I still remember the final question in my interview for a clerical job at a brokerage house 10 years ago: "And how will you cope working with only men? Will you find it difficult? They can be quite forward.”
At 16 years old, I was shocked. Until that point, I had never even considered that gender would be an issue in the working world, and for a brief moment, I thought the question might even be a joke.
Barely missing a beat I shot back, “Why on earth would I be afraid of men? I can handle them!” This answer sent my interviewers careening into bursts of laughter.
I later learned that this answer alone was why I was offered the job, but not before they had paraded me in front of the office of 30 or so men, just to see how I would react.
I started work the next week, mostly making tea, filing papers and answering the phone, but I wanted more.
I looked around at the men who confidently strode in and out of the office all day, meeting clients, negotiating deals and earning a lot of money for doing so.
The power they projected in their every movement captivated me, and I knew instantly that I would be a broker one day.
I worked hard at my terribly boring job for one year before I approached my boss and asked whether he might consider letting me have a go at brokering.
I could see that he was slightly taken aback by my question, but by this point, he and the other men had gotten used to my bluntness, and in some ways, had come to expect forthright speech from me. I never felt intimidated by them and I think they respected that.
I was over the moon when he agreed to let me get involved, helping out on an account that one of the guys was struggling to find the time to handle.
Being 17-year-old female didn’t hold me back, and why should it have?
At around the same time, I approached our HR team, requested a pay raise (as I suspected that I was being paid too little) and asked whether the company would fund my studies (a five-year long course earning an advanced diploma in insurance and giving me the education I so badly wanted).
When I received a quick yes to both questions, I began to realize that you really do make your own luck.
Sitting on the sidelines and waiting for something good to happen to you is a waste of your time. You must go out and take what you want. If you show that you are worthy of a company’s investment, the company will invest in you, regardless of your gender.
Under the careful instruction of my boss, I began to thrive in my new role and quickly assumed more responsibility and plenty of praise, which only fueled my hunger.
Having that boss at that time made all the difference for me and my career, and my top tip would be to seek out a superior who you respect and trust and watch what he or she does.
Learn from him or her. If you’re as lucky as I was, you might even find that your boss is incredibly supportive and enjoys watching you succeed as much as you do.
Over the next few years, I worked harder than any of the men to prove myself. They made me want to do well, achieve more and prove that I am just as capable as they are.
They never tried to hold me back; I think they enjoyed the dynamic of having a woman who would challenge them and make them think.
They didn’t feel threatened by me, nor did I by them.
Gender doesn’t have to be a part of the equation and by refusing to acknowledge it, you empower the next generation of women who will have a slightly easier time because of how well you behaved.
Many interns crossed my path and I was always careful to encourage all of them to want more.
It upset me when the girls were shocked by the position I held in the company and I was quick to correct their thinking and make them believe that they could do exactly as I had. I wasn’t special; I was simply a hard worker in a great company with a fantastic team to surround me.
I spent 10 wonderful years at that company, and during that time, I earned my advanced diploma, took Spanish lessons, traveled all over the world meeting clients and learned a lot from some amazing men and women.
I did everything that the men did and more, and I loved it.
My point is, being a woman is not a handicap.
Men will treat you as their equals if you work as hard as they do and want it as badly as they do. At no point in my career did I find my gender to be an issue, and if anything, it has probably helped.
People are interested in me. They want to know why my company chose to send me across the world to meet them and they respect me for going.
In the ultimate power play, once I achieved everything I wanted to with my company, I quit.
Taking all of the knowledge I learned over the years, I felt confident enough to start my own business.
As a result, I now travel around the world with my husband, earning money along the way and writing about our experiences to try to inspire others to take control of their lives and live their dreams, whatever they may be.
You can live the life that you want to, you just have to work for it.
And, remember, women can do everything that men do; we just do it in heels.