A University of Miami grad, Sandy Rubinstein did not initially plan to go into advertising. Wanting to study Opera, she knew she needed something to fall back on. She wanted to be happy, but she also wanted a path to go down, so a double major in Classical Music and Business seemed fitting. When she began classes, her professors pushed her into advertising. They said she was a natural. She interned at a music television network while in school, and even got a job at a network upon graduating. Now, Rubinstein has been sitting at the top for the past nine year as CEO of DXagency, a full service digital marketing and advertising firm. But the climb up was not easy.
Above: Sandy Rubinstein
Rubinstein was 19 when she began in the music business, where she worked all day and took classes at night in order to finish her degree. But the music business, she explained, was a tough place for a young woman to start her career. “It was challenging, because I was in a business where women would never be seen as supervisors. We were always and only secretaries or assistants.” She had ideas, she had thoughts, and she had contributions she wanted to make, but she couldn’t. She was invisible.
She dealt with male bosses throwing things at her to get her attention. Yelling at her to go pick up their dry cleaning. In their eyes, she would never be as valuable as she knew she could be. Females in the workplace were viewed differently than males. Unfortunately, this issue persists today.
Some ways are subtle. Women who are assertive are seen as aggressive. You may speak just as passionately about something as a male coworker, but the response you may hear is “Don’t be so emotional.”
Some ways, however, are not so subtle. A 2012 PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) study showed how prevalent the gender bias is in the United States’ workplace. Scientists at Yale were presented with an application from a student applying for a lab manager position. Half the applications the scientists’ were given said that the applicant was female, and other scientists were told the applicant was male. Other than the gender of the applicant, everything was exactly the same. It was concluded, however, that the “female” applicant was rated lower than the “male” in three different categories: competence, hire-ability, and likelihood of the scientist to mentor the student. Similarly, the average starting salaries offered to the “female” applicant was considerably lower than that offered to the “male,” $26,507.94 as opposed to $30,238.10.
The 2012 PNAS study shows that the gender bias is in effect; female applicants with exactly the same qualifications as their male counterparts were offered starting salaries almost $5,000 lower.
So, how do we get past this? To Sandy, the answer is simple. “Rise or fall. You push your way through,” she said. “Walk up to the men who look at you like a crazy little girl and back it up with smarts. Don’t discount me just because I’m wearing high heels. Don’t shut me down.” And she wasn’t just all talk, and really did back it up. She blocked herself off with poster boards so her boss couldn’t throw things at her anymore. She called the dry cleaners and had her boss’ dry cleaning delivered to his house and told him she would not be picking it up for him anymore. She talked the talk and walked the walk, and she is where she is because of it.
For Sandy, it wasn’t a question of if she’d get where she wanted to be, it was a question of how and when. The most important thing for her to do for herself was to make sure she didn’t become a passenger in her own life. “A lot of women allow themselves to become passengers, and it’s doing all of us a disservice. We don’t need to be the passengers anymore. We can be the drivers. Make your own path, and be prepared to be the driver.” So, she did what she could and what she needed to. She put herself out there. She finished a five year degree in four. She created a milk carton with a picture of her and her resume on it. She didn’t let anyone get in her way. She knew she had to be smart and fast to get where she wanted to be. “Failure is not an option, and you can’t fail if you keep trying.”