The Experience of Co-op as seen several Years after Graduation.
Amanda Marsden NU ’08 and Jim Stellar
Amanda Marsden is a co-author with Rick Porter and me of the “Engaging the Whole Student” paper, the second post (2/17/09) and one that helped launch this blog. Amanda and I often talk about experiential education a habit from our early days together when I job-shadowed her electronically (by e-mail) on her first co-op that led to that paper. Now she has been working a few years, we just had an interesting conversation about lessons learned for permanent job from the 6-month positions on co-op. These may be particularly relevant for a woman in the workforce. We present the ideas as a conversation.
As a young female public relations profession, I am among the minority when I attend marine industry trade shows as it is male dominated. Another characteristic of the marine industry is its relaxed, less-professional business style which is only enhanced by the general “work hard, play hard” atmosphere at industry trade shows. My professional duties include planning various press events and conferences for these shows, however after the events and conferences have taken place, my only responsibility at the show is to socialize with clients, editors and writers. Often, I feel like my presence at the show appears ornamental, like I am there just to schmooze, and that colleagues may assume that I do not have a significant role within the company. I find it difficult to ‘prove’ myself at these shows where I am fighting against a relaxed, less-professional atmosphere and my “work” at the show is to socialize professionally.
What about this experience is connected to the fact that you are female (see the 6/20 blog about gender differences in leadership and the book “Disappearing Acts”) vs. the job structure itself at the show where your work being done before seems to leave you without that role?
I often reflect about my role at the trade shows and wonder what a different experience it would be if I were a young man and not a young female. I wonder if a young man in my position would feel a need to prove himself or if he would struggle with balancing relaxed professionalism in a male dominated industry. It’s difficult to say what about my experience is connected to being female and what is related to my job structure itself. If my role at the trade shows were more defined (i.e. taking meetings, running an event, etc) I would imagine I would feel more empowered at the shows as my “work” would be more obvious to colleagues and I felt it justified my presence not just at the show, but also within the company. However, because my “work” isn’t as tangible at the shows, I’m overly aware of how I come across while socializing professionally. The lack of obvious “work” elevates my insecurities of being a young female minority in a male dominated industry.
I was told by a colleague that one of the differences between women and men in the workforce is that women have a thinking pattern that is much more socially situated giving them heightened sensitivities to the people around them. In some circumstances, e.g. resisting the abuses of power, this sensitivity can be an advantage. In others, perhaps here, it seems to be a disadvantage. Do you agree with that?
Another advantage to women’s socially situated thinking pattern is the whole concept of Emotional Intelligence – perceiving, understanding and managing emotions in the workplace. There are many ways women could utilize this way of thinking to find ways to work more effectively with co-workers, solve problems and become leaders and managers in the workplace. However, I do agree that in this particular case, my heightened sensitivities to the people around me may be a disadvantage, causing me to be almost overly aware and self-conscious about how I appear to colleagues.
Another way to look at the issue you are helping us develop here is through the lens of what we have called in this blog “OtherLobe thinking” where the largely unconscious emotional-logic or even motor-logic circuits are working to help one figure out what is important and what is good for you, particularly in a social situation that is typically the work place. What do you think of that idea, particularly as you have now had multiple work-place experiences (although only 1 permanent after-college job)?
I think that “OtherLobe thinking” is an important approach for all professionals, but particularly for young professionals (such as myself) who are still trying to navigate in the real world. Questioning yourself and reflecting is a way of discovering what’s truly important to you not only professionally, but also personally. In previous workplace experiences, either co-op or other employment, critically thinking and analyzing made the difference between a negative experience and a positive one. I think what I’ve learned through this experience at the boat shows, is that while I may be overreacting to my perception of how colleagues may see me, it is important for me professionally and personally to be (and be seen as) an important member of an organization.