Celebrating Women's HER-story Month
As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my personal history and pay tribute to the women throughout my career who have helped make it a little easier for women to bridge the gender gap and shatter the glass ceiling.
I can’t start telling my story without discussing the two industries in which I worked: Advertising and Hospitality. When it came to the gender pay gap, both industries were comparably inequitable. In the mid 80’s Adweek, a leading advertising publication, published a survey that concluded women in advertising earned 67% of what men in the industry earned. The hospitality industry, my second and current field, had a slightly bigger gap with women earning only 64% as much as their male counterparts. While the pay gap has narrowed over the past twenty years, the gender gap goes beyond differences in wages earned. The mindset needs to evolve.
My second job out of college was in the advertising department at Macy’s in Herald Square. I reported to a woman named Gail, who ran the Catalog Division and was one of only two women holding a senior level position in the entire department of over 50 people.
Despite the fact that she had a senior title, it was obvious to me that she struggled to have her voice recognized and could not command the respect that the men at her level received. This was especially apparent, as she displayed a palpable fear whenever she left her comfort zone and entered into negotiations with her boss, the Senior Vice President of print media, who was part of the all-male executive board.
When directing our immediate department – made up predominantly of women – Gail was clearly at ease and in charge. By contrast, when working with her organizational equals – in the predominantly male copywriting department – she was uneasy and lost her confidence. The male-dominated culture had a debilitating impact on her performance and prevented her from rising further within the organization.
A number of years later, in 1995, I was hired as a Merchandising Supervisor on the corporate support side of the hospitality industry. My boss at the time, Ruth, was the only female who sat on the executive committee. For that time, and in that industry, her rise to the top was a rarity. Despite her achievement, it was clear to me that she was a product of her generation. She was at the beginning of the baby boomer generation, while I just snuck in at the end and as a female boomer, she faced challenges that her male counterparts never had to overcome.
I greatly admired how she courageously built her career, starting as a secretary and advancing to become a Vice President of a leading food service company. In fact, Food Service Magazine once dubbed Ruth’s title, VP of Art and Style, “the coolest in the industry.” Her ability to have her singular female voice heard and respected at a senior executive table consisting entirely of men didn’t come easy to her. Her struggles were clearly visible, but her resolve made a lasting impression on me and certainly impacted my own career growth.
In 1998, I joined FLIK Hospitality Group and had the great honor and pleasure of meeting one of the company’s cofounders, Julie Flik. As a founding partner of FLIK, along with her husband, Rudi, she was the most notable, influential and captivating woman I had met. Her authority and influence were not solely based on the fact that she started the company; it was quite apparent to me and anybody who met her, that leadership was in her DNA.
Julie was comfortable in her own skin and had a secure sense of who she was to her core. In the 90’s, even more so than today, women had to walk a fine line between not being too passive and possibly being ignored, or projecting their voices loud and clear and risk being thought of as an overbearing or “nasty” woman. Julie had a presence when she entered a room and she occupied it with strength, grace, and subtlety. She never shied away from her uniquely female qualities and perspective, and was never defined or limited by her gender. Julie always struck the perfect balance and remains a model to me as I navigate my career.
While the unspoken bias of many men is still a very real hurdle for women in corporate America, I’m happy to report that FLIK is honoring Julie’s spirit and achievements with important business initiatives like our Diversity Inclusion Action Council (DIAC). The DIAC committee is working hard to level the playing field and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to realize their full potential, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, skin color, age, etc.
As I look at the brilliant (and growing!) team of women I have in my department, I realize that I get more back from them than I give. While I may have a longer career “HER-story”, their outlook is bright, and not skewed by the biases of my generation. Their confidence isn’t stifled and they have the ability to view challenges head on without the baggage that’s come from years of being silenced. Slowly but surely, more and more women are rising to the top of the hospitality industry and I see that with my team.
As this shift continues and, hopefully speeds up, there will be more and more powerful female role models for young women to emulate, and greater opportunities for young women to seize. Now more than ever, we need to listen to women’s voices – celebrate women’s achievements – and recognize the benefit of women’s strength, creativity and passion to tackle the challenges of our time, in all industries. It's time to woman up. #WeareFLIK
By Paula Schaire, Vice President of Marketing & Design, FLIK Hospitality Group
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