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I Was Told I Wasn't 'Strong Enough' To Be A Secret Service Agent

#SWAAYthenarrative

Evy Poumpouras, Ageless


TV Correspondent and Former Secret Service Special Agent

One of only five women to have won the United States Secret Service Medal Of Valor, Evy Poumpouras is a true renegade. “Even when you fail - which you will - it's not over until you stop trying,” the former Secret Service Agent remarks. It was with sheer determination that Poumpouras came to triumph in her career, and and now she devotes much of her time as an adjunct professor for The City University of New York instructing criminal justice to those that wish to follow in her incredible footsteps.

1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?

I followed my heart in the career choices I made, both in becoming a Secret Service Agent and then a TV journalist later in life. Although people want to give you their advice sometimes it can confuse you. In the end, the only opinion that matters is mine because I have to live with the decisions I make. For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’

2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?

Most people have a stereotype in their mind that women have to look and act masculine to be in law enforcement. I maintained my authenticity and embraced the fact that I was a woman. I learned that I could still kick ass and be a lady about it. I’m someone who takes risks in life and that has always thrown people off. I constantly need to grow as a human being and that requires change. For me, staying the same is staying afraid.

"For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’"

"What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit."

3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?

I was initially told that I wasn't strong enough to be a Secret Service Agent simply because of what I looked like. I trained day and night, and ignored the noise around me.

Overtime I learned that you can't demand respect, it is something people choose to give. But you can command it in how you face adversity and carry yourself. We show the world who we are by what we repeatedly do.

4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative in your own life or career?

There is a narrative that women aren’t strong or tough enough to be in law enforcement. I never bought into that, nor did I care to listen. I wasn’t going to let a stereotype dictate what I did with my life. I trained relentlessly, pushed myself and made sacrifices. What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit. I swayed my narrative by believing in myself and tuning out the bullshit. I define who am, not others. After all, I wasn’t a female special agent. I was a special agent. Period!

5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?

Don't listen to anyone because in the end you have to live with the decisions you make. Even when you fail, which you will, it's not over until you stop trying.

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Lifestyle

Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.


Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."