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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mean Women in Business

Mean Women in Business
by Ellen Elwell

As a lifelong marketing professional who has worked for or with  Fortune 1000 businesses and brands, I have met so many people all over the U.S. Most are terrific. A few are horrible. And the horrible ones always get to me - especially the women.

I started working for IBM as soon as I finished my grad work. I was 23, married and soon to be a mom. They sent me to their training schools on and off for a year...and this education has been a blessing through my life. They taught me how to develop presentations and give to demonstrate their equipment to advantage. . . and how to help customers appreciate and use it. They taught me their motto: "Respect for the individual."

Every week we were rated in 26 training areas - 1 being the top and 5 the bottom. We even got ratings in "groom" ( how you put yourself together for business). To get promoted (down the road), I needed a 2 overall average. The scores go with you - everywhere.

I was always afraid of doing things wrong and getting fired. The ratings became my obsession. And whenever I got criticism, I literally trembled. Luckily, things turned out fine. And I owe my many years of "1" ratings to women who took me under their wing at training...and also the women with whom I worked every day. We were like a family even though we were in different cities. And we networked and helped one another a lot.

When I started my own marketing agency, I hired mostly women - about 95%. I trained my key women managers...and they trained the people they managed. Again, I enjoyed the aura of the sisterhood. Until I got a big portfolio of clients - big companies and brands like Frito-Lay, Ralston, Beech-nut Baby Food, Clorox, Anheuser-Busch, American Express and many more. So the entire picture gradually changed.

In the agency business, account people take constant verbal whippings from clients - especially the agency head (me!). It's just the way it is and you get used to it. The client pays a lot of money for a non-tangible, intellectual and creative property; and many resent it. I call it "kicking the cat." They're frustrated with other things in life and they transfer the feelings to people who can't fight back. Unfortunately, the cat becomes wary and careful to keep a distance.

My mother and father had their own business - restaurants. I started working in them when I was 12. My parents taught me to smile at customers all the time. My mom used to say, "Smile until your face cracks." If you've ever been a waitress, you know that smiling can sometimes be difficult. But you do it!

In my own business, it hurts me most when the mean-spirited person is a woman.
The pattern is pretty consistent: she barely acknowledges people and looks down at her iPad, makes notes and ignores the people around her. When she speaks, she's short and direct and doesn't mind being insulting. She has "attitude" because she's certain she's smarter than anyone else in the room. And maybe she is. But being smart and powerful isn't everything.

Why do I expect more of women than men? Maybe it's because I have enjoyed so many relationships with great women who help one another. I will do almost anything for the "GOG" (Good Old Girl) network and vice versa. So don't mean women "get" it? What do they gain by being mean. You never know...the cat may be in a position to bite back one day!

Comments are so welcome. Have you had this experience? Let's talk!

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