Women and Leadership – A Look From Inside The Boardroom
Perhaps no issue has been stirring as much discussion in the leadership field as the continual lack of balanced representation of women in senior management. Faced with the discouraging reality that only 3% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, despite their growing numbers in the lower management positions, it’s not surprising why this topic is getting a lot attention, if not concern given the growing rate at which women now represent current graduates coming out of universities.
Granted, it’s difficult, if not impossible for me to truly speak with any authority as to the challenges women face in the business world. However, that doesn’t make this a topic that doesn’t matter to me, especially given my own relationships as a father, husband and brother who’d like to know the women in his life have just as many opportunities as he does irrespective of gender or other divisive social categorizations.
That’s why I’m delighted to share this story courtesy of Susan T. Spencer. Susan came upon my blog some months ago and in that time, we’ve been corresponding about the issues of women, leadership and the changing business environment. Susan has had plenty of experience working in various male-dominated industries – from serving as the VP and acting GM of the NFL franchise Philadelphia Eagles, to being the successful owner of several meat processing plants which had combined annual revenues of $50 million US.
She recently sent me an advance copy of her upcoming book “Briefcase Essentials”, which not only chronicles her experience in navigating through these male-dominated industries as both a business owner and leader, but which also discusses what Susan refers to as the twelve “Briefcase Essentials” – twelve talents Susan says can help all women become successful in a male-dominated workplace.
Susan offered to provide readers of my blog with an exclusive, first-ever look at her upcoming book and allowed me to pick which ever story I thought my readers would enjoy.
After reading her book, I asked her permission to reprint the story featured below because I think this story truly helps to illustrate the kinds of challenges women face in the workplace; a story that I hope will open everyone’s eyes to how little some industries have changed in the last few decades and how we can’t always assume that those organizations which grace the business headlines are necessarily reflective of the workplace realities women face elsewhere.
And yet, while it’s a sobering story, it’s also one of empowerment – both for men and women – in recognizing that ultimately each of us is responsible for accepting how we choose to be treated; that we can either lie down and accept our fate, or demand not only our equal share, but that we be treated with fairness and respect in how businesses interact, develop and manage their organization’s workforce.
I’d like to thank Susan for sharing this story from her upcoming book. For those who’d like to pick up a copy of “Briefcase Essentials”, you can pre-order her book either through Amazon or Barnes and Noble (Amazon.ca or Chapters-Indigo for Canadian readers). You can also learn more about Susan and her book at her website, BriefcaseEssentials.com.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
La Femme Phobique
In the last chapter, I described my experience with the meat salesman who gave me a hard time before agreeing to visit my Allied Steaks plant to verify my short weights. He’s an example of a hard-core male working in a hard-core male business – that is, a man working in a male-dominated business who has had little, if any, experience working with women business owners.
However, he is not what I call a female-phobic male – that is, a man who will not recognize women as qualified businesspersons and therefore refuses to do business with them directly. They may not be consciously aware of why they do what they do, but such men put women down, ignore them, or otherwise marginalize them – in blatant or subtle ways – thus limiting their business opportunities. Women need to identify female-phobic men and find a way around them . . . because they will never change!
Let me tell you about my experience with La Femme Phobique.
When I was starting Allegro Foods, my food distribution business, I was determined to learn as much as possible about the products I was about to handle, especially because I never cooked anything but microwave popcorn! I read books, spoke with a well-known food critic I knew, and made dinner out every night a part of my education. I picked apart dishes as if I were an analytical scientist, trying to identify the type of meat and ingredients that were used to create them.
I was a good student and studied all the relevant details; in a short time, I knew my own products inside out. For any cut of meat I sold, I knew the animal’s genetics, its characteristics, and the way the cut was created. I could trace the origins of a calf and tell you what it was fed, how it was raised, and how it compared to similar products. Most other distributors didn’t even know what end of the animal they were selling.
Once I felt confident in my ability to talk gourmet, I met with many casino chefs to tell them about my products, in particular the meat products. Most of the chefs had never dealt with a distributor who was a woman, let alone one who sold meat products, but once they sampled the natural veal cutlets and prime steaks I brought, they treated me the same way they would any other meat distributor. One chef, however, wouldn’t give me the time of day: François was a man who had studied with some of the most famous chefs in Paris.
The first time I went to see François, he turned his back on me, barked orders to his two sous-chefs, and even took a personal phone call while I was in his office.
None of the other chefs I’d met with had ever given me anything but their undivided attention. So, it was clear to me that François was a hard-core male who had an incurable antiwoman bias and that he had already made up his mind before our meeting a woman could not offer him anything of interest. After giving it my best shot and getting nothing but disrespectful treatment in return, I politely said my “thank yous” to François and the sous-chefs, who nodded sheepishly as I left.
I was determined to sell to François. His restaurants were the largest users of fresh, natural veal in Atlantic City, and I knew I had a product that was not only of better quality but also substantially less expensive. I just had to figure out how to get around his all too apparent bias against businesswomen. I opened my briefcase and took my talents of being persistent (BE #2) and being improvisational (BE #4).
In the course of getting my food distribution business up and running, I’d met and befriended a young liquor salesman. Frankie was handsome, suave, always well dressed, relatively articulate . . . and male – exactly the kind of person I thought François would listen to.
I told Frankie of my situation and asked if he’d be willing to help me out. I let him know up front that if he’d meet with François and me, and was able to get the chef to buy my veal, I’d arrange for him and a guest to dine at the Sands Casino (one of my best customers), at the gourmet restaurant of his choice. Quid pro quo!
Now, Frankie knew nothing of veal other than what I explained to him thirty minutes before the meeting, but François listened to Frankie as if he were a professor. As for me, I stood in the background and said nothing. In no time, Frankie convinced François to sample the veal. By the end of the meeting, I had the business.
When dealing with female-phobic men, be creative and take advantage of your Briefcase Essentials, as I did, to beat them at their own game.
Copyright ©2011 Susan T. Spencer
No part of Chapter 8 of Briefcase Essentials or any other material in the book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author.
Incoming search terms:
- business woman with a briefcase non copyright
- Is the representation of leadership characteristics as either \female\ or \male\ artificial and/or divisive
- why should we chose female leaders
- women in the leadership management field