Born in Kentucky in 1814, William Wells Brown had a father who was a white plantation owner. His mother was a black slave.

Brown eventually escaped slavery in 1834 and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Working on a Lake Erie steamer, he helped ferry former slaves to freedom in Canada.

The abolitionist became a prolific author and orator. In 1853, he wrote Clotel, the rumor-based story about Thomas Jefferson's relationship with slave mistress Sally Hemings. It should be considered the first novel published in the United States by a black person. But technically, this is not correct because it ended up being published in England.

I thought of Brown recently because of one enduring quote of his: “People don't follow titles. They follow courage.”

It's true. It doesn't take an impressive title to prove you are good at what you do. A title describes what you do. Beyond that, it's up to you to live up to your title and to prove that you've earned it. Your title could be dispatcher, outside sales representative, truck driver, or even company president. A company cannot function without all of these people doing their best in their jobs.

Women say they have to work harder to prove themselves in a man's industry. When they do prove themselves, customers and co-workers give them the respect they desire.

At a recent customer conference for Systech, a Woodridge, Ill.-based manufacturer of dispatching software, some women attended a Women in Concrete session. There, they explaned that even though it sometimes takes women longer to earn the respect that some men get automatically, once they get it, their customers are more apt to turn to them instead of their male counterparts.

New on the block

Women said they felt it takes them a little longer to get past that “new kid on the block” syndrome. But when they did prove themselves, there was no turning back. They were trusted and they were relied on.

It's a good feeling to reach that point where others exhibit confidence in you. Sometimes though, the women at the Systech conference mentioned that you can get into situations where you have to prove yourselves to male counterparts over and over again. While this is frustrating, it also is an opportunity.

Often women have great ideas and skills that men lack. If you are placed in a situation where you have to prove yourself over and over again, then you can show off your ideas and put your skills on display. Even if your males counterparts don't show it, they are bound to be impressed, and probably someone higher up will be also. Working harder, being more innovative, and not giving up benefits you in the long-run.

The misconception may be that women aren't good at certain jobs such as sales or dispatching. But that false notion doesn't have to remain as long as women keep working to change it. The women at the Systech conference believe that their hard work is paving the way for next generation of women.

They're right.

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