Some months ago, I’ve had an interesting discussion with fellow entrepreneurs about the #MeToo movement and what you can potentially face as a woman in business (not exclusively as a startup founder, but every woman working). We were there to coach wannabe entrepreneurs and we had genders equally represented. As naive as men can be (…), we were discussing if all the sh*tty situations making the headlines may not be the behaviour of just a few horrible guys. Our female coaching mates around the table told us that this kind of things happens on an almost daily basis. These colleagues cannot be flagged as fanatic feminists, let me be clear about that.
Of course, most daily behaviours are not so extreme as sexual harassment and assaults. Fortunately! But there are many situations we have all experienced live, that should stop or that we should – at least – be aware of, and understand the potential impact they can have.
This discussion resonated to my ears for quite a long time and I thought that I should publish a piece about real situations happening all the time in daily business.
That’s why I’ve asked a few female colleagues to list me daily-life situations and remarks that happened to them (and that can be either embarrassing, harassing, frustrating, disturbing or just mis-placed). They sometimes look insignificant or even funny… but think about it more deeply and try to put yourself (if you’re a man reading this) in her shoes and how you’d feel about it!
Last year, I’ve attended the Female Founders Summit in Zürich, and I’ve seen live the stereotype of male investor behaving badly (yes, there was about 10% of men in the audience, and this guy did not understand that, at least at this event, he should consider behaving in a more respectful way!).
I was talking to a friend entrepreneur and he decided to approach me (in a strange way). Of course, I introduced him to my friend, as you always do in startup events. She made her elevator pitch to explain quickly what she was doing. Any question about her business? No. He started complimenting her on her beauty (…).Not that I’m jealous (OK, I may be ugly and no woman I’ve ever met in networking events complimented me on my face or my shape), but why not challenging her on her business? If you’re a female entrepreneur, you’ve probably experienced this many times, but for me, this was so strange…
Here is a non-exhaustive list of What you face as a woman in business today, with sometimes my comments:
(By the way, feel free to reach out to me or to add a comment, so we can potentially extend the list)
- “Who are you representing?” (meaning: I cannot believe you are the decision-maker as a woman)
- “You look 10x better in reality than on your profile picture.”
- “Who is the real founder?” (you may have read this story of two female entrepreneurs who created a fake male cofounder to dodge startup sexism)
- “You have to be sexy to pitch!”
- “And… what does your husband think about it?”
- “But you’re blond!”
- “Ah, you’re a woman” (meaning: I was expecting to meet a man)
- Systematically, remarks on how you’re dressed. (As men, we never get daily comments on how we are dressed!)
- “You wear the same shirt as yesterday: you did not come back home yesterday?”
- “Doctors need to wear a stethoscope, not to be mistaken/confused with nurses” (if you’re a female doctor but do not wear a stethoscope – like many doctors nowadays – you cannot be THE doctor)
- “Is this the wrong week of the month”? (following a disagreement on a management decision to be taken)
- “You must be single”
- “Your life partner is probably earning less than you… how does he feel about it?”
- “Do you intend to have kids? Did you really choose not to have kids?”
- “Brains AND Beauty! It’s a pleasure to meet you”
- “Is the manager joining later?” (no: it’s me… )
- “Can you please take the minutes / write on the flip chart? No, I’m just saying this because women have better handwriting” (I know women who have a horrible handwriting – don’t you too?)
- “Can I have a coffee please?” (stand up and do you own coffee, mate! In one of my previous life, I’ve seen this so many times and it has always been irritating to me. I even experienced a previous boss who walked 3 times in front of the coffee machine while going to his meeting. The last time was to ask my – female – colleague to make the coffees (…)).
- “Can you organise the lunch please?”
- Why am I the the only one to clean the table, after a sandwich-style business lunch during a meeting in a conference room? Because I’m a woman?
- “Are you the assistant?”
- Men making sex-oriented jokes (“paillardes”), like if you were alone with your folks. Without noticing this can be seen as “not very elegant” at least, or actually annoying in some cases. If the woman does not laugh at those jokes and does not thinks it’s cool to do so in a business lunch or meeting, she’d be heavily considered as “not modern”