This month at Jersey Cares we are celebrating Women’s History Month by inviting some of our friends to share their thoughts and experiences on the women who have inspired them. Today we feature a piece by Evan Lewis, Jersey Cares Corporate Relations Manager.
When I was growing up, I found myself around men much more than I found myself around women. A short list of these men would include my dad, two brothers, no sisters, the kids in my neighborhood were all boys, my all male sports teams, all of my close friends throughout High School were guys, my lack of a girlfriend didn’t help, my college dorm was strictly all male, and my first two jobs only had only one female employee (combined). So I am not proud to say that I didn’t have many influential female figures in my life, besides my mother… love you mom. So rather than trying to pinpoint a single woman who has been influential in my life, perhaps I can explain how I went from being constantly surrounded and influenced by men, to being surrounded and influenced by women on a daily basis, and how that’s had a significant impact on my life.
Now that I am a working adult, or at least appear like a working adult, my life has changed quite a bit since my testosterone surrounded youth. In fact, there was one decision I made in college that significantly changed the path of my career and the dynamic of gender in my life. When I was a senior in High School, I was accepted to the Rutgers University School of Engineering and I was thrilled to attend. I had very strong skills in Math and Physics during High School, so I thought engineering would be the perfect fit. In the fall of 2009, I packed my things and settled into my all-male dorm building eager to learn. I knew engineering was a popular field for men, but I didn’t realize how male dominated the School of Engineering at Rutgers would be. In fact my freshman year dorm was the only all-male dorm at Rutgers and it just so happened to be full of all the engineering majors. After struggling with courses such as Chemistry, Calculus II, and others my freshman year, I was beginning to have second thoughts about a degree in engineering. It was at this time where I can actually recall a moment of pure self-reflection where I asked myself, is this really what I want to do? And just like that, I decided to switch majors. Three years later, in the spring of 2013, I graduated with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in Psychology. By choosing such a field of study, it was clear to all people close to me that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. However, I did have an interest in the not-for-profit industry, so I thought that could be a possible avenue for the beginning stages of my career. After graduation, I worked a couple of part-time gigs for a few months until I came across a non-profit organization called City Year New York. At City Year, I was an AmeriCorps member working with a team of 11 recent college graduates (4 men, 7 women) at a K-8 school in East Harlem, New York. Anyway, this is where I began to realize that the nonprofit field was comprised of more women than men. I did not realize the extent of this gender imbalance until I secured a position at Jersey Cares.
When I was first hired by Jersey Cares in September of 2014, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. This was my first full-time salaried position. Including myself, there were a total of four men working in the Jersey Cares office my first few months, one of which held a supervisory role and one of which was the Executive Director of the organization. The third male worked in a different department than I did. Needless to say, I felt a bit isolated as a man within the organization. During my first few months, I felt shy and slightly intimidated by the overwhelming presence of women in the office. I thought that my work style was much different, I was unable to relate, and I couldn’t make friends. I thought that being a man gave me a disadvantage. As more time passed by, there was a bit of turnover within the organization and new employees started to funnel in while old employees moved on to other opportunities. Unsurprisingly, all of the new employees were women, and to be honest, there are not that many men out there applying for a position at Jersey Cares (even though there should be). Even though the new employees were women, this suddenly became a turning point for my confidence as an employee at Jersey Cares. I became less shy, no longer was intimidated by anyone in the office, and became friendly with everyone. Why the sudden change in attitude? Maybe I was more comfortable with my work and didn’t necessarily have a great connection with the employees who recently left the organization. Maybe my previous attitude of being shy and intimidated didn’t have anything to do with the male-female ratio in our office. Maybe the new employees as individuals, not women, had a style of work and overall personality that best fit with mine.
You will notice in the previous paragraph that I stated, “I thought that being a man gave me a disadvantage.” Isn’t that a ridiculous statement? A man in this country, especially a white man in the country, should never utter those words. Though I most likely did not have a disadvantage, that is truly how I felt at the time. I realized that I had some preconceived notions about the people I worked with during my first few months with Jersey Cares because they were women. Those preconceived notions may have been formed with some help from of my lack of confidence, but nonetheless I probably wouldn’t have felt that I was disadvantaged if there were more men in the office. The lesson I learned here is that it is very difficult not to have gender biases and we have to make more of an effort to see people as individuals rather than classify them based on their initial appearance. I know that you’ve probably heard that before, but it’s true. It’s especially true for people like me. I believe myself to be a very open-minded young man who has always believed in equality and civil rights for everyone. That doesn’t mean that I can sometimes miss a certain nuance or detail of a particular social situation. We have to be constantly vigilant on the quest for gender equality. The women that I currently work with on a daily basis are smart, detail oriented, and very good at their jobs, which should not at all come as a surprise. They have indirectly given me more confidence and have made me more aware of the sensitivity of gender biases. With that being said, I am happy with my job, I currently have a girlfriend that I have been dating for almost two years, and I still love my mom. I will continue to stay vigilant in getting rid of any gender biases that I may still have and I encourage every person, woman or man, to do that same.