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Do you remember the first time you had to stick up for yourself in the workplace? I do. I was just 19, working part-time for an accountant whose office was in the basement of his home. He patted me on the bottom in passing—almost as if I was one of the guys on a baseball team.

I cannot remember why he did it. I honestly do not think it was meant to be malicious. I immediately pushed back physically. He was shocked. I was more shocked by my gut reaction. I mean I was totally caught off guard, but I learned I have a strong instinct to protect myself, which is actually useful to know. I kept my job. I was a very good data-entry person with a strong work ethic. He got over himself, and he never touched me inappropriately again.

This memory came flooding back after I recently read a Facebook post from Dr. Elizabeth Degi DuBois. A coach with Limitless Possibilities, Dr. Degi DuBois counsels women executives to work smarter rather than harder and to earn what they are worth. She posed a challenge I believe all women should embrace.

“What if you gave yourself full permission to set aside the bulls–t and to build your life on the radical foundation of believing that you Are capable, you Are worthy, you Are ready? No more trying to figure out. No more straining to understand, ‘unpack,’ or ‘work on’ yourself. Just Radical Permission to be yourself.” (emphasis added)

The notion that we are capable, worthy, and ready struck me as a great beginning for this blog entry because I often struggle to tell my own story. It’s easier to amplify other women’s stories. Still, I always find a part of myself in every post. This one is a lot of me, and I think probably some of you, too.

I had to defend myself again on the job just a few years later. I went to work for an insurance agency full time. In those days, we called it an “alphabet agency” because it represented insurance companies from Aetna to Zurich. I wanted to work for our family business, but my father, who had worked for a family business, said the biggest mistake he saw owners make was not requiring their first son to learn the ropes from the competition and understand the marketplace.

My dad’s other philosophy was, “Let someone else pay you for your mistakes.” So, I got a job making $15,000 per year with the promise of a raise to $17,000 in 90 days pending a good review.

When the review came around my boss tried to talk me out of my raise. He said, “Do you realize you’re making more than all of the customer service reps out there?” Not coincidentally, we were all female and working almost elbow to elbow.

I knew everyone I worked with was driving in from Frederick County for higher pay in Montgomery County. I had the same type of visceral response I had when I was patted on the bottom; this time it felt like I was being patted on the head. “It’s not my fault they don’t know their worth,” I shot back. “This is the agreement we made when I started.”

I got the raise and learned a powerful lesson: Know your worth. Eight years later, working for my dad and his partner in the family business, I had received multiple raises and was earning $31,000 a year. I had almost doubled my income in eight years and I wanted a raise. My father and his partner said, “Go into sales. The customer-service-rep job is capped. You will not make any more money as a CSR. Go into sales full time.” So, I did and in one year I doubled my income. I learned through sales that I had the power to increase my salary on my own.

Before age 30, I learned three very valuable lessons in the workplace: Protect yourself, know your worth, use your power. I could tell more stories highlighting the male customers who told me I was cute and nice, and would then say, “Let me talk to your dad.” But I know I am not alone or unique in this regard. In fact, by all accounts, I am considered a woman of privilege. Yes, I worked hard, but I also benefited from constructive career advice from folks who wanted to see me succeed.

I do worry: Are my stories in 2021 a little passé or G-rated compared to others? A bit of a snore-fest? A paper cut, even, compared to the bullying and bruising behavior many women have experienced in the workplace?

Then I remember the words of Dr. Degi DuBois and I give myself radical permission to be myself. The truth is almost every woman I know—regardless of privilege, socio-economic background, race, or ethnicity—has had to stick up for herself against inappropriate behavior, and for fair pay and respect at some point in her career.

I doubt this surprises you; it shouldn’t, coming from a country that is, incredibly, still unable to pass The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution after nearly a century!  The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923. So more than 100 years after American women won the right to vote, the ERA is still a Senate floor vote away from becoming the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. I’m hopeful but not holding my breath.

Back to the real-world need for every woman to know her worth. I was honored to be chosen as a panelist for The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Diversity Council Women’s History Month Celebration, Women of The Vote  Diversity Council 2021 Women’s History Month Celebration – YouTube. Every woman on the panel has had the experience of having to protect herself, know her worth, and use her power, and every woman acknowledged we have to support each other to make further progress.

You might be wondering what you can do. You might be saying to yourself: “I’m one person in a bazillion-year struggle. How can anything I do make a difference?” Or, you might think, “I’m so busy and overwhelmed with my life—especially during Covid—how can I even help?”

Well, you can do a lot and it starts with a very important thing: Vote for more women. Really. This one action can change a legislature and legislative policies. Think New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Rwanda. All of these countries elected more women to office and all have enacted policies and laws that require fair pay. Yup, I am going to say it again, electing more women changed the pay and power paradigm.

Over the next year, I want you to get really comfortable listening to the stories of women candidates, identifying whom you want to support and how. It may mean simply voting for them. It can also include donating to a woman’s campaign. If we agree fair pay is a problem, it’s not hard to imagine how much less money is donated to women’s campaigns compared to their male counterparts.

In upcoming Riveting Women blog posts, I will be introducing you to amazing women running for office. These women have overcome struggles we can all relate to, and they work in our communities day-in and day-out without fanfare or accolades. They want to represent us at the county, state, and federal levels and they will be running in the 2022 election. I am going to make financial contributions to these candidates—some I have already. I am going to highlight the worth and the power women have to change the paradigm and protect future generations of women and girls. I’m doing this so that 40 years from now, women will have at least half the seats at a table for 100.

I hope you will join me.

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