In my early 20s I worked as a receptionist in a private medical office. The main doctor was also the owner and my boss. The staff were all women, including my boss. She was in her late 30s and seemed to have it all. Her career, her house, her car, her kids, and her husband. She was always saying things like “We’re a family here!”…. “I gotta look out for my ladies!” Geez! What an inspiration! Not only has this woman worked hard to get where she is, but she also looks out for her fellow women. The embodiment of “Girl Boss”.
Hindsight is 20/20 they say. Looking back, there were so many signs that her words of unity and female empowerment were just a front. She would close a little early on some days and say things like, “Hey! It’s a beautiful day! Don’t you want to spend time with your family? Go home!” – and yeah… of course I want to go home and spend time with my family! But, I also need the money that I’m all of a sudden not going to make because you felt like it was too sunny to work! After a few days of this “gracious early release” from work, I brought my concerns up to her. She said that it never even crossed her mind that I needed the hours! She said she would allow me to stay in the closed building to work the rest of my shift. I could just “find something to do ”. That was the first crack in her image. She’s not like us.
My coworker, who had been working for my boss longer than me, was telling me about her future plans with her and her daughters after her upcoming raise. I say “working for ” but technically she was “contracted”. In her contract she was not allowed to work for other agencies or to practice with any of the clients that went to this office and she was also only allowed to negotiate her base pay every 2 years, so technically not an employee but it sure sounded like my boss was her boss to me! She was going to talk to our boss next week and I was so excited for her!
One day my coworker came out of the bathroom at the office with red eyes. I asked her what’s wrong and in a whispered voice said, “She said no.” I gave her a confused look. She responded in an even quieter voice, “I’m not supposed to talk to you about it and she’s in her office so she might hear me.” She walked away looking defeated and pissed off.
I asked her to lunch. And there she let her story and emotions out. At the end of it all, I asked her why she thought my boss said no. She shrugged her shoulders and as she let out a sigh she said, “She’s not like us.” I asked her what she meant. She went on, “She doesn’t know what it’s like to not have money or enough money. She’s not lazy, but she was born rich, she lives rich, and she’ll probably die rich too.” We both sat in silence for a bit to ponder what she had just said. It clicked. She’s not like us. We’re part of the working class and grew up in the working class. We didn’t have parents who came from wealth that set us up with money for school or businesses. We didn’t depend on not paying workers enough so that we could make a profit. And we couldn’t just leave early for work to go spend time with our families on a sunny day.
I gave her a hug. She finished her contract and left that office. I never got the chance to thank her for the lessons she taught me. I could never find the right words. But I think about her sometimes and I think about my boss too. We were both women with families but she chose to feed her family off of my labor and the labor of my sister coworkers while I had no choice but to sell my time and work to her for pennies back. She’s not like us.