The first time it was pointed out to me that I was not one of the boys was at a speech and debate tournament in high school. My partner, a more brilliant mind and also a boy, Sam, happened to be walking into the room in front of me. The other team shook his hand and then asked if I was Sam’s girlfriend. No, I replied, I actually sit next to him and speak periodically.

I was irritated. Likely, because I already felt intimidated surrounded by so many suits. I was a girl from modest means who was never raised to sway in and out of experiences expecting to belong. Just presuming I was Sam’s girlfriend in such a competitive intellectual pursuit sent a powerful, if subtle message: others simply expected less of me.

Flash forward 25 years to my first entrepreneurial conference, and I walked into a room thumping with the vibe of techno-rock music meets Master of the Universe. The room was filled with successful, confident, primarily male business owners shaking hands and exchanging hugs. I felt like the quintessential outsider to a boy’s club reunion. But by this time, I was the daughter of a revolution. My mother had properly schooled me on the unique needs, differences, and vision of women while my father had spent a lifetime just waiting for me to have another success. He assured me, I could do anything.

Wherever I stood, was exactly where I belonged.

I sat down at the table that day and realized I had the advantage. I already knew what it was like to be different, to find new space in which I would fit, which basically, is the call of all business.  Today, I believe my business flourishes because my perspective as a woman has had direct influence on how we treat our staff. I celebrate our experiences (for both women and men) with family, children, pay, and benefits. We have a fierce culture of interdependence, autonomy, and lifting up and celebrating our staff.

Twenty-five years ago, those boys won that debate. But, I’m okay with that. My victory came later.  And who knows, maybe one day their daughters might just work for me. And their dads will be glad they have the boss they do.

-Sharon Soliday

Owner and CEO, Sharon Soliday’s company, The Hello Foundation, is a company offering speech language pathologists and occupational therapists in schools, online, and at their own clinic. In addition to running the Hello Foundation, Soliday is the author of “7 Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Best Special Education Programs”. The Hello Foundation is supported by Gravity Payments.

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