(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
I was just twenty-two years old when the bank hired me. I had breezed through the interview process and impressed the sales manager enough to assign me to a banker position at a busy office in an affluent community. Not bad for the new girl.
I started out with a week of training and I LOVED it. I was also very good at it. Role playing, memorizing regulations, and thinking on the fly all came super naturally to me. Frankly, it was like school and I was, decidedly, one of the top of the class.
Then it was time to go to my actual banking center.
I showed up in a periwinkle blouse, trim black skirt, and low heels. I was fresh-faced and excited to meet my boss. His name was Mr. Dorfman.
I was the only girl in that office, but that didn’t alarm or bother me. I shook Mr. Dorfman’s hand with confidence and headed out to lunch with him with no hesitation. I was eager to talk about the position and my responsibilities. Training had left me feeling secure that I’d be good at this.
I didn’t expect him to ask me out. But he did. He had at least twenty years on me, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He wanted me to go for drinks and oysters. I flushed and managed to stammer out a “no, thank you, but I have a boyfriend.” He gave me a bit of a condescending leer.
The next day, I wore a super-cute silvery grey pantsuit with a pale pink blouse. It suited my fair coloring and I liked it. Mr. Dorfman came up beside me– right beside me– and declared, “You know, Jessica… your legs are going to be the key to your success here. You’re being a fool by not using your skill-set.”
I had dealt with obnoxious men before. I’d been whistled at and dismissed many a suggestive remark. But I had never dealt with a man who had authority over me treating me in such a way. And I was struggling.
The days wore on and I became a shadow of my former self. The bubbly, bright-smiled, chatty girl who had the aced the interview faded into a quiet girl who hid behind paperwork. My sales numbers weren’t all that hot, to be honest, and I hated being out on the floor. I questioned my every move.
A few weeks in, Mr. Dorfman looked me straight in the eye and laughed, “You would make SO much more money as a stripper than a banker… have you considered that?”
I paled and looked down. I was suddenly ashamed of my twenty-two year old face and body. The trim skirts and princess-seamed blouses that had seemed nothing but appropriate made me fret. My long, long legs were a burden. I took painstaking care in choosing a lipstick that wasn’t too red, too dark, too glossy, too shimmery.
The other men I worked with saw what happened. They worried about me and one of them actually pulled me aside to make sure I was okay. Still, they needed their jobs. And they didn’t seem to have the courage to say anything to Mr. Dorfman. I didn’t either.
Three months in, we had a follow-up meeting at the regional office. All of the associates from my training group were there. At the end, the regional exec dismissed everyone… everyone except me.
I was alone in a conference room with the regional executive, the regional service manager, and the two regional sales managers. I listened to them start to speak,
“The reports about you from Mr. Dorfman are not good…
He’s not pleased with your performance…
Questions your abilities…”
I felt tears burn behind my lids and willed them back. The regional service manager touched my arm and continued,
“It was confusing to us, because, you see, the reports from all your trainers did not corroborate what he was saying. You were clearly a top performer. Furthermore, Steve (she tilted her chin toward one of the regional sales managers), who interviewed you, couldn’t match who he had met with who Mr. Dorfman described.”
The regional executive cleared her throat and added, “We did some research and we don’t think it’s you. We’d like to offer to transfer you to any banking center you choose, except for the one your boyfriend works at. Your former manager will go through mandatory gender sensitivity training and we will not be placing another woman in that office.”
And they dismissed me.
I chose to go to a brand-new office. The rest of the staff there was all-male. Some people might think that made me crazy– that I should have chosen a branch with a female manager. But, you see, I’ve never had a problem with men. Most men treated me with respect and dignity. I wasn’t afraid to work with men. They may have been a touch afraid of me at first! But we all got along splendidly.
Mr. Dorfman continued to manage that first office. You see, though they did take steps to protect me, the bank simply didn’t want to fire him. His sales numbers were too good. They were true to their word and never did place another female associate under his authority.
I learned a lot from that experience. I learned that sexual harassment is real and that it can completely destroy your confidence. I learned that those who abuse power are, blessedly, in the minority and that you shouldn’t distrust everyone based on the bad behavior of a few. And I learned that, at the end of the day, money talks…
Mr. Dorfman kept his job. This fact bothered the regional service manager to no end. She would email me every Spring to remind me that I had 7 years, then 6, then 5, etc. to file a lawsuit against him. I know she really wanted me to do it.
But I didn’t. I was too young and fragile to face that man in court.
That’s one of my big regrets.
Other people who’ve made me who I am: