Boomer and millennials- the struggle is real and documented with a listicle almost every day. Boomers were too busy destroying the housing market to pay attention to millennials when we were children, and now we wreak havoc on them by insisting on fully automated, luxury gay space communism and killing their favorite casual dining chains. (Remember Bennigan’s? That was the first.) At least, that’s what a plethora of poorly written, sensationalistic blog posts would want you to believe. I think that the reality is so much more optimistic.
I am the very model of the typical millennial. I love brunch, especially if it’s got avocados. I have fantastically unusual hair that requires little attention for it to be well-coiffed. And of course, I require lots of feedback on my work to know that I’m producing something that meets expectations. I unapologetically use a binder covered in rose gold unicorns and stars when I meet with clients. In the business world, I’ve had a successful career in marketing and coaching authors in writing and publishing their books, and helping clients get on NY Times Bestseller lists to secure media and speaking opportunities.
Brad Szollose, on the other hand, is a Baby Boomer. He also enjoys brunch and avocados, not necessarily at the same time. He has fantastically classic hair and is incredibly secure in his business skills. He’s worked on hundreds of legendary marketing campaigns and product launches and is best known for being the co-founder of K2 Design, the first dot-com agency to go public. He prefers phone calls to text and can also quote Star Trek better than I can, which makes me question my nerd status. He is my business partner.
In-between me killing various industries and him bringing down assorted markets, we’ve built a strong and unexpected friendship. Brad is kind, open and treats me like an equal. When I speak to him, he actually listens. He’s a lot of fun to be around and we have more entertainment choices in common than one would expect. He’s taught me about Rush while I’ve reintroduced him to David Bowie. After our epic singalong in a crowded theater to the Elton John biopic, Rocketman, he’s become the one person I actively want to go see movies with.
We still fight over politics and social misunderstandings, up to the point of me yelling, crying, putting on him restricted access to my social media, sending his messages to the ignore file, blocking him on all social channels, programming his number to go directly to voicemail and writing beautifully epic so long letters on my medium profile that I have yet to send him. (In sober reflection, I may be slightly dramatic.)
What has been extraordinary is that we’ve held space for each other in life’s pain. Over the past two years of knowing him as a friend, he’s been there to work through resolving my sexual abuse, understanding the after-effects of my divorce and untangling decades of low self-worth. He has been patient through it all, never telling me what is right or wrong, or judging any of it. Brad just supports me and it’s been my privilege to be there for him in turn.
Recently, we decided to take the plunge and start a business together. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but the differing energies make magic happen. In the past few months that we’ve been business partners, we’ve launched a business, a website, and a podcast, and laid the groundwork for 5 more projects. He’s pushed me to get my website done and work on my own podcast. I’m pushing him to get his book done, along with other projects that solidify his and our brands.
These are the things I’ve learned working with Brad Szollose:
They are lessons that, in my opinion, I, Elizabeth Anne Hamilton, could only learn from an older man.
Working with Brad has ultimately changed me for the better, but not every woman is fortunate enough to work with someone like him. In truth, my story is the outlier. Studies have shown that over 60% of American male managers don’t want to work with women subordinates in a one to one fashion, or even consider mentoring them. This is truly unfortunate because women are 24% less likely to receive advice from senior associates in general. Since interaction with people more advanced in your field is a proven factor in success, this means that women are more likely to struggle in the corporate world or in entrepreneurial endeavors.
My relationship with Brad is proof that it doesn’t need to be this way. When men work with and champion women, they create better end results, better companies, and a better world. But how do men do that? There are many different recommendations to be made, but the most impactful can be the simplest.
Let’s go back to Brad. One of the things that makes me incredibly uncomfortable is his unceasing habit of telling people how great he thinks I am, in very definitive terms. “She’s a marketing genius.” “Elizabeth is just amazing when it comes to this stuff.” “She’s a unicorn.” “I couldn’t have done this without her.” I came across a story from Sheryl Sandberg, who described the same phenomena with her male colleague. She asked him to stop because it was embarrassing. He told her, “Sheryl, this is how it begins. This is sponsorship. This is how things take off for you and you need to become more comfortable with me doing this.” By becoming her biggest fan, Sheryl’s colleague made sure that people knew her capabilities and would respect her. It wasn’t something that cost him a great deal of time or energy, but it would help Sheryl secure her reputation. A tiny action with a huge payout, it started a chain reaction that led to her becoming the CEO of Amazon.
Recently, Brad and I coordinated a conference call with a potential client made up of three men and one woman. During the call, oddly enough, the senior players started asking my advice on all parts of their business and Brad went silent. With one question after another, I kept asking myself “Why isn’t Brad stepping up here?” I felt slightly abandoned and just… uncomfortable. They were asking me things that I felt I wasn’t fully qualified to handle. Suddenly, the vibration of my phone caught my attention. It was a text from Brad.
“You can handle this. They love you. Just go with it.”
And so I did. He didn’t save me. Instead, he let me have the spotlight and the opportunity to prove to myself that I have the right stuff. There’s been many more of these occasions where he has been my champion for my talents, even when I didn’t quite understand it. There will be more to come, I’m sure of it.
So, Brad, thank you for making me uncomfortable. Incredibly uncomfortable.