Gini Dietrich

Glass Ceilings for Women Entreprenuers

By: Gini Dietrich | August 13, 2009 | 

businessI have a story to tell you. I told Barry Moltz this story this morning and he said, “You should write about that.”

When I started Arment Dietrich nearly five years ago (coming up in April!), I would go to new business meetings and the men in the room would say, “If we work with you, when do we get to meet your husband?” At first I thought it was a social thing. How nice! They want to socialize with both of us.

Then the fateful day happened. I’ll never forget it. Two gentlemen came to our office (there were three of us at the time) and they had on very expensive suits. One of the men placed his Halliburton metal briefcase on the conference room table and said, “If we don’t meet your husband during this meeting, we’ll be working with another firm.”

I said, “I’m sorry, but why would meeting my husband have anything to do with our winning your business?”

He said, “Because he runs the business and we don’t do business with companies if we haven’t met the principals.”

Needless to say, they were escorted out because I was so livid that they actually thought a MAN ran my business!

As I told this story to the men in my life, my friend Mark Allan suggested we created a Remington Steele-like identity for a male business partner. Then my friend Harry Brumleve came up with a name – Charles Arment – and even wrote his bio, which we put on our Web site.

Charles gave me great business confidence and taught me how to negotiate. It was fun “kicking it upstairs” to get approval on what the prospective client was wanting or asking for more from a vendor. I didn’t have to be the bad guy.  Charles was the bad guy. But it also helped me gain more immediate respect because it was perceived a man was running the business.

Then Jeff Wuorio called to interview me about the perception of glass ceilings for women entrepreneurs and I told him the story of Charles. He was so fascinated, he wrote a story about it called “Four ways businesswomen can combat bias.”

When it was evident that Charles was like Remington Steele – made up – I got A LOT of flack. I heard how dishonest it was and that if I could lie about that, what else did I lie about in business. But do you know who made the most stink about it? WOMEN! Men thought it was funny (like I did). Women thought it was terrible and that I was doing a big disservice to the gender.

But in an effort to be completely transparent, we had some fun with it internally and held an obituary-writing contest. Charles died a couple of years ago, but my confidence in negotiations remained. I’ve not once since had anyone ask when they get to meet my husband. And it turns out, we do really good work so we don’t need a man at the top to help with perception issues.

So maybe Del Jones was right last week…behind every successful woman there is a man, even if he’s made up.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Men are idiots…present comment writer excluded, of course.

  • And I was hoping to have Charles on today’s radio show with you!

  • Charlotte Sherman

    WOW, way to go! Wish I had been there when you escorted those guys off site : )

  • On a more serious note (yes I have them once in a while), I applaud you for escorting those knuckleheads out the door and I also appreciate how you had some fun with make-believe Charles and the whole insane men-must-be-the-business-owner steryotype.

  • On Monday I interviewed Claudia Pereira a marketing specialist for Latin America for an American French Company . She agrees, it is still a macho business world, any language, any place. You both have, what many males don´t, success! Smile and keep going.

  • Gini – It took guts to do what you did. I applaud you sticking to your guns and for trusting your instinct. You’re a brilliant public relations pro and people needed to see it. Thank you for sharing your story. Keep up the great work!

  • This completely reminds me of the movie, The Associate with Whooppi Goldberg. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it!! You’ll love it 🙂

  • Angelica

    First of all, do we need to talk about your obsession with having a “name” for everything? The women that were angry about Charles were just jealous that you came up with a way to work around the men you escorted out. This just shows us your resourcefulness, creativity and imagination goes way deeper than I thought. Scary.

  • I have been curious about the name of your firm (obviously, I get the Dietrich part) for ages! Nice to know the back story.

    Having said that, I can’t believe the flack you received from women for doing what you had to do to make ends meet! Honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve had the guts to do it, but when your business and passion are on the line, you do what you have to, right? And, I imagine that it taught some people a lesson on how tough it *can* be for women to get to the top without a man behind them.

    Look where AD is now — I’m thinking Charles Arment was the right man to have in your court. 😉

  • Gini,

    You are an absolute genius. What I love is not that you had to make up Charles because of some stupid glass ceiling, but that you had the creativity to do so, and then to kill him. That is both brilliant and hysterically funny! By the way, the only reason I would like to meet your husband is because he is married to you and therefore must be one heck of a man!

  • What cave did those guys come from, and have they gone back to it?

    Ceilings shall continue to exist and need to continue to be shattered – I applaud you for having the courage to tell those goobers to go pound sand.

  • holy crapoli! that is HILARIOUS. And yes, brilliant.

  • Sarah

    For someone to think that a man actually ran the business and that they just hadn’t seen him is crazy! Way to go for sticking with it!

  • My partner and I, Karl Joseph Helms, laughed are butts off! Actually my partner is Karla Jo Helms but I thought I might just put a little spin on the name for kicks! You are a riot and an inspiration. Keep up the good work!

  • Sally O’Dowd

    You are an inspiration to all business women. I just started my own PR/marketing consultancy and so far have not experienced sexism. But in past jobs, sure, it was there. Thank you for sharing your story and for reminding us that we need to be strong and resilient.

  • Barry Moltz

    So glad you wrote this- so glad our conversation could be an inspiration!

  • It was a creative solution for dealing with a problem that should not have existed in the 21st century. How sad you had to create Charles, but how brilliant it was to do so.

  • Before you showed the guys to the door you should have had a conference call with Charles; “Good morning angels….”

  • I had a similar experience when I first started my business. Every time I would go into a sales meeting with a prospect (mostly men), as soon as they found out I owned the business, they wanted nothing to do with me–or my company. I couldn’t get a dime’s worth of business!

    I finally thought, “Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, so I hired a part time male salesperson. It was never STATED that he owned the business, but it was certainly IMPLIED in the sales calls. Business started rolling in. But here was the fun part: After I would finish a project, I’d say to the (male) client, “Thank you so much for doing business with my company. Working with people like you is exactly why I started my own business; it’s been a pleasure!”

    You could practically hear their jaws hitting the floor. Many stammered something along the lines of, “Uh, uh, we thought JEFF owned the business!” I then explained that Jeff was my valued part time sales person.

    Like you, Gina, I got a LOT of heat from WOMEN!! When I would tell this story to men, they would applaud me for being a creative problem-solver. But the WOMEN would snort, “I can’t believe you did that. By hiring a man you’re putting women down.” A few women even went so far as to call ME a male chauvinist!!

    I am working on a book right now on this very topic, where I went undercover in several companies as a man, and then went in to those same companies as a woman. The results will astound you.

  • Brilliant! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • I’ll be quoting this story to others for a long long time.

  • Okay, this is a poster child of a story. To be told to young girls and women for generations around the conference table fire. Funny thing is, if you look at from a yin/yang kinda perspective, you had to marshall your inner warrior, activate your will, all that lovely stuff, and integrate the best of both genders. And here you are today, fully you. We need it all. And we need to be seen and heard for who we are.

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  • HAHAHAHA oh my god, I just found this from your article about gender equality. If you weren’t my business hero before, you definitely are now! This is the greatest… wow. Just wow.

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  • wdywft

    Awesome story!

  • Seriously, write a book

  • michaelgiese

    When do we get to read his Obituary?

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  • Ameena Falchetto (MummyinProvence)

    My reasons for digging this up will be made clear soon enough but WOW! I am in total awe at how you created Charles … I bet he was hot .. at least I hope so. It really sucks in business how you NEED a man to make yourself more credible – this was my life when I was in Dubai – I always had to “ask my boss” when I owned the company – I dragged John into meetings just to get the damn contract signed! It’s fascinating to see how this male domination was occurring in the US … I really thought it was a phenomenon exclusive to the Middle East!

    You had the last laugh and I LOVE IT!

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  • brookebeason

    Fearless. This is why I respect you so much. Great post, Gini!

  • When I first read this I thought – “I hope things have changed since.” Today (Jan 20, 2012), a lead said to me, “can you bring in an older male client who can convince our owner, who is older, about this?” I said, “I am great at charming old men, better than an old male client could.” I suppose not much has changed…

    •  @manamica OMG Mana. How did I miss this when you originally posted it? That pains me. I hope you did charm the old man.

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  • I love this. If only because I’ve found myself wanting to create a business partner persona to help me get in the door of some places. Yes, this happens. Attended a women’s business event this week and we discussed the gender issue – I brought to the table that we should be teaching women how to negotiate, to self-promote, to be confident…instead of ‘acting like a man’. 

    •  @charlene Amen! We don’t have to act like men to be successful. Why can’t we just be us?

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