I have a secret to share. When I was a reporter in the Oklahoma state Capitol, I would spend about 30 minutes at least every other day doing nothing but riding up and down the elevators.
I would do this at strategic times of the day when I knew legislators would be heading to or from session. On days when there was a lot of “lobbying” on particular topics, I’d ride the elevator a lot.
There was a method to my madness. The rides up and down would garner all sorts of tips and tidbits that I could run with, research and often hone into articles that would often irk my male colleagues in the press room. So, how does a reporter gain that kind of intel on an elevator?
I’m a woman. I’m a Hispanic woman. I’m was then a Hispanic woman over the age of 40 – an invisible class to the high-powered legislators who would only glance at me long enough to figure that I was not important enough to warrant their attention. Fortunately for me, I covered the Governor’s office so the majority of Oklahoma’s 149 lawmakers – state representatives and senators – knew my name, but they did not know my face. Clearly this was before the days of the multi-media world we live in now where even print reporters have lost their facial anonymity. It was easy to become invisible. I would trade my suit jacket for a sweater and put on my glasses. The attributes of being a 40+ female and Hispanic just added to my disguise.
Those who know me well know I often joke about being a triple minority. The reality is that it’s not always easy to be classified as a minority – particularly since in each of those instances I belong to the group that is most prevalent.
There are more men than women; still few women are in leadership roles in companies across the country earn just 79 percent of what men are paid – often for the same job. Women often carry the burden of caregiving for children and parents more often than me even when working full-time. In this country, we’ve yet to elect a female president.
Hispanics are poised to overcome other ethnicities as the majority in several states across the country, and overall make up 17 percent of the population in the United States, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic group. Yet, Hispanics lag in financial earnings and education.
I’m now older than 50 and part of the nation’s largest age group – the Boomers. This group, large in numbers, was hardest hit by the recent recession often losing their jobs to younger, less experienced and cheaper workers. Despite anti-discrimination laws, experience and age are no defense from the barrage of challenges. No sanctions or outcry when Jimmy Fallon cracks a joke with a Boomer or “old person” at the butt of it.
It’s all rather depressing when you think about it. But I don’t give it much thought. Instead, I forge ahead and do what I need to do without giving much thought to my minority status. AARP’s new CEO, JoAnn Jenkins talks frequently about “disrupting aging.” I like that thought, but we should take it a bit further. Let’s disrupt the labels that keep us from achieving our goals and our dreams. If someone tells you that you can’t do something because you’re a woman – do it anyway. Amelia Earhart and Madeleine Albright did. If someone tells you that you can’t do something because you are Hispanic, Black, Irish, Asian or whatever – do it anyway. Rita Moreno, Bessie Coleman and Ellen Ochoa did. If someone tells you that you can’t do something because you’re too old – do it anyway. Vera Wang began her career as a designer after she was 40, Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50 and Laura Ingalls Wilder did not publish her first book until she was 65.
There are thousands of examples of women, Hispanics and Boomers breaking down barriers every day. We can prove society wrong by showing that labels should not define what we do and who we become.
There have been times I have felt angry and despondent about those labels. But my dad used to ask, “Are you bleeding? Did it kill you? Did they take away your birthday? No? Then, shake it off and move on.”
I still have much more to accomplish, and I can’t let labels get in my way. Just as when I was riding in that elevator so many years ago, the reality is that I am not a triple minority – I am a triple threat.