by Sam Holmes
“I’d hate to work in a place that’s like entirely women. It sounds like it would be so shallow and catty” Allie said to me. I’d just told a group of friends about my upcoming internship at Keep America Beautiful, an organization where I’d be working mostly with other women. I was familiar with the organization, and I knew that I would be mostly working with other women—but my friends’ reactions made more a bit nervous about my upcoming experience. Because of SPARK Movement, I have worked with a group that is all women and girls. SPARK has shown me that working alongside women means collaboration, support, and encouragement. But still, I wondered and worried about whether or not this kind of camaraderie would exist in an office environment.
As I rode on the train for my first day, I still had these doubts. A conglomerate of women-in-the-workplace stereotypes invaded my thoughts. Would my experience mirror that of a Hollywood film that teemed with stereotypes? Would I have a brilliant and glamorous co-worker who would be entirely interested in my failure? Could I potentially land in a situation where, like my friends suggested, superficiality reigned supreme? Those outcomes weren’t impossible. There was a definite chance that my internship would be tainted by some of these aspects. But brighter possibilities existed as well. I realized that I could just as easily be paired with a very supportive and open-minded boss. Working with someone like Leslie Knope or Liz Lemon or SPARK’s Dana and Melissa would be another possibility.
I was at the office building within an hour. Being an over-eager and slightly anxious newbie, I arrived a bit too early my first day, so my mentor, A, was still in a meeting. When the conference room finally opened, A came out, shouted my name, and hugged me. Any remaining fears of working in one of those “shallow and catty” places dissolved immediately. This supportive atmosphere became increasingly clear within every aspect of my internship. On my first day, A took me to lunch. She asked me about my summer and my plans for next year. Her interest was clearly genuine. I could tell that, much like my mentors at SPARK, A wanted me to be successful in my work and beyond. When we were walking back to the office, a group of men from across the street shouted something at us. Ignoring their cat-calling, I continued walking on my side of the street. A, on the other hand, removed her sunglasses and gave the group a glare that I could only dream of emulating. She then turned to me and said, “I want you to feel safe here.”
I did feel safe there. I also felt appreciated, understood, productive, and confident whenever I walked through the hallways or sat down at my desk. I was given actual assignments about causes that meant a lot to me. I spent hours researching and writing about environmentally conscious companies and practices. I was able to engage people through the organization’s media profiles. Rotating around different departments within the organization, I was able to witness the various moving pieces that comprise a non-profit. Across these divisions, my contributions were valued. I was encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone and do everything from filling out spreadsheets to picking out colors for pamphlets. I felt that my efforts furthered the company’s mission. The feedback that I received, both positive and negative, helped me to recognize my strengths and weaknesses. I had a wonderful experience.
At the end of my internship, saying goodbye to everyone was more difficult than I was expected. There was A, who offered me constant support and guidance. But there were other women who defined my experience. The woman who worked at the desk next to me walked with me to the train station in the evening. The people who worked at the front of the office forwarded inspirational quotes to my inbox. I even had the chance to eat a slice of pizza with the CEO. She, and the other people that I worked with were so smart, caring, driven, and hilarious. Because of them, the idea of waking up to catch a 6:00 train actually became appealing. My experience is definitely not unusual. I know that there are groups across the world like that organization and SPARK. These are places where girls can openly contribute without fear of being called bossy, shallow, aggressive, or any other euphemism that is used to belittle women. Television and movie companies should illustrate teams. People should know about the people that I work with and continue to work with. Their stories are much more entertaining and relatable than the needlessly cutthroat environment that media love to portray.