When I was growing up, my dad and my brothers built a clubhouse in our backyard. It was quite possibly the coolest thing a 6-year-old could ever hope for: a separate, private place to hang out with friends and away from parents. I remember watching them build away for several weekends. The end result was approximately a 10’x10’ structure with a shingle roof, two sliding windows, a wood door, white vinyl siding, and a 3-foot-wide painted plywood deck on all four sides. Essentially, a mini house. What made this clubhouse especially desirable was that it was perched on a hillside, on stilts. The front of the clubhouse was about 5’ off the ground and the back had a drop-off of about 10-12’ high – which meant getting INTO and out of the clubhouse required some maneuvering, bravery (and a little risk) – especially for a first grader.
I believe my dad and my brothers were well intended with this project. But, when I asked why they were making it so hard for me and my sisters to enjoy, my dad asserted, “If you’re able to climb up, you’re old enough to be in it.” Maybe that was his way of keeping his daughters safe? What he didn’t fully consider was that my older brothers were easily able to use their height and strength to climb up on their own. In contrast, for me and 3 of my sisters still living at home, the climb required standing on one another’s back or getting a boost or a step ladder or some combination of all of these things. None of us could get up there alone. And, getting the last one up required laying with one’s stomach flat on the deck, locking arms, holding on and pulling like crazy.
The clubhouse was closed off to us as individuals, but not as a group – not if we banded together and helped each other up.
Once it was completed, we never complained about the construction of this clubhouse. We just accepted it and realized we would have to learn more climbing skills, how to maneuver a rope or pair up and help each other out if we wanted to be in it. With time, our bodies grew, and our muscles got stronger, so we were able to climb up on our own. At such a young age, it was impossible to know that this would become a metaphor for work: that there was a structure/system, built by (mostly) men that limited access to others (women and non-binary people).
Fast-forward many decades to the 21st century and we’ve made some marginal progress on equity issues, but not nearly enough. The clubhouse is still out of reach for many. And, some might lack access to a fellow colleague, mentor or friend for the essential boost. It’s not only time for the doors of the “clubhouse” in corporate America, in board rooms, athletic departments, schools and government to be opened, but massively widened, accompanied by a big outreach lifting others up –making room for all people who have the skills, experience and ambition to be there.
I believe an equitable workplace will be the norm one day. But to get there sooner, we all have to play a part in dismantling systems that protect some people, while holding others back – whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Equipt was founded to give women a boost. For you to stand on our shoulders.
I don’t think my dad would argue with that.