Friday, September 01, 2006

board room

Note: no animals where harmed during this photo shoot. Simon loves me, he really does. He just doesn’t like having his picture taken.



Is there usually not a difference between men’s locker room and the board room?! I might be naïve, but I thought that successful men had high standards when they where gathered in professional context. What is norm?

Last week I attended a board meeting. I was elected secretary and kept notes. An unannounced break came up when one of the men (I was the only female) went to the bathroom. This made the rest of the crowd a bit more relaxed and chatty. The sales manager is such a “mother hen” to all his sales guys. He pampers them and their egos to the point where it’s almost cute. The rest of the board asked how the Swedish guy stationed in the US was doing. They have all heard that the sales manager wants him to come back to Sweden for a year so that he can find himself a wife. In the manager’s experience it’s apparently hard for a salesman stationed in a foreign country to find a mate. Well new information is that the sales guy wants to spend some time in Japan, because he thinks Japanese girls are cute. I am not kidding. This was the actual conversation in the board meeting. Off the record, but still. “So now the company is going to make great business in Japan with him there” one of the guys cheerfully said. “The business expansion of the world is driven forward by men’s se x drive!” was the excided conclusion.

I was speechless. How do you react to such a statement? The earth is rotating due to men’s private parts.

When I lived in the US, there was a cigarette brand – Virginia Slim’s – which adds would say something like “you’ve come a long way baby”. It was pictures of “strong” and beautiful women smoking, and I assume they wanted to say that women have more rights now than we used to. What I’m thinking is: Babe: we’ve got a long way to go.

23 Comments:

Blogger ~Deb said...

Think about it, the world is driven by ‘sex’. “We” meaning---the world… “We” buy nice cars. Why? To impress our potential mates. “We” put on make up. Why? To impress and look good for our potential mates. “We” groom and primp. Why? Etc. etc.etc.etc. I mean, we can all say, ‘well I do it for this and I do it for that’, but studies do show that when a woman is ovulating, she will primp more and apply a little more make up to her face. The human species is a complex and very sexual being. It’s hard not to, unless there’s a “problem”. Eh-hem. But, it must have been quite a challenge sitting in a room full of roosters! They must have been blowing up their chests and prancing around to see who you would look at the most. Think about it---they do this stuff! My friend works for a car dealership. She’s the only girl on the floor. She’s basically ‘prey’---more so than the customers!

6:25 AM  
Blogger Sam I Am said...

"I'm laughing,Last week an investment bank trader accepted £70,000 for unfair dismissal. She had been asked to wear short skirts and give massages, and was made redundant while on maternity leave. Is this a rare incident or is the Square Mile still a haven for unreconstructed men?

Lot's of Lick's
Sam

10:48 AM  
Blogger ~Deb said...

Sam, and how do I submit my resume to this company? Asa! I'll pay ya good $$ to wear short skirts and give me massages!


Ah there I am again being a pig.... sorry!

11:58 AM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Deb – I know: if we don’t consume, we won’t have this economy we are used to either. And so much is sold with sex or based on insecurities (like deodorant to take a simple example). That I gather and even accept (and maybe like on some levels?). If the guy had said that “business is driven forward by the human sex drive”, I would still have found it inappropriate in a board room, but I would not have given the man/woman issue a thought, I might even have laughed. Now I almost got the feeling they thought that only men can be successful in business. My main question is: how should one react to such things?! I am not going to accept that they behave like in a locker-room while I’m there. The dilemma is that I don’t want to come across like a total bitch either. It’s a thin line. The rooster fights men sometimes do can be a bit amusing, but definitely not professional and it is degrading for the men. I’m getting tired of the way men are, is the norm.

Hopefully your friend is the top seller too at that dealer!

And watch what you wish for! I give a mean massage, but you’d probably end up paying me a lot NOT to show my legs…

1:45 AM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Sam: the “funny” thing is that most of the guys on the board are investments bankers.

I’m starting to think this is more common than not. That would be such a disappointment! I have worked so hard for my career. It’s turning out to not be all that I dreamt of.

1:49 AM  
Blogger ~Deb said...

Hmmm, that's some offer.... ;)

Well, I would definitely respond in a SHOCKING way, but that's just me. I'm professional, but when other professional idiots show their true colors, .....then out come mine. I simply 'agree' with their topic if they are womanizing, and see how they like it when I tell Bob from accounting how HOT his sister in marketing is...and if she's single and if she would be willing to 'go the other way'.

That always gets them. Too bad you're not 'on the other side of the fence'.

Now about that massage! Let me know! I'm tense.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Diane M said...

I tend to agee with you. Even though I've seen great change in the last 20 year in the work force, I have to agree with you. We've still got a long way to go.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

I've written and erased half a dozen comments over the past few days here.

Before I insert my foot so deeply in my mouth that I can untie my laces with my tonsils, could you please clarify exactly what it is that so disurbed you about the incident?

Thanks

7:24 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Deb: I wouldn’t be able to control my temper if I tried to answer back in a shocking way. This man/woman issue has been with me all my life and I know myself, if there is something for which I have really strong feelings: my eyes goes black, my voice gets hard (sometimes almost trembling) and I can not control a mean stream of words coming out of my mouth. I don’t want to express all my pent-up aggression at this occasion. But your way of handling is good though, cause it probably makes people speechless. Sweden had a female boss for one of the unions with mostly male workers. When she visit their locker-rooms, there where always pin-ups of naked women. She’d walk up to them and studies them closely, turn to the guy with the biggest smirk (who’s locker it was on) and say “nice girl – your daughter I presume”.

And I don’t think I would take this any less lightly if I wasn’t straight Deb – but thanks for your concern! ;-)

And about the massage: I’m expensive! (and lazy)

10:50 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Diane: Yes it’s sad. I have yet to meet a woman who does not agree that we have a long way to go. Even though I do meet more and more men who are professional and/or nice and are helping the climate to get there. There is certainly hope!

10:50 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Balloon Pirate: as I mentioned to Deb, part of the disturbance to me comes from way back. I have been told ever since I was a young girl that women don’t make good managers, only men do. I was promoted to be a manager pretty early on in my career. That is one thing. The other is basically that I don’t think talking about sex is an appropriate topic in the board room. I do that with my close friends. And men would blush if they knew all the things women talk about! But we do not say things like that to a wider circle of friends and definitely not in public (I can only vouch for my friends and me here of course).

To sum it up: the combo of mentioning sex and men’s superiority in business made me speechless. I’m not saying it’s untrue that business prevails due to men’s sex drive. If I look back in history, there aren’t many women who have taken over new land etc. Where there no successful women in the past? Or is it because history is written by men for men? I don’t know the answer to this.

Do you understand a bit of my feelings now?

10:53 PM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

Thanks for clearing it up.

I'm sorry that you had such a bad reaction to the event. Please understand that what I'm about to write in no way denigrates those feelings.

But as a friend of mine is fond of saying: feelings are just that--feelings. They're real, but they're not reality.

Allow me to re-frame the incident, if I may:

To answer your first question: Yeah, there's a big difference between lockerrooms and board rooms. I've been in many, many locker rooms, and that's nothing like what goes on there.

Although, to be honest, I can't personally compare the two, since I've never been in a board room. That's pretty rarified air for me. And, apparently, for you as well.

However, for those people at the meeting, it's not. That's important to remember. What was an extraordinary event for you was, for those people, just another day at the office. This was a bunch of people on break.

I'm missing a lot of information here, such as the size of the board, and how many other people were in the room with them, but talking about the social life of another employee, while not something I like to do, is a universally accepted practice in the workplace. It's called gossip.

As far as the nature of the conversation: look at the way you described the sales manager: 'mother hen.' That's a feminine term. And what he was doing was trying to be a matchmaker--another role that has traditionally been given to females.

In her comment, deb used the term 'womanizing.' Webster's Dictionary has two definitions of womanize. As an intransitive verb, it means 'to pursue casual sexual relationships with multiple women.' That's not what they were talking about, was it? They were talking about getting this guy married. Sort of the opposite of womanizing, when you think about it.

The other definition of womanize is when it's used as a transitive verb. It means 'to make effeminate,' or, to make more womanly.

Asa, it's my contention that the business world is being womanized in just that way.

Because you were there. In that room. And these guys were comfortable enough with you in the room to talk like this. You're effecting changes in the world, just by being there.

In your last comment, you wrote: If I look back in history, there aren’t many women who have taken over new land etc. Where there no successful women in the past? Or is it because history is written by men for men?

Let's be honest here. In western society, the role of the woman had been, for centuries, one of subservience to men. In the US, women didn't even have the right to vote until 1920. In the 1970's, the most popular show on TV offered the shocking premise that a woman could choose a career over marriage and still be happy.

Do you still have a long way to go? Undoubtedly. But there are more women running fortune 500 companies than ever before, the shenanigans at HP notwithstanding.

You have come a long way. And you still have a ways to go. But now, you have problems in areas you never even used to be. Like boardrooms. To me, that's progress.

Keep it up--you're doing great.

Yeharr

7:49 AM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Balloon Pirate: I appreciate your thoughts in the matter. Something you said really touched me deeply (or maybe it’s my fever that makes me emotional?!). Anyway. Well I guess I have to be more accepting of gossip – to a certain degree. (I despite gossip, probably mostly because I want to know what people say about me, not having it said behind my back.) It was only a few guys and they have known each other for a long time. I will keep working on making the board room and other business occasions a place for people – not just men or women.

Thank you B.P. for taking the time.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

I hope you feel better. Have some chicken soup, and think healthy thoughts.

Yeharr

4:38 AM  
Blogger mal said...

Some guys do not stop and think. In fact, some guys do not think at all about what they are saying and where they are saying it.

Sarcasm has usually worked for me in short circuiting knuckleheaded comments like that one. "no, that can't be it, most men do not have enough staying power to account for it" or some such would make your point.

One thing I do not do, is let it go by unchallenged.

8:45 PM  
Blogger mal said...

mmmmm, I just read BP's comments and he does make some really good points. Maybe I am hyper sensitive too. I do know that in a professional environment, we have to try to keep a professional environment, professional or this garbage will continue.

Also, have confidence, I personally KNOW that women can manage men, including that most skittish of them, Salesman *L*

8:53 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Mal: If I sum up your two comments you are saying: don’t let it go unchallenged and keep it professional. Right? That’s what I want to do – but how do you manage that combo when it’s a non-professional subject?!

One of the best disarming comments to a lot of things in life is to say in a neutral tone of voice: “What do you mean by that?”. Not sure if that would have helped the situation or made it worse though.

I love when the insults I’ve gotten in life are vengeance (hope I’m using the correct wording here!) – by living proof! Thanks Mal :-)

12:27 AM  
Blogger mal said...

Asa, I have always used sarcasm with a smile. It seems to work for me. It makes the point with out coming off "bitchy"

On occasion, with those that reported to me, a "look" like we would get in grade school usually sufficed.

Honestly? I also think I have been fortunate in the people I have worked with over the years. It has made it much easier for me than for some of our peers.

8:09 AM  
Blogger ~Deb said...

Expensive and lazy. You wouldn't happen to be my EX would you???

(hehe) Just kidding!!!

8:29 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

What about a simple, truthful statement?

"I'm uncomfortable with this conversation. Can we change the topic?"

And then, bring something else up.

The beauty of this statement is that it doesn't put anyone else on the hot seat. Because all you're talking about is your feelings, not whether the conversation is appropriate or inappropriate.

The best thing to do is to have another topic on hand. If all else fails, talk about Roberto Clemente.

Yeharr

8:01 PM  
Blogger Buffy said...

I hope you rolled your eyes and sighed loudly.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Mal: I love the grade-school look! It comes quite naturally to me. It could be that you have been fortunate, or it could be something in your “being” that keeps those bad comments away. Don’t leave all the credit to luck is what I’m saying.


Deb: Ouch! But to my defense it’s mostly massage where I’m expensive and lazy. Or so I like to think.


Balloon Pirate: that sounds so easy but might be scary to do! I will have to practice saying that before I use it “live”. That is one of the best things I’ve learned in management classes: to criticize stating how the action makes me feel, not what the other person does wrong. (works wonder in private life as well!) But you are right that it’s good to stock up on topics to talk about instead. Roberto Clemente would be perfect! That might even get the point across.


Buffy: I think I wrote this post because I didn’t roll my eyes and sigh loudly: I was too chocked. I’m more prepared if there is a next time though.

12:45 AM  
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10:35 PM  

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