimistic, I could count on her as a confidante and a cheerleader. Her presence grounded me; when you work at a startup things can get pretty crazy — but Laura was always a class act, and I loved her for it.
While I definitely feel ashamed about how I let my own insecurities cloud my judgement when Laura and I first met, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to be proven wrong. It taught me two huge lessons:
1. What you think you see in others may actually be your fears reflected back at you.
2. Don’t fall for the patriarchal myth that women in the workplace are in competition.
Because let’s face it: we’re only getting to the top if we help each other up.