My first magazine job was as a reporter-researcher, the bottom rung on the editorial ladder. Not long after I started I was assigned to fact check an article by a veteran woman writer who was tough as nails. In short, just the sort of person you’d want to learn from. But at some point during our working together on that piece I made the mistake of saying “dear” when asking her a question, upon which she cut me dead on the spot with a “Don’t you dare ‘dear’ me ever again.” I never did. Nor have I “deared” any female colleague since.
Like many lessons that stick, that one was learned the hard way. It’s a darned good thing, too. Because decades later I now own and operate ThoughtMatter, a New York-based design and branding studio with an 18-person staff, two-thirds of whom are women, including our two top executives.
Did I set out to hire women, and to boot, more of them than men? No. Those women simply were the most talented, best-qualified persons available in the marketplace at the time I was looking to fill their positions. I also saw them as highly motivated persons with purpose in their lives, embodying how we describe ThoughtMatter itself – as a place where doing work with a purpose counts.
It never occurred to me to make my hiring choices based on gender. Yet as I read short takes by some of my female colleagues I am reminded of how much gender in the workplace is on their minds. Not necessarily all the time, mind you. Nevertheless, depending on the circumstances it can come to the fore in a flash. And that can happen in everything from the most innocuous interaction with a guy on the staff to an exchange with some fellow in connection with client business.
Reading what the ThoughtMatter women have written I learned another lesson that’s a keeper: At the same time they share concerns in common about what it means to be working women, how they see themselves and how others do, they all approach those issues from different angles, often expressing strikingly different points of views. And that in a nutshell is the essence of diversity, another principle we aspire to. It’s a loud and clear reminder not to bunch people based on their gender and then neatly stereotype them, even if the person doing that may be well-intentioned – say, a boss who for the most part thinks his heart’s in the right place and his head screwed on pretty tight.