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Women In Business – Boys Are Missing Out On A Good Thing


A recent scene from Mad Men Season 7 / Episode 06 :

Yes, Peggy, they really did just say that.

Yes, Peggy, they really did just say that.

“I don’t like being in this position. I know I can bring this home,” says Peggy Olson when told to hand over her presentation to Don Draper.

“Don will give authority. You will give emotion,” Pete Campbell counters.

I have authority and Don has emotion,” Peggy responds.

Recently, I consulted on a project run by a Harvard Business School grad. After getting up to speed, I noticed several gaping holes in the business model. I also noticed a pattern. If my suggestions weren’t specifically about the “softer” side of the business, they were handily dismissed. I can take rejection when it’s for good reason. Should research not support my ideas or if there’s solid evidence to the contrary, I get it. However, this wasn’t the case. My ideas and input were being brushed aside quickly for little reason other than that came from me. After reading an article on the culture of HBS referencing its President’s recent apology to the female grads, it began to make even more sense.

Finally, I asked the direct question, “You really think that you’re smarter than me, huh?” He answered honestly, “Yes, I do.” At that moment, I shifted my attitude and was actually relieved, really relieved. The disrespectful brushoffs hadn’t been figments of my imagination. I wasn’t making this sh*t up. I knew that I would fulfill the terms of the contract but I would no longer invest emotionally in its success the way I had prior to the conversation. This wasn’t one of those times to push it; choosing to put energy into those situations means a long fight and this particular case wasn’t worth it. I am learning that when someone is  committed to being closed, there’s little you can do about it. Few times, if ever in my career, have I ever felt so summarily dismissed and condescended to – that includes my nearly three years at Mickey D’s when folks didn’t get hot fries.

Erika Hayes James has been named dean of Goizueta Business School, beginning July 15. Photo by Jim Carpenter.

Erika Hayes James has been named dean of Goizueta Business School, beginning July 15. Photo by Jim Carpenter.

Ask hundreds, thousands of businesswomen and, most likely, each of them will have a version of this story. A higher up or subordinate will throw away a concept or idea because the woman delivered it. Often, they have no idea that they’re even doing so. It’s just an automatic response by this point. Sadly, they’re missing out on some of the most brilliant thinking and potentially profitable discussions that they could have.

Thankfully, not all folks think that way and others are willing to push change. HBS has decided to adjust its cases to include more female protagonists. Emory’s Goizueta Business School appointed Erika H. James as its dean (a BIG first!)  Even if it’s at a glacial pace, there is change.

As if to wash that taste out of my mouth, I struck up a wonderful business relationship with Jerry, a gray-haired gentleman from Texas who was nearing 80 years old. He pushed me harder than most, shared his years of experience and often asked my opinion on his new book. When I gave it, he listened. Whether he acted on or included my comments was not the point. He considered them valid and that’s what mattered. The lesson I learned from my good friend Jerry is that there really are some smart men out there.

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This entry was posted on 05/20/2014 by in All About the Business, Cup of Coffee and tagged , , , , , , , .
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