Has anyone ever looked at all the people you’ve dated and told you that you have a “type”? If yes, you’ll understand what I’m about to share with you. By now, everyone knows that I’m a busy mama who always has her hands full with a couple (dozen) projects all at once. Because of that, I’ve learned to delegate responsibilities wisely, and that often means employing a team to help with professional endeavors.
In all the years of doing this, I never even considered that my hires all had a certain thing in common, until this person walked into my work life and the differences were… distinct.
(names have been changed to protect the innocent, lol)
He was a he. A male. A white, twenty-something man.
I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal, right? Greg was capable, enthusiastic; he was everything I needed in an employee. He simply didn’t match the descriptions of people I’d hired before. That’s when I realized I had a type. An employee type.
Up until this point, I’d always hired women. Black women, white women, mixed women… I never cared about their ethnic backgrounds. I only cared that I would be able to empower them in some way and hopefully teach and share with them what I knew. I didn’t discriminate.
Or did I?
Greg stepped off a plane straight from living in Thailand, and right away the aspects of my job that seemed unremarkable to me became suddenly extraordinarily prominent. He stood at the doorway as we reviewed my schedule for the day, and I applied my makeup. I was shocked at how immediately self aware I became. Is this weird? I wondered. I’m putting on makeup in front of a male assistant, and the kids are running in and out of the room. We continued on with business, and I shook the feeling off. Over the course of the next few months, Greg proved to be a wonderful assistant. He was energetic, efficient and a quick study. I had no complaints about his work performance, but uncomfortable situations continued to arise. I started second guessing myself more and more.
We were preparing for my son’s birthday party when I realized I’d forgotten to buy Kingsley a crown. Once I realized it, I picked up my phone to contact my assistant about going to pick it up. Just as I was about to start dialing, I paused. Is a guy going to feel strange shopping for a crown? Is it going to be odd when he drops it off at the party? And then it hit me: I would have never even thought twice had he been a woman! I would have seen a need, called her up to make the request and continued with the contractor. That was my wake up call. These thoughts and worries I’d been having weren’t useful. In any other situation, getting ready for the day with my makeup while simultaneously feeding one kid and wiping the other’s nose would simply be commonplace. Why was I treating him differently just because he was a man?
Days later, Greg and I were in the car on our way to the site of one of my design jobs when he struck up a conversation about his girlfriend. He told me that over dinner the previous evening she mentioned to him how unique and “huge” it was that he was working for me. When I inquired further, he told me that his girlfriend was a chef and had given him a little background on how difficult it is to be a woman in the restaurant industry. She was impressed that he was working for me, a female designer, and that we were opening a restaurant for a female chef. He told me that it all sort of hit him at once because he’d never considered that anything was exceptional about our working relationship.
I was blown away. The tables had turned. He was a white man with a successful black woman boss. In that moment, I realized that this was a small taste of what it was like to be in the reverse situation, the one with the much more common dynamic; yet, he hadn’t felt the least bit uneasy. He was simply doing his job, all of it — sending me iMessages of photos of gold birthday crowns, taking notes while I selected which shoes I would wear, handling materials shipments — it was all just a part of the job that any other assistant would do.
So many lessons resulted from my time working with Greg. The first was an introspective one. I didn’t need to put unnecessary layers of worry on working with someone based on gender. I use good judgment when hiring members on my team. That’s all that needed to matter. The other? It was that my little piece of this world could be and would be impactful. How wonderful is it that Greg would not go further in this world with the negative bias of men being “king” in the design or restaurant world. His only experience thus far could potentially normalize ideas about women and their roles in all areas of the workforce. A female CEO, chef or interior designer could become the expectation instead of the exception.
Greg had shifted my paradigm, and I, his. I’m hoping 2018 will bring about more of that. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s one I’m willing to take on. Here’s to changing the norm — and ourselves — across all industries.