As a woman who was hired by just my first initial so corporate would think I was a man, I was the first and only female in the entire company who was hired for an inside sales position as opposed to a job in the secretarial pool.
My typing was awful, using my two-finger pecking in spite of all the practice in Mrs. Harris’ typing class, pounding ffff and jjjj over and over again. It not only left me with zero skills at all, to this day I still need to look at the keyboard when I type. There were no spell check, delete or backspace buttons on those typewriters at that time, so my teacher saw every mistake and jumbled word. Since I would never make secretary of the year, I had to rely on what I knew I was good at, but an outside sales representative was a job denied to me based solely on my gender. It was 1978 and the glass ceiling was very high and extremely thick, so I compromised with an inside sales position and waited.
The young man who had the job I wanted was a nice guy, but he was just “passing time” until a job in his field came up. As he bragged about how he knew how to work the system, he’d show up in the morning only to head right back out for home. It would have been fine with me, but he supplied the orders that I needed to do my job. The frustration was amplified with the fact that I liked him and his family, but how could I do my job if he didn’t do his? So, from inside, I did both.
After a few months of this nonsense, I approached the salesman and asked when he thought he might be moving on. He laughed and said he was about to give them his notice, but he was grateful for my silence and support. That was my chance, and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Speaking from the strength of my work over the past several months, I got the promotion. When the first national sales meeting took place back east at corporate headquarters, I was the only woman in the room besides the vice president’s executive secretary and a copy editor. The VP was a very gracious and charming man who treated me with a great deal of dignity and respect. He asked what each of us did right after we secured a new contract, and as we went around the horseshoe shaped table each person responded with their approach to the paperwork or follow up on the orders but when it came to me, I shouted “I yell woohoo and ring a bell on my desk.” Then I slithered back in my seat and waited for the silence to end. It was the longest twenty seconds or so of my life, but the VP was smiling and declared he would put a large brass Miz Marla’s bell in every office. Another sliver of that glass ceiling came down that day.
There were a few more promotions over the 11 years that I spent there, but I never got a vice presidency. I would probably have regretted not pushing harder for that title, had it not been such a great job with wonderful people. All I felt was gratitude for the somewhat comical path of opportunities and the stepping stone to other challenges. I also met Grandpa in the hallway, so I got the best job bonus ever!
After another 30 plus years of sales and sales management, it was time for retirement a few years ago. I no longer have to pull glass out of my hair, but for our country’s new vice president, I am proud to have those slivers in my past. Before they knew that cigarettes were deadly, there was a commercial touting “You’ve come a long way, baby.” First, baby??? But the takeaway was that we thought having a more feminine cigarette was actually an achievement. Over the decades, females have been able to change the old school image of Mrs. Cleaver in the kitchen with her dress, pearls and apron, cooking breakfast for Ward and the boys, in a pair of heels no less. Grandpa gets his omelets from me in my sweats, slippers and bed head. Maybe we really have come a long way, baby!
Politics aside, the idea of a female finally in such a prestigious and powerful position is an achievable goal that our granddaughters can strive for and our grandsons can respect. Anyone can move up freely and not be afraid to try. Best wishes and blessings for our new Vice President Kamala Harris and our new President Joe Biden who had the guts to crack that glass wide open.
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.