How to be a feminist when you’re selling to a sexist.


Something I hold very close to my heart is my belief in true equality between men and women, I could probably write whole books on my beliefs in this area (and hopefully someday will) but for now I’d like to focus on a question that I don’t actually have an answer to; how does one remain feminist AND professional whilst a dealing with a sexist prospect? I do not have an answer to this, nobody really does because the way women navigate sexism in the workplace is an incredibly personal thing and changes for each of us. Also if there’s any men reading this and thinking this post isn’t for them, don’t be a twat, keep reading.

I personally am quite lucky, in my work place banter is encouraged. I know some women reading this may have just internally cringed at the word banter but it’s okay in this context and I’ll explain why. I mentioned in a previous post that I told my boss to fuck off on my first day but I didn’t mention why. One of my female colleagues had acheived something beyond her targets that day and my boss said ‘Well done, it took balls to do what you did and you’ve proved you have them!’. Everybody congratulated her and clapped and it was lovely. A few moment’s later I was asked to comment on my first day and I did and I added ‘but (bosses name) can fuck off if he thinks doing badass things requires a set of balls’. All the women around the table laughed and my boss agreed that balls were not a requirement for badassness. This puts me in an incredibly lucky situation among my peers in the office. There is a jokey atmosphere and although I may come across as preachy or annoying, I know that I can challenge everyday sexist terms and still remain secure in my job. Not everybody has it so easy and to those people I am sorry, I would love to be able to give you a quick step by step but I can’t, I don’t have a magic social equality wand (no matter how many times I wish for one).

A big part of my job involves speaking with people high up in companies, sales and marketing directors, managing directors and sometimes CEOs, these are prospects or sometimes clients, it is a very different situation challenging them. The company I work for, although we sell software, the name sounds unusual and when asking to speak to somebody on the phone, at least once a week I get someone alluding to my work perhaps being of a sexual nature or laughing at me. At least once a day I get a man (it’s always a man) calling me ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ or something along those lines in a condescending manner. Now this may not seem like a big deal but, like all of the parts of our society that undermine women, they add up to one big problem. Part of me wants to mention I sound young on the phone and this may have an impact but a bigger part of me wants to say that really, it shouldn’t. It is not my fault the way I sound, my voice is a part of me and no matter if I do sound young and I actually an adult woman who deserves to be spoken to in a respectful manner. And even if I was younger, a child certainly doesn’t deserve to be spoken to in that manner either.

If I was in a bar or on the street or even on the internet and I felt safe in doing so (which is a WHOLE different matter) I would have absolutely no problem telling a sexist man to fuck off and leave me alone, I don’t want him to impact my day and I certainly don’t want to continue to interact with him. But at work, when it’s somebody you’re trying to sell to, when this is someone who may become a client then I have to behave in a different manner. Telling a prospect to fuck off just isn’t something I can do, it will damage my career and damage the reputation of the company I represent. What I normally do is to remain as professional as possible, do not laugh, do not get flustered, simply continue to talk professionally and calmly with the knowledge that you know what you’re talking about. This is what I do but the question I’m stuck with is; is this enough?

Recently I have been going through some personal changes, I’ve been reading a lot of literature and I’ve been listening to some excellent feminist podcasts and I have come to some conclusions about myself that I’m not happy with. Whilst I have always been very comfortable in labelling myself a feminist and calling people out on some, quite frankly, bullshit behaviours, I’m not sure I’ve been doing enough for myself. If you know me then you know ‘sorry’ is the most common word I say. I apologise for taking up space, for being a person and this has to stop and it’s especially important as a woman in the workplace. A place that up until not very long ago was only for men. A place that is still so male dominated and male centric that ‘maleness’ is the norm. So what I’m trying to do is to challenge myself, stop apologising for who I am, do not let people get away with sexism. My answer to the previously posed question of ‘is this enough?’ is a vehement ‘no’.

BUT although it is not enough, there is still nothing I can do about it on my own. I can stand up to prospects, I can tell them they’re being sexist or tell them they’re making me uncomfortable but that will not change anything and will likely mean I do not hit my targets and then get fired. I will not let sexist men be the reason I don’t perform well at work. So it’s a catch 22, if I straight up call them out then I don’t do well thus proving the whole ‘women aren’t good at business’ stereotype, if I don’t do anything then they get away with it and nothing changes. So no, I do not have an answer for you really, this ‘how to’ was more of a ‘I don’t know’. But this I do know; if more men examined their behaviour towards women in the workplace then this wouldn’t be a problem.

Women need to examine themselves too though, stand up straight, do not laugh, do not become flustered. You have just as much right to speak, to succeed and to be badass as the men around you. You have that right but you also have a duty to yourself and other woman to stand up for that right. I know it sucks that we still have to fight for it, that it’s still harder for us, that we have to put up with stuff men don’t and that no matter how many times we explain to them, they will never actually understand what we mean but giving up is not an option I’m afraid.

I would apologise for the preachy nature of this post but I’m not sorry.

Why working for a small business could be right for you (or not).

So for my first post on my new blog I thought I would write about my experices of working for a small business. I work for a little tech company in Manchester. The company is fairly new, about eight years old, and has around 25 employees. This piece will be on the pros and cons of working for a small business and why you might want to work in a place like this or decide it’s ultimately not for you.

You matter.

To use a worn out metaphor, a business is a machine, some of them are large and complicated and some smaller and more straight forward. In a small business, whatever part you play will be important to the running of that machine. While in a large business you may be able to fade into the background, in a smaller business your job will impact others around you and you will be able to see the results of your efforts. I happen to work in sales as part of a small team of five, and our weekly targets and achievements are displayed in front of everyone, we all work towards a monthly target together meaning each of our efforts matter on an indivdual level as well as part of the team.

Not only does your work matter in a small business but also your opinions. If you have an idea or a suggestion on something that might help you are much more likely to be heard when your CEO is someone you feel comfortable speaking to. Although at the moment I am not high up in the company, this does not mean my voicec is never heard and if this is important to you, you may want to consider working in this kind of environment.

There is however a flip side to this, if you have a bad day or week, it will matter. Everyone wants their hard work to be recognised, however they may feel differently when their flaws or failures are blatent to all their coworkers and there is no hiding behind anyone else in a small company, you own up to your mistakes and you must be willing to work to right them.

Your boss might be your friend

Now of course I can’t speak for everyone here but where I work my bosses are friendly. On my first day the CEO bought me a beer and I told him to fuck off. Separely of course, I would never tell anyone to fuck off for buying me beer but the point I’m making here is that there is a very relaxed atmosphere towards most things in my job. The structure where I work is that the CEO is ‘The Boss’ but I also have a manager who I answer to. There is basically no topic off limits between me and my manager, we discuss anything and everything. When my grandmother was first diagnosed with a serious illness she was one of the first people I went to and cried on.

The relationship between me and my manager works on mutual respect, she is there for me, not only as a manager but also as a friend. She trained me and taught me how to do my job and I still go to her for advice on certain prospects but she also made my transition into the office easier, I have a lot of respect for her as a person.

Where there may be difficulties though is that given the nature of our work relationship, the fact she is my friend can have implications in a professional sense. When certain problems arise you may not feel like going over your friend’s head to their boss. Or when they have to reprimand you or tell you that you’re doing something wrong, resentment may grow between you, stronger that it would if there wasn’t the friendship element there.

It’s a difficult line to tread and one I may not have fully worked out but be warned, if you end up working in this kind of environment, caring about your boss or coworkers as more than that can be really rewarding and amazing but it is not always a good thing.

There is opportunity

As I mentioned before, in a small business you matter and your voice can be heard. As well as this there may opportunity for growth in your career but also as a person. My role is primarily a sales role but this doesn’t mean I am chained to my responsibilities. There are other parts of the company I can have an input in, for example I just wrote my first blog post for the company website, I may post a link here once it’s put up. I also have opportunities to ask the developers anything I want to know to learn about the product we sell. I have opportunities to learn about all areas of the business and put what I learn into practice in my own role.

There are also opportunities to move across roles. Very few of the people working in my office have been in the same position for their entire time with the company, a smaller business may give you the chance to explore what you’re really good at within a business or what you may really enjoy.

Now I know there are many many more pros and cons of working for a small business but I will keep my first post of this blog relatively short for now. I may revisit this topic at a later date as predictably, I have many more thoughts on the matter.