Professional Musings I

The subject of discrimination, harassment and bias is still as prominent as ever.  I cannot relate to the black experience – not being a person *of color*.  Best I can do is (a) not do it and (b) get involved if I suspect it is taking place.  In my 58 years, I can truly say that has been the way I have conducted myself.  I have always been for the underdog because I have occupied that space a good portion of my life.  Let’s look at my professional career.

I was lucky to graduate high school.  I was a terrible student and only wanted to have fun.  I was totally disengaged and had no direction that I wanted to pursue.  When my parents asked me what I wanted to be… I answered “a waitress”.  Many of my friends were either off to college, afar or local.  I tried a couple of classes in Rockland Community College, and I dropped out of Berkeley Business School.  Oddly, the little I did pick up from Berkeley — has remained with me my whole professional career.

Anyway, one of my waitressing jobs at a Country Club morphed into my first *administrative* jobs, as club secretary. Very basic.  A little shorthand, typing, copying, filing, blah blah bah.   My next administrative position was for E. Leitz, Inc., in Rockleigh, New Jersey.  I was a junior clerk typist… but it was the gateway to my future and the second rung on a ladder that reached forever.  It was also where I started to learn about business culture and the internal machines and *political* alliances.  The following is a true story.  I had the opportunity to meet photographers at a time when the Leica camera was considered the Rolls Royce of the industry.  I met guys from Time, the White House Press Corps., newspapers, and *rags*.  I also had the opportunity to date them.  I started to date one photographer in particular.  He worked for a good trade, and was a nice guy.  One evening, a senior manager approached me and asked to speak to me privately.  I was all of 21 years old.  Anyway… we went behind close doors in his office.  He said, “I understand you are dating _______ and I said yes.  (the year is 1975)  He said “Isn’t he jewish?” and I answered, I don’t know, he might be…” and he then proceeded to explain to me how jewish men like irish-catholic girls but they don’t marry them.  I should keep this in mind.”   When I realized what he was saying… I answered… “You’re kidding, right. You’re not serious.” and he was.  That was the very first time I acted in a manner that could have terminated my career right out of the gate, and it would be the first of many to come.

Anyway, I had known (or been told by my father in family history lessons) that my great-great grandfather (I think that’s the right number of “greats”) was Jewish…
so I stood up, walking to the door and I said, “Mr. H____, I cannot possibly not date someone because they are jewish, and if you feel this way, then you’ll really be upset to learn that my great great grandfather was jewish, and I opened the door and walked out.

There had always been the rumor that several of our management team were former Nazi’s.  We did have officers in management both from the U.S. and Germany.  In fact, one man who became a mentor, worked as a aerial photographer for the Luftwaffe.  In our collection of Leica there were those with Swastikas as part of the history of the company and how, during WWII, the U.S. government clamped down and separated the company and its US properties.

I also need to add that my experience as a young person was different than most which is probably why I am the way I am.

My mother started in business, eventually becoming a custom home builder.  She loved real estate and building.  (years later, having a hamburger and coffee at the Wooden Indian in Nyack… (mom being retired for several years) I said to my mother – “Hey ma, you think there is any correlation between your being a builder/developer and me becoming a staunch environmentalist and animal advocate?  Huh, do ya???? (she did laugh).

Her two best business friends were Joe Shapiro – a fabulous man and her project manager and Spencer Mayfield who was my mother’s right arm in terms of laborers, environmental knowledge, and just making sure everything else was covered.  If I remember correctly, Spence grew up in the back hills of North Carolina and worked his way North.  His history was that of slavery.)  Spence knew more about the land, the water, the animals, the trees, you name it – he knew it.  He and my father were my teachers about the environment and our impact — yes, even way back when.  Anyway, Joe and Spence were at our house every day for years (exc. weekends, sometimes). Oh, and Joe was jewish.

Did my response hurt my career?  Not really but I was so green in those days that I was still in a learning curve … I didn’t have a career.  At that point, it was a job.  Did I lose my job.  No.  Mr. H was not my manager.  it did change the way I felt about him as a person, and altered my behavior so to distance myself from dealing with him unless absolutely necessary.  In those days, you really didn’t have options to escalate a complaint.  What I did do was strive to learn good skills from co-workers and people I admired so I could get a new job and move on.   And I did, in textiles, the schmatte (sp?) industry – in NYC… at Bloomcraft, Inc., 295 Fifth Ave.

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