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Liz Neumark Headshot

Odd Woman Out

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I have spent the majority of my life surrounded by women. After the birth of my older brother, my parents got it right and had three daughters (me in the middle). My teachers have been predominately female. Though I happily discovered the allure and value of boys, my best buddies are girls. My two grandmothers had a profound influence in my life, planting the seeds of passion for food, sharing and giving. My mom has always been an inspiring example of an independent woman, gallivanting through life taking no prisoners, trailblazing as she goes. I attended an all-girls' high school and am a Barnard College grad. And as a mother to three daughters and one son, I am all about supporting and empowering women. Girl power is in my blood.

When I founded Great Performances, it was as a waitress service for women in the arts. Yes, we eventually caved and included men, but not for the heavy lifting or morale, but rather to assuage the insecure host or hostess who had to have a guy behind the bar. But we have remained female dominated in spirit, and female values and sensibilities infuse our decision-making process and culture.

Additionally, we are an officially certified Women/Minority-Owned Business though I have never felt discriminated against on the grounds of my gender. In fact, I have always regarded my gender as an asset, wondering how we could somehow ease the path of male-burdened industries. (And it seems very clear to me that if it were a world of female political leaders, we might be sending our sons off to war with less frequency.)

It is only in the past few years that I have seen what everyone else has known all along. It is a boy's club/man's world, in ways that are innocent and others that are more serious. In chatting with a mom of three boys (two in their 20s, one still single digits) she shared that she has never known what is like to have nice soap in the bathroom. Oh, the tyranny of men! A female business associate remarked how she prefers to be served by good-looking men rather than women. While I enjoy male eye candy as much as the next girl (my perfect waiter list would include Robert Pattinson, Robert Downey, Jr. and Sam Worthington), as a feminist I cannot select male servers across the board to a gender-balanced team, though here I am immediately going into risky territory. Our high-fashion clients are "look-oriented" with gender preferences while another category of client might chose a staff that is all female while still another will advocate that a male staff eliminates the possibility of inappropriate (straight) male behavior.

But that is not the true hardship we face as women. What I have come to recognize (but not accept) as true is that:

1. In much of the business world, men prefer to do business with other men. (Is it an odd comfort level or communication thing?)
2. Within many of the larger corporate structures I see, gender inequality persists in a serious way.

But back to the home front (as I am reluctant to go down the road of evaluating corporate America). This is the line up: Two daughters are away in college/gap year mode, leaving my husband and I at home with our son. And for the first time within the privacy of my own home, men outnumber me, two to one. The difference is palpable! Often when I get home, the men in my house are sitting watching TV together (which is of course lovely), legs splayed in similar fashion, typically oblivious to anything that might need tending to in the household. They are both carnivores, an eating trait I do no share. The content matter of their TV or online watching has little, if any, appeal to me. Their sense of humor has a source that is unrecognizable to me. Thankfully, having been surrounded by females for years, means that at the very least, they know how to put the toilet seat down. (Be thankful for small victories.) They are very sweet and often helpless, which plays to my desire to assist them. They need to be fed and are extremely appreciative of my efforts, especially if it is steak or salami and eggs (though when I am not home, they manage to eat just fine.)

How does it feel to be in a male-dominated environment for the first time ever? Odd. And it forces me to think about my own, long-formed opinions about male/female roles and behavior. As I spend more business time in male-dominated environments I wonder if my skills, honed within a feminist culture, have prepared me for what is ahead. At times I wonder how significant the differences between us are or is it just my imagination? I have always thought about the equality issue from the safety and perspective of a female-dominated environment. This year, both at home and in the workplace, I face the challenge of championing the cause of women, with a changed backdrop.

I will embrace this new experience with curiosity and skepticism and will report back.

P.S. My husband comments that while this might be a male-populated home now, it is not male-dominated. A wise man.