This article was published on LinkedIn on International Women's Day, March 8, 2022.
My mother's career was nontraditional through today's lens. But in her day, it was just one step after another, and must have seemed quite conventional to her.
Mary Ann Dollar was born on a farm outside Atoka, Oklahoma, in an poorer part of the state known as “Little Dixie.” She was the eldest of four. As a teenager, she left home for Texas State College for Women in Denton (it’s now Texas Woman’s University). Women’s education then was mostly home economics, or “home ec,” which focused on food preparation, nutrition, sewing, household budgeting, and more business-oriented courses such as typing and Gregg shorthand.
Mother was at school for a year or less when she met my father, then a young seminary student, and chose to leave school for an early marriage. And so, for years thereafter, mother was a housewife while my father began a teaching career.
Then, Dad gave up a steady if not lucrative income as a professor and entered the pastorate. It caused a massive reduction in household income, so Mother entered the workforce as a bookmobile librarian. When we followed Dad to Los Angeles, California, where he began a new pastorate, Mother took the social worker exam and soon after became an eligibility worker for Los Angeles County.
Time passed, and we moved for another pastorate. Mother shifted her career to child support enforcement. She loved it. Instead of doling out funds, she began bringing money into the system in the form of wage garnishments and other payments from deadbeat parents. Despite her lack of a college degree, she worked her way up to branch supervisor in the Child Support Enforcement Division of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, managing the branch office in San Bernardino and, later, Victorville, California.
In my senior year of college, I took the social worker’s exam. I waited at the exam site to be called in while sitting with others who were also in queue. One of them, a woman of middle years and an old-fashioned-even-for-the-day beehive hairdo, identified herself to the group as a secretary for an office of social workers. “An insider,” we thought, and she was immediately pressed for pointers. “They’ll want to know that you can work on your own initiative,” she replied, sagely. I winced inwardly, remembering Mother’s stern admonition: “always follow your supervisor’s direction, no matter how ill advised it is or how bad it makes you feel.”
I was shown into a public school gymnasium where I sat with hundreds of other applicants to take a written exam. I then waited to be called in for a rushed interview with two social workers. Sure enough, they gave me a scenario in which I had to choose between following up on a commitment I personally had made or following a conflicting directive from my supervisor. I followed Mother’s advice.
I passed my exam in the top 10 of the several hundred applicants present that day. But I never followed through with social work. Instead, I took a different path that eventually settled me into the business career I’ve pursued to this day.
Carol White hired me into my first corporate job. Gail Silver took a risk and brought me into IBM. Tracey Mustacchio has guided me at RES, through the launch of my consulting career, and today at Secureworks. And there have been many other women who have been wonderful helpers, co-workers, and friends. Great women are great mentors, and their contributions are not confined by gender.
After retiring from a long career in social work, Mother passed away years ago. Her career didn't come first until late in life. But by then, she had accomplished a lot.