When I worked for the ad agency many years ago, I spent a lot of time on the road, traveling with a client.
Part of my job was to communicate with corn and soybean growers and I loved being out in the field working with them.
To this day, I can walk out into a field and tell you which weeds are growing there and how to control them.
It’s quite a talent that I only pull out during dinner parties these days.
I also didn’t mind the travel. I was young and single and I was seeing the world.
Except…my married with children client had a big, ol’ crush on me and was completely and wholeheartedly inappropriate.
I did my best to manage it, but one night, in Modesto, California, that all changed.
He’d had too much to drink and cornered me in the bar.
I did my best not to hurt his feelings (I certainly didn’t want to be the reason we lost the agency’s biggest client), but I also was scared.
I managed to get out of the bar and up to my room…alone.
Until he came to my room and started banging on the door.
I was a hostage in my hotel room and I had to call security to have them escort him back to his own room.
When I got back home, I scheduled a meeting with the agency’s CEO to tell him about it and to tell him I was scared to travel alone with the client.
He said to me:
They’re our largest client. Don’t you think you can manage around this?
I quit my job a few weeks later.
Sexism is Alive and Well at PRSA Conference
One would think, in the last 11 years, sexism has changed.
But as Voldemort proved with his comment to Billy Bush about being able to grab women, nothing has changed.
Yesterday, at the PRSA International conference, Theresa Payton, the former CIO for the second President Bush, spoke on cybersecurity.
Though I missed her keynote (I was still on a plane traveling here), Martin Waxman has a great recap on next week’s Inside PR.
He said, what he liked best about her speech, was the idea that—in about 20 minutes—you can find anyone using geolocation and their social media accounts.
He said she opened his eyes to how careful we need to be, and what we should be prepared to discuss with our clients or bosses surrounding cybersecurity.
If last week’s DDoS attack taught us anything, it’s to be prepared.
Theresa Payton repeated that message: Be prepared.
But someone else in the audience apparently liked something else about her speech.
Yes, you read that correctly.
An APR-certified professional communicator tweeted that he was distracted by what one of the smartest women on cybersecurity was wearing.
While at a PR conference.
I mean, the irony of it all.
(In fairness, he did later apologize for his tweet.)
So now we have to be prepared, not just for our websites being hacked, but for men making public lewd comments.
Sexism Extends to Professional Settings
And it just gets better.
I have a friend who is one of the smartest women I know.
She has a startup that is killing it and she’s doing everything exactly right.
Right now, she’s doing a round of funding and meeting with investors pretty much day and night.
As a client of my friend’s business, she often asks me if I will speak to her potential investors to tell them what I like (and don’t like) about the software.
I had one of those calls a couple of months ago and the man sang her praises.
He also asked me a bit about my business and made the comment that if my friend and I went into business together, we’d kill it.
I asked him why and he said:
There aren’t enough hot women in tech.
Truthfully, I didn’t think much about his comment until I asked my friend how her final meeting went with him last week.
She told me how they’d met for lunch, discussed how much he was going to invest, and when she could expect the check.
As they were leaving, he said to her:
Next time dress up a little (as he pushed his chest up to indicate she should push up her boobs). Maybe wear some fishnets and stilettos.
Needless to say, even though my friend really needs this round of funding, she’s going a different direction.
We Must Do Better
I could easily regale you with more stories about how inappropriate men have been in business throughout my career.
About the time a client was taking me to my hotel after dinner and tried to kiss me in his car.
When I told a trusted advisor about it, he said to me:
The problem with you is you have a naturally flirtatious nature. So men take it the wrong way all the time.
(He’s no longer a trusted advisor.)
I have four brothers. I love men.
Some of my very best friends are men.
I think I even have a pretty thick skin when it comes to sexism in the business place.
Heaven knows we’ve all had to get used to it during our careers.
But I’m not okay with what happened to my friend.
It’s not okay for a professional communicator to tweet what he did.
Heck, it’s not even okay for me to be blamed for my “naturally flirtatious nature.”
We have to do better.
I know for every story like the ones I’ve told you today, there are gazillions of men who behave appropriately and even get fired up to learn about this blatant sexism.
To you, I say: Please help us do better.