Corner Of The Court: Chelsea Kania's Story

2a4e934281e86b3cb14079f5d256e96c-originaMy Uncle, the Unknowing Feminist
 
Image courtesy of Simeon W.

Corner of the Court is a monthly feature on MARC published in partnership with The Corner of the Court Project, recognizing stories of male allies' impact on workplace inclusion, told by women. 

For more stories (or to submit your own), visit 
www.cornerofthecourt.com.

By Chelsea Kania. The other day, on the verge of a $1 million company decision, I held a meeting to vet out some unanswered questions with our service vendor—a man in his sixties. By the end of the meeting, I determined that further investigation was needed before a decision could be made—not a happy ending but a necessary one. As we wrapped up and shook hands, the vendor stared at me for a moment and then remarked to my male colleagues, “You sure have some intense women around here.” He was referring to the head of global supply and, of course, to me.
 
“Well, look who we’re surrounded by!” I laughed it off. Though in truth, what registered as “intensity” to him was just million-dollar diligence to me.
 
The subtext of his statement was curiosity. I could tell he was assessing whether I was “more intense” than most women, or “as intense” as most men. It seemed like he wanted to ask, “Who taught you to be so assertive?” I wanted to tell him, “A man about your age—in a work environment where I learned to be critical.”
 
I worked for my Uncle Scott the summer after my freshman year of college, as his home renovation “apprentice”—a medieval word, but really there’s no better descriptor. A retired architect, Scott bought a sprawling house on the side of a ravine in Bayside, Wisconsin, and committed the rest of his life to making it absolutely, painstakingly to his taste. He was—and is still—a perfectionist of the most maddening order.
 
My job was to do the kinds of character-building tasks you read about in fables.
 


"Men, and especially those of you who are professionals: you should never underestimate the influence you can have on the women you invest in."
 
 
One morning I showed up to his house to find six square yards of manure and a wheelbarrow in the driveway. (Imagine a four-foot tall mountain of poop filling a small bedroom.) “I’m leaving for the day,” he said, “When I return at 4pm, I want to see all that crap carefully placed into the flowerbeds down the side of the ravine. If you spill any of it along the way, I’ll know.” After precisely eight hours, he was back to criticize the twenty-five yard trail I’d inadvertently carved into his lawn. Much yard tending ensued in my days ahead.
 
He had me sharpen all the pencils in the house so that when we measured and cut wood for his handcrafted window frames and baseboards, our incisions would have surgical accuracy. If he ever caught me using a blunt pencil, he’d either stuff a new one into my hand or threaten to make me clean the basement—which, despite my many efforts, never sparkled quite to his liking.
 
Once, he furiously pulled me outside to accuse me of weeding out a “good” plant. I insisted I hadn’t touched it. After three weeks of gridlocked silent treatment, he caught the real culprit—a rabbit eating the other flowers in the bed. It’s the only argument I’ve ever won with him.
 
As the summer progressed, I realized that in allowing me to work on his projects, he was trusting me with his most beloved possession. His house represented his life’s work. He let me select the matting and framing for all of his artwork. He asked my opinion on wall paint and hardware. He encouraged me to care about a project by embracing its minutia and demanded that I raise the standards for my own work to meet his. “God is in the details,” he liked to say, though I’m pretty sure he was an atheist in everything other than home renovation. That he expected me to even come close to his level of artisan care was a high compliment—and a huge vote of confidence in me.
 
The most important thing he did was choose me to be his apprentice. It sounds simple. As a professional woman I can tell you it’s not. I knew that the job he expected me to do is primarily done by men. The fact that my gender never came up—not once, not even hinted at as the reason for my many, many shortcomings during my renovation learning curve—is so significant to me.
 
I’ve had countless bosses in the 13 years since I worked for Scott—most of them older males, all of them a cakewalk following that summer apprenticeship. Few have had such a lasting impact on my professional character. Scott’s exacting voice rings in my ears on a damn near daily basis—it motivates me to push things a little further, and to demand a little more of myself and those around me. His standards for me have since become my standards for myself. Sometimes people struggle not to judge my work through the lens of my gender. But I never question my drive or my pride in a job well done, because that’s what he taught me—to judge my work only as a professional. Am I intense as a result? Maybe. Scott would just call it responsible craftsmanship.
 
Men, and especially those of you who are professionals: you should never underestimate the influence you can have on the women you invest in—and the positive impact of treating them as you would anyone else in the workplace. We carry your empowerment with us throughout our careers, throughout our lives. Speaking from experience, you can help us build a foundation of confidence—one that even on our most trying days, or in the presence of sometimes careless treatment and demeaning situations—can persist with strength. With that kind of foundation, women can just focus on doing good work. That’s as simple as it sounds.
 
Following my recent work meeting, Uncle Scott on my brain, I emailed to ask him if he considers himself a feminist. 
 
“Feminist???? Just for the record, I have always loved women!” 
 
Despite his skepticism, Scott is an advocate for women. I would argue, the most important kind.
 
f4a3eb8be068e1ac5e332cb70760550e-originaWisconsin-raised but Cali-based, Chelsea Kania is a marketing professional in San Francisco’s tech jungle. When she has time, she sometimes writes about the times.



 
Posted by Jared Cline on May 17, 2017 9:45 AM America/New_York
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Fantastic post, thanks for sharing.  I too have been described as "intense".  Is it a compliment?  I'm not sure but I am curious if men have been described as "intense" before!
  • Posted Thu 18 May 2017 02:34 PM EDT

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