I became acutely aware of everything I did as a young female professional. I should shake hands and hug male professionals even though I wasn’t comfortable doing so. I should come earlier and stay later than the boss himself. I should never, never interrupt him or give an opinion.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my opinions, one of them being that I would never take an unpaid internship. One male CEO in town was constantly talking about how successful his agency was, how much he was traveling, how he lived in one of the priciest areas around. And yet, there was no room in the budget to pay his interns.
Damn you all, I thought, furiously scraping the sponge against the dishes for an hour.
I applied to a paid internship instead, only to hear that the CEO hadn’t been looking. I remember feeling embarrassed because my college had never deleted the listing he had put up from a semester ago, and he said he wasn’t looking. But he decided to give me an interview. I felt so lucky. An interview for me!
When I got to the interview, the door was locked and no one answered. Strange, I thought. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Traffic, maybe.
He arrived late, fumbling to turn everything on and to set up everything. I was patient throughout the whole thing. Smile and look as pleasant as possible. I remember being so excited when I got the acceptance call, and I enthusiastically said yes.
No one answered the door on my first day. A minute passed. Then two. Then almost an hour. I knocked on the door and ringing the doorbell, but no one answered. I wondered if it was a joke that male CEOs played on their new interns.
Someone finally drove up and unlocked the door for me, and I found out that there had been someone inside all along. They just hadn’t heard me.
No one answered the door on my first day. A minute passed. Then two.
This isn’t how you run a company. But what does a girl like me know? Maybe he’s at a really important meeting or something.
As the semester dragged on, little things kept irking me. Turns out he was always late, often leaving me stranded in the parking lot until he drove up thirty minutes or hours after I arrived — and in our talks he would tell me how important being punctual was.
When I would turn in an assignment, he would say it was fine — but the next day, he would go back and say that it wasn’t good enough. He would then add his own interjections to make it sound more like he wrote it.
In meetings when I had the guts to speak up and offer an opinion, he would reject it and somehow reword it to say the exact same thing I said — but now out of his own mouth with his own words.
The final straw was when he complained about me being late to my coworkers during summer school — which was a lie. The interesting thing is that I had actually been appearing earlier than I promised. I had given my availability to be from 12-6 because I was wary of traffic. For a few weeks I had been early every time, often arriving at 11:30 or 11:45. When traffic was really bad or I had a test, I would arrive at 12. Just like I promised.
He had just gotten used to me arriving early and putting in more work for him.
I left after half a year and felt guilty for every day I was unemployed. I wrestled with the idea of feeling absolutely worthless in exchange for a chance at getting hired at a good job. I had to.
In meetings when I had the guts to speak up and offer an opinion, he would reject it.
You think I would’ve learned my lesson, huh?
Four days into my most recent internship, I knew I made a grave mistake.
I came in early as I had been those past few days. We had held a catering event the night before. I saw my boss parked outside. I was so thankful to have someone who came to work earlier than I did. Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.
“Good morning!” I said, walking to the kitchen to fill my water bottle. What I saw there was horrifying — piles, and I mean piles — of a catering set, with day old food stuck on them. They were overflowing from the sink, to the oven, to the floor.
There was nothing I could say.
He walked in ten minutes into my washing routine and proceeded to reach over me and the pile of dishes to fill his coffee.
“Yeah, this is why we don’t do this very often, because it’s such a mess.” Then he turned his back to me and left.
“You pig,” I thought. “You lazy pig.”
Damn you all, I thought, furiously scraping the sponge against the dishes for almost an hour.
All of these male CEOs had felt the struggle at one point. They had all worked jobs they hated, with managers they hated. Why, then, did they become those same managers? How could they sleep at night paying themselves for work that they didn’t do?
Only God knows, but I’ll tell you this: don’t ask a male CEO for the answer.