Friday, June 26, 2009

And Then There was One

It happened about eighteen months into my first job. She was the first one... the first female manager.

Before then all the bosses were men. There were women in the group -- new hires, all in our twenties -- about 50/50 male and female. The only other women in the organization were the assistants. We actually called them secretaries then – and they really did type letters – on a typewriter. But that was 1980 and I digress…

If there were rumors I was too new to notice. There was a big announcement in the cafeteria. Something important was happening. There was a new manager coming… a woman… and she would be my boss.

Until then I didn’t think much about the role of the managers. My cowboy-boot-wearing pipe-smoking male boss would occasionally call me into his office for a discussion. Mostly he wanted to talk to me about my career. He would describe two career paths -- “You have to decide whether or not you want to stay technical or become a manager.” Each time – without hesitation – I would choose technical. He kept asking.

Why would I want to be the boss? From where I sat, it didn’t look like they actually did anything.

So now I had a female boss. I realized later that I should have been thinking – Wow! A woman in a leadership position – that’s great! or … A female manager, it’s about time! … or something equally progressive.

Nope. I was worried.

What would it be like to work for a female? I had visions of women with claws who only cared about themselves. What if she didn’t like women working for her?

But most of all I was worried about the restrooms. Until then, we could say whatever we wanted to in the ladies room. It was a ‘boss-free’ zone. We could talk about our bosses there. Not that we did … but we could. I was worried about accidentally saying something inappropriate as I was peeing and talking to my friends across the stalls, not being able to see who else walked in. And what do you say to your boss when you see her in the restroom?

As things turned out – she was nice. She was smart. She cared. She would become a great mentor, colleague, and friend over the years. She did use the ladies room, and we all got used to it. Most importantly she was a good boss – one of the few great ones. When it was her turn to have the career discussion with me I said maybe…

Maybe I’d like to be a manager like her… someday.

What do you remember most about your first great boss? Share here.

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