Do you have a minute? I’d like introduce you to Joe our new rep. He really wants to meet Steve (our CFO), but Steve is busy with the auditors. I told him he will be working mainly with you anyway. Bring a couple of your business cards.I walked into a conference room full of men and one woman. Our current rep Tim stood up and introduced me to Joe and we traded business cards. Then Joe turned towards the woman introducing her as Heather. I asked her for her card. She shook her head saying she never remembers to bring them and slouched back into her chair. In the past, I worked with both our rep and his assistant Tracey. Tracey and I never really hit it off, so I decided to make an effort with Heather. I turned to her and said, “So you will be assisting Joe?” She responded with, “No, I am Joe and Tim’s boss. I mumbled something like, “I got that wrong.” She smiled taking it all in stride, but I was disappointed in myself.
Why was I disappointed in myself?
My blog project for 2011 is “Making Women Count.” I had just finished reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins and had begun Lynn Cronin’s Damned If She Does, Damned If She Doesn't: Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business reading the chapter “Still Stuck on an Unlevel Playing Field” the previous evening.
Gender bias can be summed up with these points from Ladders.com:
- Half of all managers at US employers are female, yet when it comes to senior posts, men outnumber the women by almost 6 to 1.
- Women who comprise less than half the workforce in a business are also more likely to be pushed toward tasks that are stereotypically feminine, such as support work.
- Given equivalent positions, men are perceived as more influential than women.
So here I am, my head filled with stories of gender bias and I automatically assume the one woman in the room is a man’s assistant. How could I not be disappointed in myself? How can I begin to “Make Women Count” when my own perceptions are biased?
Did appearance make a difference in my perception?
In my interview with Susan Bulkeley Butler, Susan talks about the importance of "packaging." She says:
Within 5-10 seconds, people have a perception of you based on how well you are put together - your confidence, your body language, the way you dress, make eye contact and shake hands and how you walk, sit and listen.I wonder if Heather had been dressed more professionally (she was wearing a button-down shirt and a pair of khaki pants), had perfect posture and had remembered her business cards if I would have come to a different conclusion. Honestly, I don't think so. I would have assumed she was a nicely dressed assistant. It is interesting to note, Susan’s point is right on; I sized up Heather’s appearance within seconds of meeting her even taking in her hairstyle.
Was there a perceived Gender Bias towards my position?
Absolutely, as I turned to leave the conference room, I heard our President explaining to the group, who were still disappointed they were not introduced to our CFO that 99% of Joe’s contact with our company will be through me. They also didn’t realize I make 99% of the decisions regarding our account with this company. I am sure they assumed I was a support person taking direction from our CFO. Perhaps, gender bias even contributed to Heather's nonchalant behavior towards me.
Ladies - we have a lot of work to do, but on a positive note Heather does have a senior level management job in this company.