Two months after turning 15 years old, I obtained my first job. I worked at a family laser tag and sports arena. Working in an environment like this would be ideal for me, being enthusiastic and positive with a strong work ethic. I was excited to learn about every aspect of the business, my coworkers, and each position.
For my first training shift, I was introduced to everyone working on the floor and discovered how fun it was to be employed there. I was eager to make a kind, personable, and professional impression at only 15. I quickly observed that in some stations, there were only male employees working during the shift. This was likely a coincidence, I thought.
Switching to each position, I arrived at the one I was most looking forward to: laser tag. I noticed here that there were only male employees working at the time. One quickly trained me and then proceeded to a casual conversation. I asked him how much experience I needed before being assigned to laser tag. He chuckled, appeared uncomfortable, and briefly explained that generally, only males worked the position. I cringed and questioned what the reason for this was. He explained to me that laser tag was viewed as a “masculine” activity, so females do not usually work it.
Millions of thoughts ran through my head, ranging from “is he serious?” to “is this normal?”. I was considerably uncomfortable, so I thanked him for the information, and ventured to the next station. Arriving at the front desk, this was a different situation. Three females worked here and trained me. I wondered if they enjoyed the position, and they explained that it is almost the only station they are assigned to. I asked them if it was accurate, that usually men work laser tag, and they agreed quite casually. The girls informed me that at the front desk, females work it a majority of the time because “the customers receive a warmer, friendlier welcome this way.” I asked the front desk staff what they thought of this, and they didn’t mind because they enjoyed working in that position.
I trained on the remaining positions and headed home, wondering if these normalities had any sufficient evidence to be practical. I was 15, and this is the first thing I had learned in my workplace: positions are deemed “masculine or feminine”, and some genders are more skilled in areas than others. Why is this so? Evidently, it was because of their gender. It determines what the individual will excel at, and what customers are perceived to respond better to.
Weeks went by, and I was assigned to positions designated for newer employees before advancing to the others. I decided that I wanted to undertake every position and be given a chance, even if I was female. I wanted gender assumptions to end. It was unfair, offensive, and did not recognize each employee’s uniqueness. What I fall short in, another female may excel at, and vice versa.
I wanted to change these theories. The “norm” here did not make me feel welcome or appreciated for my individual abilities. I gathered every ounce of courage and approached the manager’s office. I knocked, entered, and he asked what I needed.
“I would like to be assigned to laser tag.” He stopped typing on his computer, and in his chair, turned to me. He asked if I had been trained on it. I explained that I had during my initial orientation. He questioned if I truly wanted to start working it for my shifts, and I told him I wanted to try it, and at least be given the chance to.
The next weekend, I was presented with the opportunity and enjoyed it. My manager told me that he was impressed and if I wanted to work it again in the future, that would be possible to arrange. Shortly after this, the business began to have both male and female employees at each station. The business grew, succeeded, and received a multitude of positive reviews and feedback.
This experience made me feel empowered and heard. I learned how to recognize what made me feel uncomfortable and to professionally address it. I observed something that had gone unnoticed, brought it to the business’s attention, and administered change. All it took was for one person who was brave enough to use their voice to correct this matter.
I am writing this to spread awareness and to inform individuals that every person has a voice. Every single person is entitled to the same opportunities. If your workplace informs you that you are not the “preferred” gender for the position, they are wrong. If you are told you cannot excel at a position because of your gender, that is false. You can do it, and you are more than capable. You can do anything that another gender can. Your gender does not dictate your professional skills and abilities.