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From Victimhood to Victory: Gigi Stetler's Rise to the Top of the RV Industry

People

At this point, my life could easily be in shambles. Maybe it should be.


The hand we’re dealt

We’re all dealt a hand in life. Sometimes, we fall into things by chance, sometimes it’s choices we make, and sometimes it’s both.

Let me start by taking you back three decades. I was 25 years old, just starting out, living in Miami Beach, and managing an apartment complex. I tried to help a homeless man by letting him live rent-free in one of the units in exchange for him painting and doing maintenance work. But one day, out of the blue, he turned on me and attacked me, stabbing me 21 times. I was left for dead. I had more than 200 stitches all over my body and my left fingers were nearly cut off. Doctors didn’t expect I would live, let alone fully recover, but that’s what happened. I was released from the hospital after eight days and went right back to managing properties on Miami Beach.

Resiliency is something I believe in deeply. It’s part of who I am, and it’s who I’ve always been but for much of my past, I’ve struggled. I came from a difficult family life and was a high school dropout. I was voted most likely not to succeed. Then, I became pregnant at 31, and raised my son as a single mom. I knew I had to make my life a success.

Gigi Stetler

It’s a ‘man’s world’

Overcoming obstacles became a theme in my life as I entered a male-dominated profession for the first time in the 80’s: recreational vehicle (RV) sales in Davie, FL. The industry was and is virtually all men. It’s a boys’ club in every sense of the word. I remember showing up at one of my first big RV association meetings in my ponytail, makeup, and new business ideas. One guy told me, “little girl, you need to go home and bake cookies. This is no place for you.”

Just you wait, I remember thinking. I had to prove them all wrong.

I kept my business open later and on more days than my competitors. I put an emphasis on building relationships and customer service. And it worked; many of my competitors ended up closing down while my business grew. Things were very good.

But over the years, I had to overcome other hurdles, like restarting my business twice for different reasons and nearly went bankrupt at one point. Now, as the CEO of RV Sales of Broward, I’m in my 31st year in the industry and business has never been better. The RV industry has seen a spike in sales the last couple of years as “glamping” has become so popular and millennials are now one of the largest customer bases I have. We’re seeing record growth and a shift in the demographic. I’m still one of the only female CEOs in the industry in the country, and that’s very rewarding for me. But as the industry continues to evolve, I think we’ll start seeing more women in roles like mine. A good percentage of RV-buyers these days are females and they’re often looking to buy or rent from another woman who can offer an alternative perspective when it comes to travel on the road.

As far as getting into the RV business as woman, you need to be confident and savvy. And that all starts with passion: a passion for travel, exploration, and the freedom of the open road. After that, it’s about business-smarts and knowing what your customer is thinking. Put yourself in their shoes.

What questions would you have? What would you want to know? Then, you need to know your product and talk about it in a way that’s informational but not “sales-y.” Your goal is to help a customer understand they’re not simply buying or renting an RV. They’re about to take on a whole new journey.

Keep looking up

One of my biggest passions these days is sharing my story and trying to encourage others, particularly women, to never give up. I even wrote a book about my life called Unstoppable! Surviving is Just the Beginning. We all fall on hard times and sometimes don’t make the best decisions. It happens, but what really matters is how we respond. Get back up and try again.

The odds weren’t really in my favor. But I never believed in odds anyway.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.