Against the Odds? Whose Odds?

Some more about perceived gender inequalities.

Readers who know me well know a few things about me that apply in this post:

  • I have succeeded in three “male dominated” careers: accounting and finance, technical (computer) writing, and (helicopter) aviation.
  • I have zero tolerance for women who use gender as an excuse not to succeed at something they set out to do.
  • I have zero tolerance for anyone who gives different or preferential treatment to an individual in the workplace because of gender.

I am sick and tired of fielding questions from women who seem to think that their gender may prevent them from pursuing a career. I thought I’d take a moment to review two recent ones that crossed my path, along with my responses and some comments from a like-minded woman I know.

Girly Girls

The other day, the following comment was added to a blog post I’d written here about becoming a helicopter pilot:

Can you tell me more about how gender matters in this industry? Wouldn’t they want to hire more women since it is so obviously a boys club? Or are ‘they’ quite happy to keep it that way?

I’m a 20 year old Canadian woman thinking about making this a career. I’ve done ground school previously for fixed wing aircrafts and got top of the class and surprised everybody when I did (to look at me one thinks “she’s pretty so she must be stupid. Girly, flirtatious, naive, pushover” – although the way I am constantly misjudged has never and will never stop me from doing what I love.) What challenges are ahead of me in regards to my being a woman?

The answer is simple: gender matters if you make it matter. Are you being girly, flirtatious, naive, or a pushover? If so, why? Do you know any successful male pilots who have these traits? None of these traits make for a professional pilot — and isn’t that what you want to be?

I’ll admit that I’m royally pissed off when I see a woman pilot wearing inappropriate clothes: low cut blouses, short or tight skirts, high heels, oversized jewelry. Do men dress that way? I understand that you want to be feminine, but if you go that route, how can you expect to be treated the same as men? You can’t expect to be treated the same when you’re obviously going out of your way to be different.

My advice to this person was simple, too: Act like a professional and you’ll be treated as one. On the job, there is no gender — or at least there shouldn’t be. Be “one of the guys” and you’ll be treated like one of the guys.

Don’t want that? Want to be treated like a “lady”? Expect guys to do the dirty work for you because you don’t want to get your clothes dirty or break a nail? Then you’re in the wrong profession.

Facing Reality

This Facebook update appeared in the Women Helicopter Pilots Forum on Facebook:

Seems like the only realistic way for us ladies who recently finished flight school at commercial level is to slave by being an instructor first to ever build over 1000 hours to be employed by any company. I understand you learn a lot but I have no patience to teach, hence I didn’t sign up to be a helicopter instructor. What’s left to do?

This update blew me away. Seriously. In fact, I included it in a blog post titled “Helicopter Pilot Reality Check” in May which covered, for the most part, how future pilots expect to walk into high-paying jobs without “paying dues.”

What bothered me about this update was the author’s insinuation that the 1000-hour experience requirement was different for women than men. It’s not. Why did she assume it was? Could it be because she’s heard so many other women whining and complaining about career hurdles? Could it be that she assumed the experience requirement was yet another hurdle that only women had to jump?

Who gives women these ideas?

Other women.

Do Women’s Organizations Really Help Women?

There are a lot of women’s organizations. Maybe too many.

The Organization I Joined

I did join one women’s organization: Whirly-Girls. Whirly-Girls was founded in 1955 as “an organization where female [helicopter] pilots could share information and camaraderie.” Sounds good to me.

I was a member exactly one year. What turned me off: I attended Heli-Expo, a huge professional helicopter conference sponsored by HAI (Helicopter Association International). This is where helicopter vendors and operators get together to show off their best stuff and learn what they can about each other. Imagine a huge conference hall stuffed to the gills with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of helicopters and helicopter equipment. I visited the Whirly-Girls booth and was absolutely shocked to see that it existed primarily to sell clothes, Christmas tree ornaments, and jewelry.

Yes, while other members of our profession were displaying and providing information about their products, services, and organizations, the organization I belonged to was selling baby clothes.

To say I was embarrassed to be a member is an understatement.

I’ve attended meetings of various women’s organizations with the idea that I might want to join them. In every single case I was so turned off by the whining and excuse-making by the members that I left without joining — and didn’t go back.

You see, most of these organizations seem to exist primarily as a place for women to share examples of how they struggle — mostly unsuccessfully — to get ahead in their careers. It’s so hard for them, you see, when they’re trying to be wives and mothers while holding down a job. They don’t understand why the men get the promotions when it’s pretty obvious — at least to me — that an employer would prefer to promote a worker who gets the job done than the person who misses work every time a kid at home sneezes or another kid needs to be picked up early from soccer practice. They’d rather employ a person who does the job without making waves than the woman who screams “sexual harassment” when a male worker complements her on her dress or shoes. They’d rather employ the professional who has some level of dedication to a career than the woman punching a clock until she decides it’s time to start a family. The women who belong to these organizations complain that the men get ahead and make more money than they do and that it’s simply not fair. And that’s the underlying theme in all their meetings, in all their literature, in all their members’ attitudes.

So these organizations become a place for women to continue spreading inequality myths of their own creation that, in many cases, have become self-fulfilling prophecies — because of their own attitudes and expectations. They don’t help women understand that the only differences between women and men in the workplace are the differences they make.

Against the Odds

Earlier today, I was corresponding via email with my friend Martha, a blogger who lives in New Hampshire. We’re starting discussions about working together on a project and I was very worried that she might have the “gender excuse” attitude I’ve discussed here. I could not be part of a project that either promoted or allowed such attitudes.

Her response to me was spot on (emphasis added):

I’m with you on the wife/mother whining and the excuses for not pursuing goals. The corporate world taught me that the only differences between men and women are the ones women perceive and propagate. Succeeding against the odds just means you focused on the “odds” to begin.

And that’s really what it’s all about these days. A woman thinks the odds are stacked against her because she’s been told they are. She does nothing to prove that they’re not. Instead, she walks around acting or dressing like a woman — instead of like the professional she wants to be. And she magnifies every single example of how she’s treated differently, using it as proof that the odds are stacked against her.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, often magnified by women’s organizations.

Focus on the odds and you’ll never beat them. Focus on the job at hand and you’ll succeed.

What Do You Think?

I know my views on this topic are not popular with most women. I think it’s because they don’t want to hear the truth. I think they like being “disadvantaged,” I think they like having the gender crutch to lean on when they don’t succeed and need an excuse.

(Harsh words? Yep. But that’s the way I am. No bullshit out of me.)

Still, I invite readers to share their thoughts about this. I just want to make two final points before I let you loose on that comment link or form:

  • I wrote this in the United States in 2013 — a land of “equal opportunity” where we have laws to help ensure that women are treated equally in the workplace. I’m not writing this in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t even allowed to drive, or in 1910, when women weren’t even allowed to vote. If you want to bring up other nations and ancient history, that’s fine. Just don’t expect me to apply it to what I’ve written or even to comment on it. I only know what I’ve experienced.
  • Before commenting about how wrong I am and offering up your excuse for why you (or your friend or your mother or your daughter) did not succeed in a career, take a moment to analyze that excuse. What’s the whole story? To succeed in a career as well as a man, you need to be able to perform as well as a man. If you can’t do the job, you can’t complain about not succeeding. It’s as simple as that.
June 30, 2014 Update
I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

Remember the site comment policy, too. If you can’t be civil, don’t waste your time commenting.

And finally, I’d like very much to hear from other women who agree with Martha and me about this — especially female bloggers or other writers who think they have something to share with other women about their own success. Comment here with a link to your blog or other writing.

10 thoughts on “Against the Odds? Whose Odds?

  1. Totally agree with you. I also wanted to share that we’ve had to part ways with two pilots in the last year at my company because of what they described as “family issues”. Basically the life of a charter pilot means you may be routinely gone from home 3-4 days at a time, sometimes longer. We are very clear about this during our hiring process. However, once these two pilots got a couple of months of only day trips they thought it would always be that way. It wasn’t, and now both men left to find other employment that better suits their own needs. I understand that, but I also understand that our requirements are not unique and they will have a hard time succeeding in our industry if they chose to continue in the belief that they are unable to spend a few days away from their family.

    I’ve seen the similar things happen when women have maternity leave and then only want to return to work part-time. To an employer this appears a shift in priorities and I struggle to provide them with the same advancement and education opportunities that I would a full-time employee.

    • The way I see it, you’re either serious about your career or you’re not. If you’re serious, you’ll do what it takes to succeed. If you’re not, you’ll flounder around, making excuses, whining and complaining the whole way.

      Anyone who goes into aviation and thinks he/she will spend every night at home in his/her own bed is an idiot. There are no pilot jobs like that. Even jobs with daytime flights based near your home will send you off for training, etc. Your requirements are not unique at all.

  2. I definitely agree with you and Martha.

    My mom was a good influence this way. She even started her own business in her late 50s or early 60s and was quite successful at it until she eventually sold it and retired. Gender wasn’t even in her thinking or any of the rest of us as we praised her success and encouraged her (which we would do for anyone of any gender).

    Also, in high school in 1971 I was told I couldn’t take autoshop because I was a girl. I wouldn’t accept that for an answer. I kept returning to the autoshop teacher’s sign-up table, explained that I had my own car and that I needed to learn to work on it myself. He kept laying out excuses about why I couldn’t be in his class, and each time I had a legitimate reason for why that “excuse” was irrelevant. He finally let me in the class. I ended up getting an ‘A’ in that class and he was ultimately very encouraging and kind to me and told me I’d proved him wrong about girls taking autoshop. :-) And yes, I did my own tune-ups, even changed a clutch in my car.

    For myself, I don’t even think about gender with my own business. In fact, as I read your article, I reflected on how gender didn’t even cross my mind starting my own business. Neither did failing. I just act as a professional, do business as a professional and work hard to succeed to continue to be successful.

    As you know, Maria, I’m also barely 5′ tall (I used to measure 5′-1/2″ but I’ve probably shrunk by now at my age LOL). Once again, I never even think about my height… just isn’t in my brain. I guess some equate being shorter as something to be self-conscious of, as somehow a disadvantage for conducting business … although it makes no sense to me why (I guess men have more of a thing about it).

    Mindset, it seems, huh? No excuses for being who you are, whether male or female, skin color, height, looks… whatever.

    Believe me when I say I’ve restrained what I’ve written. My generation has fought hard for women’s rights and equality. Overall we have more to go, but for myself, being a woman is no “excuse” to not do whatever I wish, whether to have my own business, work on my own car, fix whatever needs fixing in my house… whatever. Gender doesn’t cross my mind.

    • Like you say, I think the gender thing is mostly in people’s minds. Think about it and it will become a part of the situation. Don’t think about it and it probably won’t.

      As business owners, we do business with the people we want to. If a potential client looks down on me because I’m a woman and he’s expecting a man, I don’t want him as a client anyway. I know I can do my job — and I have the satisfied client base to prove it. If a person doubts this because of my gender, it’s his loss, not mine.

      Coincidentally, I was the only girl in my drafting class in high school. I did extremely well. I wish they offered auto shop in school — I sure could have used it!

  3. Thanks for this post.

    I do not feel like I would have too much to contribute as I am new to the professional aviation world (though I have been involved in aviation as a hobby for about 10 years, owned an airplane for 4, and switched careers from a different male dominated field, research/physics/astronomy).

    I will however say I very much agree with what you have written.

    Many of my hobbies and interests are male dominated but I often do not even notice (or care). I just do what I like to do.

    I recently joined whirly-girls. Was their booth really selling baby cloths?!?!?!? Do they not have any cool stuff to show and share? Do they have cool stuff and perhaps it got lost on the way to the expo? Or did they not have the funds to get the fun stuff to the expo? Or perhaps they could not get a large enough booth to show off the cool stuff?


    • It’s not just aviation. It’s any male-dominated field. And lots of fields that aren’t gender dominated.

      Doing what we want to do — no matter whether it’s a “guy thing” or a “girl thing” is all that matters. I’d rather spend the afternoon fishing for salmon off the back of my little boat than roam the mall with girlfriends shopping for bargains. I’d rather take a motorcycle ride on a twisty mountain road than lounge around a resort pool in the sun. These might be “guy things,” but so what?

      And yes, they did have baby clothes in their booth for the two Heli-Expos I most recently attended. And jewelry. This last show, however, they had these neat black tee-shirts with the words “Got Rotors?” embroidered on front in white in the “Got Milk?” font. I bought one. Their booth is actually quite large.

      I have a lot of friends in Whirly-Girls. I don’t hold it against them. But until they put together a better showing at Heli-Expo and stop “promoting” gender differences, I will not become a member.

  4. As a life-long feminist I agree with the vast majority of what you say here Maria. I’m incredibly cautious about which Feminist groups/individuals I communicate with because I’ve always known that women are as much a part of the problem as men, and sometimes even more so.

    The victim mentality is an unfortunate side-effect of what is otherwise a truism – sometimes being a woman (or a man) will be a disadvantage in certain sectors and aspects of life. It isn’t a blocker though, and that’s where I have no time for the “I can’t do well in this profession because I’m male/female” argument. If it’s hard it’s probably even more important to do your best and try your hardest – my mother brought me up to be aware I’d occasionally have the “you’re a girl, you can’t do this” shit thrown at me but to never ever let it stop me from doing what I want.

    I have to take issue with some of your points though;

    “gender matters if you make it matter”

    It would be more accurate to say “Gender matters if you OR SOMEONE ELSE makes it matter”. There are people from both genders who, even in this free, first world of ours, have been made to suffer for their career choices, and for no other reason than because of their gender. Look at how many male primary teachers there are compared to female. And check out what some female scientists have had to put up with, or women in the games industry. They aren’t working any less or making excuses – they’ve genuinely experienced harassment and prejudice. It’s always important to remember that personal experience doesn’t always reflect reality for other people, and I felt that a lot of your piece is predominantly based on your own personal experience, and those of women around you. I suspect there will be female pilots who have genuinely experienced prejudice and have been held back as a result, they just might not be as numerous as those who haven’t.

    I’m also not comfortable with the suggestion (though unintended I suspect) that to be successful women need to dress and act like men. This is sexism in action; the male work pattern (long hours), clothing (trousers), and stereotypical attitude (confident and outspoken) is “normal” and “professional” and the female equivalent is not. For example, you reference women needing more time off for child rearing reasons, and how this inevitably impacts their career progression. While I’d agree it’s expected that those who are at work regularly and reliably will go further, a better question to be asking is; why is it so often women looking after the kids? Why do men with children not have the same problems? The answer IMO is that we are still so stuck in traditional gender roles that while we may appear to have equality, it’s just another loaded playing field where women and men will face unnecessary challenges, for no other reason than because of their sex.

    To come full circle, this is where I see the biggest problem with women; in general they are keen on maintaining gender norms, not challenging them. They want to be mother, carer, AND successful career person. Instead of having it all, we instead have to do it all, and that’s where the problems and feelings of victim-hood are so often coming from.

    • You’re absolutely right about my quote. It should read “Gender matters if you or someone else makes it matter.” But I still think we have the power to make it not matter to anyone. The way I see it, there are three ways to handle people who take gender into consideration where it’s absolutely unnecessary:

      • Don’t do business with them. As I mentioned to Shirley in an earlier comment, I have no desire to do business with people who look down on me as a woman. But avoiding these people is admittedly a cop-out.
      • Prove they’re wrong by performing at the high standards the job requires. This helps all women everywhere — but only if you can change the person’s mind and help him/her see the light.
      • Whine and complain about being treated differently because you’re a woman. This is what I’m so totally against. This hurts all of us.

      I knew someone would think I was suggesting that we dress and act like men. I’m not really suggesting that at all. I’m just suggesting that we don’t dress and act like women. I’m amazed and appalled by what some women wear to work these days. There is no place in a professional organization for low cut blouses or short skirts. Period. Likewise, there’s no reason to “play the gender card” (as I like to put it) to get a male coworker to do part of your job because it might require you to lift something heavy or get your hands dirty. If it’s part of your job, you need to do it.

      We are stuck in traditional gender roles. But that will take a long time to change. There’s not much we can do about that unless we make a choice and stick with it. My cousin went to work and had a great career while her husband stayed home to raise their three sons. They both had college educations and were prepared to enter the workplace. She got the job first so she’s the one who built the career. This happens if we let it happen. No, if we make it happen.

      I agree with your closing statement. When will women understand that they can’t have two full-time careers? You can either be a full-time wife/mother OR a full-time workplace person. Both are worthy careers. Pick one and stick with it to succeed. Stop feeling as if you’ve got the cards stacked against you when you can’t do it all successfully.

  5. There have been some really great comments here and I’d like to thank you for your blog post. For the most part I agree completely with what you’ve written, but my own experience has been a bit different than yours.

    I’ll start out with reinforcing that *what you do* matters much more to an employer than any other aspect of your person (gender, age, race, disability, etc). Having served a number of years in the military I can tell you that the troops I handed out tough assignments to were the ones who got it done. If I had to choose between giving a ‘good’ deployment to either a male or female troop, I would always choose the troop who worked the hardest for me. My superiors did the same for me and as a result I’ve been to all seven continents and participated in some pretty amazing opportunities. The deciding factor, though, was that I was good at my job, worked hard, and rarely complained.

    On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, though, I’ve been shut down before I even got my foot in the door before as well. With my education and experience I’m often contacted by recruiters and offered pretty good jobs even when I’m not looking for work. On two separate occasions initial correspondence was going quite well and we were talking about compensation packages and specific job duties when all of the sudden they learn of my gender and the job quickly disappears, or is ‘given to someone else.’

    One job in particular really drives this point home for me. I used to work as a contractor for a high profile government program and had successfully completed three tours each time working my way up the ladder. I began with the company as a junior field technician and less than two years later I was the engineer in charge of the entire facility. The way the contracts worked out you were only allowed to complete two consecutive contracts in a row before you had to wait out one contract period and then return. During one of these wait periods my supervisor retired and another person took their place. In the past I was always given a courtesy call immediately prior to them ‘opening’ the new contract period so I could ‘apply’ for the job they had set aside for me. I was well liked in the department, had an excellent reputation with the company, and had been offered this exact job twice previously before the contract officially opened. There was absolutely no reason I would not have returned to continue the tradition of running the facility and (likely) taking on more responsibility with each recurring contract season. When I went to put in my application this last season I never heard back. It was as though my application didn’t even make it to the queue (not even a ‘thank you for the application’ automated response). When I called the hiring manager, I was told that they never received my application which surprised them, but they assumed I just wanted to take a season off. That’s when I found out that the new supervisor gets to vette applications before they make it to the hiring manager. When I attempted to contact the new supervisor I was given a very short email to the effect of ‘we are doing things differently now.’ To my knowledge no female engineers were hired in any department under his purview whereas before there were 3 well liked and hard working engineers. I must admit with a little bit of satisfaction that the ‘engineer’ in my place has no engineering background and has caused many more issues than he’s solved (including a major system outage lasting nearly a week that would have gotten me immediately fired if I’d let it happen!).

  6. I didn’t know this was still such a problem… Maybe that puts me in the dark, but I’ve never felt my gender was an issue in the workplace. I’m a hardworker and I love to excel. And I actually LIKE to work. To be fair, I was not raised to view myself as less in the workplace but was taught character and the principle of discipline, and it has suited me just fine.

What do you think?