A Strong, Independent and Successful Woman
Editor’s Note: International Women’s Day 2020 draws attention to the difference individuals can make with #EachforEqual. We asked our leaders to contribute their perspectives and are proud to share those here in this blog series. In this blog, Connie Gurchiek, Geospatial President of Rizing reflects on her life as a strong, independent and successful woman and how gender has impacted her career.
I see myself as a strong, independent, and successful woman. I’d like to believe that those that know me would agree. As I write this on International Women’s Day, I am reflecting on how the woman part of that statement has shaped my independence and success and my thoughts on females in the workplace today.
On being an independent woman
One of my earliest memories is of my mom telling me that more than love or wealth or happiness, she wanted me to be independent. That way, if I couldn’t rely on the marriage partner I chose, or if he died or walked out on me, I could take care of myself. She said that I needed to make decisions early in life that would assure that I had choices later in life. Now that was impactful! Today, my sister and I are independent, maybe to a fault.
On being a successful woman
It’s a bit harder to define the why of success. But I would certainly like to believe that it is not because I am a female, but rather because of my accomplishments and my approach and attitude to the various jobs I have held throughout the years. Of course, being female certainly impacted my career – both in positive and negative ways.
I have lived in a male-dominated world for more than 40 years. I was drawn to math and science in high school in the late 1970s. That meant that many of my classes had very few girls. I then got a degree in chemical engineering, graduating in 1985. Again, my life choices meant that I was in the gender minority. My career has been very technical, and even today, in 2020, I mainly work with men.
Four stories stand out in my long male-dominated career.
Becoming a successful woman as the lone female
Early on, I was working with a large engineering software company. I started traveling, and I felt blessed to be able to see almost every state in this beautiful country of ours. Almost all of that travel was with men, and I was usually the more technical of the two of us. Often as we began to present, almost always to a large room of men, I felt dismissed. But that changed as I presented, and it became obvious that I was the one that understood what we were selling from a technical perspective. In the end, most of the people remembered me because I was the rare female that came to visit.
I grew to feel that being female was more positive than negative, and I gained a lot of recognition and knowledge through all of those client visits. In addition, the vast majority of the men that I traveled with were respectful, wonderful human beings. Maybe I’m just lucky, but while I have had inappropriate sexist and sexual things said to me, I have never been threatened by my male colleagues.
Working in a control and dominate culture
The second and low point of my career was when I was working for an engineering firm. There the executives (all men) asked their assistants (all females) to call them Mr. So-and-So while the executives called the women by their first names. This was just one example of the sexism that was truly systemic. First, I tried to fight it, but when I realized that I was fighting a losing battle, I left. The firm then proceeded to sue the company I moved to. It was a very rough time.
The positive about the lawsuit was that it was the catalyst that made us start Transcend Spatial Solutions. That’s the third story.
Transcending the marketplace with Geospatial
I and my four other founding partners (all men by the way) could write a book on what not to do when starting a company. There was no careful planning. We had no customers. We had no money. We didn’t even have a name. What we did have was a lot of passion and a burning desire to succeed. I look back at that time in early 2011, and I know that what drove me was my anger. Whatever it was that drove the others, we were able to turn a truly horrible situation into a triumph. We grew Transcend into a multi-million dollar company with about 40 employees. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to the clients that trusted us with their business and to two of the men, Bill Schuman and Jesse Jay, that helped to start Transcend.
Rizing to opportunity
Finally, the fourth chapter in my story was the purchase of Transcend Spatial Solutions by Rizing. I am so grateful to have landed in a company where we have a respectful and accepting culture and also the drive to continue to grow. I feel like I have an opportunity to continue to succeed, and even more importantly, our employees have exceptional opportunities to continue to move upward in their careers.
Gender equality is earned
So, all in all, why have I been successful? I believe it’s because I have taken ownership of my career path and responsibility for both my failures and achievements. It’s because I have passion for what I do and a desire to be a lifetime learner. I believe that there are times when being a female has helped me and times when it has been a detriment. But… ultimately, it has neither made my career nor significantly impaired it.
I know that doesn’t fit the narrative for some women today, but I have never been a proponent of giving anyone of any gender, nationality, or background what they didn’t earn – good or bad.
I look at Transcend’s employees. We have a group of all-female GIS Analysts, and they rock. But none of them was hired because they were female. They can rest assured that we hired them because of their capabilities and their potential. We also have a group of all-male Project Managers. They, too, are awesome, and they, too, were hired because they were who we believed were the most qualified candidates.
In general, I am so fortunate to work with a hugely talented group of people. I want them all to be successful, and I appreciate all of their contributions – male or female.
Preferential treatment is not preferred
Lastly, don’t get me wrong. I cheer right along with my female friends and coworkers when women do well. I love to see women excel in the workplace. I’d also like to see more women in leadership roles both in my company, in politics, and as CEOs. I have and will continue to promote women who deserve to be promoted. I love mentorship programs that help women.
What I don’t want for myself or for any of my women coworkers is preferential treatment because of our gender. I believe that causes resentment. And, even worse, it enforces the belief that some women have gotten ahead because of the feminist movement and not because of their capabilities. It’s insulting to think that women can’t compete unless they are given an advantage.
So… Instead of hiring or promoting a female just because she is female, I say hire the most qualified person. Let’s also expect the same, not higher, standards from our male counterparts. Then and only then can we be equals in the workplace.
Read more Rizing perspectives for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month:
Remove Gender Bias for a Healthier, Wealthier Economy, by Katie Obi, Rizing’s Chief HR and Transformation Officer
Achieving Work-Life Balance: Find your purpose by Denise Powell, Vice President Global Business Development in Rizing’s Enterprise Asset Management business
The Power of Mentoring at Rizing by Kimberly I Sharp, Sr. Consulting Manager, Rizing’s Consumer Industries business