Liz Elting, co-founder and CEO of TransPerfect and one of Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women, had a rude awakening to the reality of gender-bias and sexism in the corporate world when she landed her ‘dream job’ in an international financial corporation in New York City at age 26. At first, she was “elated to have earned this position, tasked with what was sure to be a challenging but stimulating role.”
As my first few weeks passed however, an unnerving reality began to set in. As the only woman in the office, I quickly recognized a concerning tendency among my colleagues. No matter where I was or what I was doing, whenever the phone rang, I would hear insistent and commanding shouts across the office, ‘Liz – phone!’ Now I knew that I wasn’t hired to take on the duties of an assistant, office manager, or any administrative position that would perhaps explain my colleagues’ assumption that I was responsible for answering the phone. I wasn’t even the junior-most employee in the office. Yet this happened over and over and over – all day long.
- Liz Elting
Although she’s not the kind of person who gives up easily, Liz quit her job soon after, knowing that that’s not what she was meant to do — make coffee and take messages for her male colleagues. She hung on to the ‘deeply-held belief that she deserved to lead’.
That very decision is what actually led her to create her own company, TransPerfect.
I have been working in the corporate for about 25 years and I have not personally encountered gender discrimination in the office. Maybe because I live in a country where women are treated equally at work. But I did and still do encounter discrimination related to which school I went to in college. Somehow people treat you as an inferior if you did not graduate from the country’s top four universities. I was alienated, ridiculed behind my back, and mocked, particularly during my first few years at work in an advertising agency. Instead of giving up, however, I stayed on determined to move up to a higher position before I even thought of leaving that company. After seven painful, hardworking years, I finally moved up the corporate ladder. A year after my promotion, I left the company and moved on to work for one of the top corporations in my country and became one of its many female executives.
That’s why I could relate well to Liz’s story. Her words should inspire any person, man or woman or anybody in between, to push past whatever obstacles come their way.
Nobody knows what ambitions you have laid out for yourself, and nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t go after your goals unapologetically and with everything you have. So, if the space is not there for you to lead, create it. If there are obstacles in your way and boundaries to be crossed, push past them. We all have the potential to be great, but achieving greatness does not happen by chance – it happens, through grit and determination, in the moments we choose to ignore tradition, step outside of our comfort zone, be true to who we are and get down to work.
- Liz Elting