Today as I’m writing, it is my 26th birthday. In looking back at the previous year, I can say without a doubt that 25 was filled with the biggest triumphs and some of the biggest challenges I have ever experienced. My 25th birthday was spent putting my grandmother to rest. To be honest, the entire day was a blur. I vaguely remember rehearsing the readings a few times that morning before the service and trying to make small talk with my second cousins whom I had only met once or twice at the lunch following the burial. To this day, I don’t think I’ve given myself the time to process my feelings on the loss of my grandma.Read More
I have had an incredibly rewarding career in manufacturing for 4 years. My clients are in a variety of industries, from a fastener manufacturer that develops the nuts and bolts that are necessary to hold your car, refrigerator and every day devices together, to an advanced 3D metal printing client that regularly collaborates with NASA and Oak Ridge National Laboratories. I take pride in the fact that the work that I do really matters. I represent clients that manufacturer the parts, products and devices that are necessary for our society to function and thrive.
While I absolutely love my career and the work that I do, being a young woman in a male-dominated industry has also had its challenges. A few of many scenarios that highlight the difficulties I have faced as a woman in manufacturing are as follows:
Being told by a client that I cannot walk on the factory floor because I “slow down production.”
Having a client tell me I have “male characteristics” after I tried to stop the side chatter in our meeting and get back to the agenda.
Having multiple prospects disregard me by sending my boss ‘thank you for presenting’ emails but not thanking me or even cc-ing me on those emails when I co-presented with him.
These experience and countless others took a toll on my self-confidence and left me feeling burnt out after the first year of my career. I loved the work I was doing but I was tired of feeling undervalued. I felt as if my prospects and clients viewed me as a ‘glorified secretary’ in meetings. Below are some recommendations that have helped me along the way. While these tactics have not completely eliminated the challenges above, they have improved dramatically.
1. Finding Your Tribe- There are women’s only groups in every industry imaginable. Since I am in the manufacturing sector, I joined Women in Manufacturing (WiM) . WiM is a national organization with chapters throughout the United States. Joining this group and becoming the Ohio Chapter’s communications chair has been a gratifying experience. Prior to WiM, I was used to being the only woman in the room. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would find another woman at a networking event. When I attended my first WiM event, I was blown away by how many women there are in manufacturing. I was able to connect with other like-minded women who share my experiences and challenges. The networking and sales opportunities that come from women-only groups are invaluable. Highly recommend you search for one related to your industry in the nearest city.
2. Collaborate with Your Manager or Boss – One of the biggest steps I took to improve my work situation was talking to my boss, Rob, about my concerns. I expressed how I was feeling disrespected and not taken seriously by prospects and clients. I gave specific examples and asked him if there was anything I could do on my part to improve the situation. My boss heard me loud and clear. Rob validated my feelings and took steps to help me. We collaborated together on our presentation style. He gave me sections in presentations that were solely mine and let me be the ‘expert’. If a client asked a question during my section, he let me answer it and do my thing. What I learned by sharing my feelings with my boss is to be open when something is bothering you. As women, we tend to put others before ourselves and talk ourselves out of speaking up. We convince ourselves that we’re being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘silly’ for feeling this way. If whoever is reading this gains anything, I hope it’s that YOU matter and are a valuable asset to your team. Your boss, manager, and co-workers all want you to look good and succeed. When you succeed, they benefit from it, and so does the company as a whole. Speak up and work with your team to fix the situation. You won’t regret it.
3. Learn How to ‘Talk-The-Talk’- I made a conscious decision to not let being one of the few females in the manufacturing industry be my focus. I concentrated on honing my skills and producing content that would position me as an authority in business-to-business manufacturing marketing and sales enablement. I started filming videos on my phone or laptop for LinkedIn. Topics I’ve made videos about include: “Now is the Time to Plan Your Manufacturing Day Events”, “How to Use Video in Sales Emails for Ultimate Success”, and “The Free Tool All Manufacturing Sales Managers Should Use.” It is important to get comfortable with talking about what you do and what makes your company special. It is equally important to add value and build relationships based on trust with your prospects.
By creating these simple videos, I gained more exposure and also, made myself a valuable resource for manufacturers. I was recognized at networking events by acquaintances and strangers alike as “the girl who produces those great videos”. If the thought of posting videos is daunting to you, Toastmasters is a great way to improve your speaking skills and boost confidence. The international organization has chapters in most towns and cities. It gives participants the opportunity to practice speaking in a supportive environment and receive constructive feedback. I have many friends who have benefited from Toastmasters and been able to overcome their public speaking fears. The only way you are going to sound like an authority in your industry is by practicing. Take every opportunity to speak about what you do and if you aren’t getting opportunities in your workplace, make them yourself.
Have any other tips women can use to flourish in a male-dominated industry? Please leave them in the comments below.
This is something that I have contemplated sharing for 2 years. I have struggled with opening up about my teen mom experience and journey to acceptance for many reasons. I worried that it was too personal for the internet, that I would be sharing something completely unrelatable, or that I would get a generous amount of social media backlash for it. I’m choosing to open up about it because I believe that vulnerability is powerful and when you open up, it gives others the strength to do so. Whether you share my teen mom experience or not, we all have deep-seated wounds from our past that shape us in profound ways. I hope that by sharing my story, you can work on your path to acceptance too.
I’m Not Invincible
I am a teen mom. At 25, I say “I am” not “I was” because the experience, the criticism that came with it, and the aftermath of it never leave me. I got pregnant when I was a 17-year-old senior in high school by my first real boyfriend. It was a shock to me, my parents, and my friends that I ended up pregnant. I was a classically trained musician, a theatre nerd, and in my very limited free time, I enjoyed reading Shakespeare or scouring vintage thrift shops with my babysitting money in hand for the perfect Audrey Hepburn inspired dress. I was the kid parents thought was a good influence. I never partied, I never missed my curfew, and I was always respectful and courteous. I grew up in a solid home with two loving parents who were married and very involved in my life. I shouldn’t have ended up as a “teen mom”. I didn’t have the general characteristics that many young mothers did but I ended up being one. I wasn’t invincible and my life choices had consequences.
The days after I found out I was pregnant are pretty foggy. I was petrified for the baby I was about to bring into this world. What kind of mother would I be? How would I support this baby? As far as I was concerned, I was the biggest idiot to ever roam the planet. I was about to bring this precious, perfect, untainted baby into this world by me, a barely legal teen who had accomplished nothing. On top of that, I felt a lot of guilt over the stress my pregnancy was putting on my parents who had given me every opportunity just for me to screw it all up end up a knocked up 17-year-old. I felt alone and hopeless but also, that I deserved that pain. I felt that I had put all this stress upon my loved ones and I deserved to feel like a human garbage pit for the rest of my life. I vowed to make up for it and not be an embarrassment to my child, my family, and myself.
Baby with a Baby
I laid low the majority of my pregnancy. I finished up my end of senior year activities. After graduating my life consisted mostly of working as much as possible at a local chocolate shop and going to doctor’s appointments to check up on my growing baby. I can only think of a handful of times I left the house other than that. Once to one of my closest friend’s graduation party, another time to a local pageant a few of my friends were participating in, and another time to a Denny’s with my mom after she picked me up from work. I remember that Denny’s experience vividly. The people across the restaurant staring at me and snickering.
It was obvious that I wasn’t of the normal mothering age. At 18, I looked 14 on a good day. To make matters worse, I remember the waitress giving us our orders and asking me how old I was. I told her and she proceeded to rant about how I was just a “baby with a baby”. I was mortified. I thought to myself that the humiliation and shame I felt would be completely eradicated once I had the baby and started looking like myself. I couldn’t wait for the moment I would have this baby so I could return to normalcy. Most of my pregnancy was spent dreaming of the day I could go in public without fearing ridicule.
The Elephant in the Room
I’d love to say that once I had my son things automatically got easier for me, but they didn’t. While I look like a “normal” teen again, I still spent the majority of the time with my son. The snide comments, rude stares, and questioning from strangers if that was my “son” or my “little brother” never got easier. While I tried to lay low, I felt like the elephant in the room everywhere I went.
I started trying to make myself appear older. When I would go out with my son, I would always have on makeup and a dress. I thought by looking put together, maybe I could play the part. Appear as if I had my life together and as if I was of suitable mothering age. I tried to act more maturely and walk taller but it didn’t work. I still got the dirty looks from strangers, the questions, the judgment, and all.
I’d also love to say when I was around my college peers it was different but I felt even worse. While I shared similar childhood experiences with my classmates, I was now so drastically different from them. I will never forget in my first semester of college how people treated me if they knew I had a child right away, in comparison to finding out I had a child after they got to know me. I had an experience freshman year where a person from my class was paired with me on a project. This person had been very friendly to me in passing throughout the semester.
When I told this person I had a child and might have to bring him to our evening meetings, everything changed. My classmate became distant and the friendly chatter ended. This person wanted to do our portions separately. This experience and a few other uncomfortable encounters with classmates my freshman year made me realize very quickly that if someone knew early on before getting to know me that I had a child, I would most likely be scarlet lettered. I didn’t want to be interrogated with rude comments like; “Is your baby daddy still in the picture?” or “were you trying to get pregnant at 17?”, and a variety of other invasive questions. I desperately wanted to blend in.
Looking back, I am frustrated that I allowed those negative experiences to make me fear showing who I really am to people. I would wait to mention my son until a month into chatting with a friend in class or when someone brought up “who’s that kid in your Facebook photo”? It made me sad that the greatest thing in my life, my biggest blessing, my son, was someone I felt I had to hide in order to be accepted and to get ahead in life both personally and professionally. I don’t say this for sympathy, I say this to paint a picture. I made many friends during that year and the years to come who accepted me for who I was but the negativity from the experiences I had freshman year ate away at me.
Playing Dress Up
In retrospect, I can see that the majority of my son’s early life was spent playing dress up and feeling ashamed of myself. The transition to “teen mom” was hard for me to accept. Let’s be real, I was a white female from a storybook two parent, upper-middle-class household. It was the first time I had faced profiling or adversity in my life. I cannot imagine how it feels for people in minority groups with attributes they cannot hide; whether it be their race or disability. Those are the people in this world that have true adversity.
I was equipped to be a teen mom by the various gifts I had been given both by God and by my parents. My armor was that I looked like a regular teen without my child. That I could go places and “pass” as a conventional college student. And also, that my years of performing classical music with professionals such as Apollo’s Fire The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus gave me the skill set to present myself professionally. I was designed to handle it and even when I was struggling, I was a pro at appearing graceful and somewhat put together.
It still makes me uncomfortable to this day when people commend me for raising my son at such a young age, for having the job I do, and for not becoming a stereotype. It makes me feel uneasy because this would have been my path kid or no kid.
I understand that people have good intentions when they compliment me on these things. However, it comes off though as if it’s amazing that moms, especially young moms, can accomplish anything.
I don’t see my life as any more difficult than anyone else’s. This is greatly in part to my dad, Mike. I’ll never forget when I was in the beginning stages of being 17 and pregnant. My dad and I had a life changing conversation that will always stick with me.
He said to me this: “You are not special because you’re a teen mom. You are no different than anyone else. Everyone has crap to deal with in their lives. It might be health issues, a bad family situation, abuse...you name it. Never let this be an excuse.”
The fact that my dad saw me as who I always was and refused to let me make excuses was just what I needed. It allowed me to not feel sorry for myself. It pushed me out of my pregnancy depression rut where I had watched all 8 seasons of Desperate Housewives in 2.5 weeks.
When I was tired or felt frustrated with what was going on in my life, I reminded myself of my dad’s words and they kept me going. It kept me accountable when I did not want to make a healthy dinner for my son and wanted take out or I was tired of writing and wanted to take a break. These words still motivate me today.
My Path to Self Acceptance
For many years, hearing the term “teen mom” made me feel uneasy, especially when it was used to categorize me. It made me feel as if I was lesser of a mom or person. I can only speak from my experience, but it does something to you when what should be the happiest moment of your life, bringing a child into the world, is viewed as shameful. I carried that with me for many years.
It consumed me, it kept me from feeling satisfied with who I was and what I had accomplished and even worse in my mind, what I had yet to accomplish. I always wanted to do more and be more for myself and for my son. Nothing ever felt good enough.
It wasn’t until 2 years ago where I had a late night epiphany where that mindset shifted. I looked back at my life and at the choices I made. I thought about the guilt and discomfort I felt over Ian having me as a mother, over my relationship not working out with my son’s father, over my backward and nontraditional way into adulthood, and over the stress my pregnancy had caused my parents.
I realized how much I let it affect me, how it had affected every aspect of my life from not appearing confident in interviews, to dating guys that didn’t respect me, and everything in between. That night, I thought about how much my son had grown and all the attributes I loved about him.
For the first time in my life, I gave myself some credit for raising him and helping shape him into the person he was becoming. Being a teen mom is a huge part of my life. It’s a difficult path to motherhood and a journey I would never sugarcoat or glamorize but it’s a part of my story. I realized then that by trying to be everything a teen mom wasn’t, I was rejecting who I am. I was punishing myself for leading a life that I loved. I am a teen mom and I accept myself wholeheartedly.
I hope that whoever is reading this blog, whether your story is similar to mine or entirely different, that you can let go of whatever is holding you back. That you can accept your past and the labels that have been given to you. That you can embrace them and the path that made you special. Your life is uniquely yours, your story has never been written before, and your future is limitless.