Sunday, September 23, 2018

Perspective ~How Things Have Changed Since I Joined the Workforce in 1980

Perhaps if the pussy hat wearing angry hordes of women were to study a bit of recent history, they would be celebrating how far we women have come in a few decades rather than scream with anger and indignation that we haven't come far enough. It is also reasonable to reflect that women were not granted the right to vote until August 18, 1920 by the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which was not ratified for 42 years after it was first introduced in Congress by Senator Aaron Sargent of California. We are still 2 years shy of the 100th anniversary.
Comparatively, I began my career as a field claim adjuster for  Commercial Union Assurance Companies in 1980, as a not-yet-21 year old university graduate. CU hired 2 women trainees that year in Indiana - me in Indianapolis and another in Muncie. We were the first field claims adjusters hired for CU in Indiana. That was merely 38 years ago. 

When Mary and I started at CU we were not greeted with open arms. Instead, the mostly middle aged men treated us with disdain, made sexist comments, told jokes that would now get them fired, openly read "girly" magazines, enjoyed 3 martini lunches, asked us to fetch them things, and made bets on how quickly they could get us to quit. There was resentment because claims was a man's world filled with chain smoking, grumbling, sans-a-belt pants wearing, clip-board carrying, rough edged guys that  knew how to talk with body shop managers, contractors, police officers, fire inspectors and trades people.  Not only did we have to learn the job, we had to do it better. We had to prove that we could climb on roofs, stand in the middle of intersections to take photos and make diagrams, inspect machinery, walk through  fire scenes, estimate damages, separate truth from fiction, determine causes of loss, evaluate injury claims, drive to addresses or accident scenes without GPS or cell phones, schedule meetings without computers, dictate correspondence, and deflect questions from people as to when we would "get married and quit". 

At one point, I realized I'd been a quota hire and it pissed me off. I marched into my manager's office filled with frustration that I'd been hired because they HAD to start hiring women. He just looked at me and asked: how do you know you weren't the best person for the job? Wow! That shut me up!

To survive in that environment during the 1980's women had to be strong -willed, determined, smarter, faster, better and prepared to be one of the guys. We also had a lot of laughter - albeit some of it would now be considered most inappropriate. The lessons I learned then prepared me for success in a dog eat dog world. I also met some wonderful men who treated me with respect and equality that I still keep in touch with today.

I feel no resentment towards those that put me through the ringer because the game me the impetus to succeed. And within 15 years, the insurance claims industry began to transition from a world almost exclusively composed of middle aged white men into a business that began to embrace diversity and inclusion.  But what we've lost in the process is the ability to celebrate how far we've come. 

We've come a long way since 1980 when women couldn't get a credit card or buy a house on her own. Let go of a bit of the anger, stop whining about micro aggressions and hurt feelings,  celebrate the achievements we've made in a a few amazing decades.  

Life is glorious! 

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