From the Ground Up: When You ARE the Man in Charge

Gillian Warner is bringing us along for the ride as she strikes out on her own to launch her business as a professional. You can catch up on the preceding columns from this series here.

Looking down from the tall stack of hay loaded in the trailer, our hay guy looks between me and my employee as I explain how I would like the hay stacked.

I’m the farm’s assistant manager, and a 23 year old female. The staff member is a 40-something year old man. “I don’t know who to listen to,” the farmer states. “The man in charge, or the woman who knows what she’s doing.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a comment along these lines, but it always takes me by surprise. Why is it assumed that the man is in charge? Why, if I so clearly seem to know what I’m doing, is it impossible for me to oversee the process?

Staying focused on what I know, value, and believe has helped me to be confident in my experience, despite comments regarding my age or gender.

When these comments were made at the very start of my career, my response was pathetic — I was so taken aback, that my jaw just hit the floor, and I stood there, speechless. Now, not so much.

“I’m the man in charge and the woman who knows what she’s doing,” I clarify.

Interactions such as these always make me reflect, and consider how I show up in the spaces and communities in which I interact. I want to be seen as someone who is knowledgeable and is respected as a manager, a trainer, and a coach.

My clients are all dedicated and kind, and genuinely seek out my advice on matters. My coworkers and manager recognize and appreciate the experience I bring to the table. Despite all of this, because of the interactions such as the one with the farmer, I’m constantly aware of how my age, gender, and personality impact how I’m perceived as a professional.

I don’t want how others perceive me to impact the quality and value of my work and approach. I want to be friendly, yet not too eager. I want to be kind, but not a push-over. I want to be strong, but I don’t want to be perceived as “bossy”. Where, if any, is the perfect balance?

Growing a business that reflects and maintains my values and personality is challenging, but creates an environment in which I am comfortable and proud.

Of course, sexism and ageism are not specific to the horse industry. But growing up as a junior and young rider, I was constantly surrounded by a predominantly female crowd, a group which was packed full with women who know how to drive tractors, fix fences, stack hay, and care for horses. I’ve seen countless women over my career show their strength, kindness, and success each day, all while holding leadership positions.

I’m lucky to have grown up with such fantastic role models. I plan to reference and turn to their approach, strength, and values to give myself a boost of confidence in standing up for myself.

I wish I had an easy cure, and I wish I didn’t feel so discouraged when comments such as these were made. But in order to work towards that magic cure, I will continue to clarify and shut down assumptions, I will continue to show up with a strong work ethic, a compassion for everyone (human and animal) with which I work, and I will continue to earn trust and respect, no matter my age or my gender.

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