We were each tasked to come prepared, and I was excited for the opportunity to connect and engage with my peers. I viewed a peer as someone who had the same position as I did. I was still only 26, a good 10 years younger than anyone else, and one of only a few females in attendance. But I was the only female in my position. After the first day, we went to a nice restaurant off the Strip. As we entered the private room reserved for us, I took my seat at the table, which was filled with employees and their spouses. I had not brought my husband, as he had no interest in Las Vegas, and I wanted to devote time to interacting with business associates, not worrying about if my husband was having fun. Dinner banter was typical, filled with the perfunctory cocktail party topics of where you were from, how you got to your position, and if you had kids (I didn’t.) I was bored at dinner once I realized there would be no business talk. I’m sure the wives (all but one of the spouses, as I recall) were happy about this. They’d spent their day going to the spa and shopping, looking forward to this opportunity to get dressed up and have a nice dinner. After the meal, we all adjourned outside into the warm Nevada air, and inexplicably drifted into two groups: men and women. As the Wife Group I was stranded in started to chirp excitedly about their plans for the evening, I looked over at the business group, which were all men. I could see they were not going to be a part of our plans for the night. “What are THEY doing?” I asked, pointing over to the group that I surely belonged with. “Oh, they’re doing their own thing,” said one of the wives. “Well, I think I should be a part of that,” I said, walking over to find out what sort of business agenda was set for the night. As I walked up to my favorite guy of the group, a researcher from corporate who was joining our regional outing, I asked him what the plans were. He shifted uncomfortably back and forth and wouldn’t make eye contact. “Uh, I’m not really sure. I think these guys might go to a bar.” He casually walked away from me, the unspoken words between us deafening. YOU ARE NOT INVITED. I stood there for a second, watching this strange whispering among the men, and decided they were too old and too uncool. I would be better off with the wives or, better yet, alone. I walked back to the wives, who asked me if I’d been told what the men’s plans were. I told them I thought they were going to a bar or something. The wife of Bill, the Area President, (yes, the creepy “whipped cream to go” man), turned to me, and in a sweet voice, clued me in. “They’re going to a bar alright. A girlie bar.” I felt the anger start to surge, and was aware that she was watching me, her big diamond ring reflecting the glow of the parking lot lanterns. “Really? Are you sure?” Was all I could say, to which she replied, “Don’t worry about them, we’re way more fun.” My mind was racing. No, you aren’t more fun. You are part of a society that is, day by day, undermining young career women like me, who want to be included in the intellectual conversation, who want to be trained on how to be a brilliant leader, who want to close the glass ceiling gap. You, Mrs. Area President, are a curse. And curses are no fun at all.
I have no recollection of the rest of that evening. I’m guessing I spent some time with the wives, watching them gamble, and retreated to my room to call my husband as soon as I could. I do, however, remember the next morning very vividly. I purposefully arrived at the meeting room early. There, placing a presentation at each seat, was my corporate research acquaintance. I asked him how his night was. He told me it was fine. I asked what he did. He said they had gone out to a bar, no big deal. I felt that familiar tingle of indignation. The same ire that had me entangled in a racism conversation with my parents, the same one that would encourage me to let go of a top salesperson because he thought he was above the fray, would fire out the next question. “Did you go to a girlie bar last night?” He looked away and continued his administrative scuttle. No answer. “Oh my God, you did, didn’t you? How could you?” I snapped. “Dawn, listen, it wasn’t really a choice. Business is conducted during those outings,” he said, emphasizing the word business. “I can’t afford to miss what might go on.” Why would he say that? Was he that unaware of the weight of his words? I was breathing fire. “So you’re telling me that business was actually conducted last night and not only was I not invited, I was actually excluded? That’s really a problem. And, beyond that, are you telling me that all you men are going to show up to this meeting, after watching naked women all night, and not look at the females in this room through that lens? How embarrassing to think about that, I feel humiliated just by association.” He said nothing, and, as if on cue, my peers began slowing entering the room. I asked each one of them how their night was, careful to register their remarks, and never spoke of it again to anyone in the Region. For the first time, I began thinking that perhaps I would not be with this company forever, at least certainly not in this region, where the most honored professional women were those in the oldest profession of all.