By Ana Claire Mancia
I am nineteen years old and manage a swim lesson company in Los Angeles. For the past several years, I have helped develop the company and watched it grow into a large organization with thousands of clients. I currently handle many of the company’s operations, especially in the summer when our work schedule is extremely busy. We have about 10 employees who teach swim lessons, and I supervise our program.
Learning to be taken seriously as a young female is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned. I remember attending my first business conference, to network and speak about the company. I didn’t entirely know what “business casual attire” meant at 17 years old, since our company’s uniform was a swimsuit. I put on a regular, colorful dress and drove to the conference, not expecting that I would be the only person under 25 and clearly not dressed for the occasion!
When I spoke about our organization to a large room of people, I knew they viewed me as a young, inexperienced kid who was in the wrong place. It was definitely a cringe-worthy morning. What bothered me the most however, was the amount of professional men who sat next to me afterward and said things like:
“You’re very pretty.”
“How old are you?”
“Do you actually run a swim company?”
“Are you single?”
I left the conference embarrassed and angry that I hadn’t been taken seriously. Meanwhile, I was watching my company expand and our revenue nearly doubling each year. I quickly learned from that experience, and vowed to always be taken seriously.
Three years later, I know that as a young female, you must always be 10 steps ahead of everyone else. When people question you, you must be ready to prove how knowledgeable you are and convince them to trust you. You must exude capability and confidence, until people actually believe you.
"You must always be 10 steps ahead of everyone else."
Unfortunately, there is very little room for mistake in my role. If I do something incorrectly, it is much harder to recover from it. I have learned to be twice as careful as a man would be, to always make sure there are zero errors.
Our staff respects me because I value them and treat them with respect in return. I try very hard to always treat them as my equals, by taking their suggestions into account and giving them freedom and flexibility in their teaching style. I see my role as just making sure each day runs smoothly, because I trust them to deliver good service to our clients and do their job correctly. Our mutual trust has been crucial in terms of maintaining a strong relationship.
My job has gotten significantly easier as time goes on. Our clients and partners have learned to take me seriously and respect me. The amount of times my authority is questioned has drastically decreased.
This shift in attitude occurred because I am now extremely conscious of how I present myself, and how I speak. As a young female in charge, it is important to know every detail of your company because skeptics will almost certainly quiz you. They are searching for proof that you are capable of being a professional leader. Learning to shut them down has been thrilling.
"I am now extremely conscious of how I present myself, and how I speak."
I am proud of how much the company has grown, over the past five years. In the summer, I usually work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, because there are so many clients and not enough employees. We continuously need to hire more staff, and obtain more pool space. After teaching swim lessons, I am at my computer for hours, processing invoices, sending emails, calling clients, booking people, and creating schedules. Though this sounds like a nightmare, I sincerely enjoy it because we have taught thousands of children to swim in LA County. Drowning is still the leading cause of death for children in California.
In conclusion, young female leaders must always be ahead of the game. With the odds stacked against us, we are forced to overcome distrust, skepticism, objectification, and disrespectful treatment. I pushed through it by becoming as educated as possible. I am not afraid to show my authority, and prove my ability to operate a company. I pay attention to every detail, and search for errors. The company requires an enormous investment of my time – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.