Ever since this company made into a couple of 2013 national lists of the fastest growing entities, we have been accosted by a slew of various business services offering their assistance and support: insurance brokers, real estate brokers, HR management providers, marketing consultants, etc., and most notably for me - bankers.
The troubles that befell the banking industry a few years back resulted in its consolidation. The competition among the diminished number of the key players in the field of institutional finance has stiffened. They are fighting for clients with proven records of steady profitability, growing equity, and assets with high market liquidity, which, of course, are not that easy to find in our "recovering" economy. Hence, they are after our business.
All the better for us: We are approaching the expiration date of the credit agreement with our current lender and are looking for a relationship that would be a more suitable match to the fast-growing company. So, I'm doing what I've done quite a few times throughout my career: I'm meeting with a lot of bankers - explaining the business, answering their drilling questions, providing them with extensive data, spinning the info in the most thrilling way.
While all this is going on, I cannot help but notice the increased percentage of women in the banking mix. Well, that shouldn't be surprising, actually: according to many statistical reviews, more than 50% of the corporate middle management in this country are presently females. I hear from our own sales staff that purchase managers of our customers' (industrial sector, by the way) are predominately highly technical women in their 30s.
Of course, as we climb further up the ladder, the numbers diminish: men dominate upper management to the extend of 70-80%, and only 10% of the C-level executives are women. Still, I used to be the only "skirt" in a room full of male execs and financiers. Now, there is a female contingent on the opposite side of the table in 3 out of 4 meetings. Hell, the founder/CEO of this company is a woman. Hence, our board of directors is 50% female (her and I) - we are the tough side of the directorship.
So, here I am in our conference room listening to two representatives from one of the 10 largest banks in the world, who are making a presentation of their proposal (aka a Term Sheet in business dealings). One of them is a diminutive woman of Korean origin in her late 50s - she is the boss, the North-East Regional Director, a big gun brought on to get the deal closer to the finish line. With her is one of her many subordinates - a young and ambitious man in his early 30s. If I end up choosing this bank, I will get him as my Relationship Manager (RM).
The menagerie is balanced by a man at my side - COO/owner/our CEO's whity husband. He has his full charm on: he cannot help it - he has a soft spot for Pacific-Asian women. Now he admiringly "complements" the banker-lady for being deceptively tough, i.e. looking pretty and soft, while being steely behind her eyes. I tense up: here goes seclusive male chauvinism, and you never know how a woman will react to it.
She handles it beautifully, though: "Well, you know how it is - brain and beauty combined are lethal." She turns to me: "Right?" Well, I wouldn't know - never got a chance to rely on no beauty, just my brain. But I don't say that. I just smile.
I wish my COO would do the same, but he somehow takes it as an invitation for further "admiring." "Yes, you are absolutely right. I couldn't put it better myself," and he embarks on telling the bankers how his wife, our CEO, is especially successful in sales because she is a woman who can speak "sweetly on the phone." He actually uses those words. "It used to take me," he says, "four phone calls before Dow Chemical would call me back. But she sweetly leaves a voice mail and they return her call within 5 minutes!"
He is absolutely overjoyed with pride. The Korean lady's mouth gets very thin and she looks at me again -we both know: this is how it is. The men will always find the way to treat us as if we were inferior, whether through insults or with "compliments."
I am disgusted, but I'm willing to dismiss this on the principle "forgive them, for they know not what they do." And right then he turns his head to me, looks straight into my eyes, and says, "You cannot repeat it outside of this room. L. always gets very upset when I say this, even though I mean it as a good thing."
Seriously, dude? You've been warned about it before? By your wife, who is also your boss? And what? You cannot help yourself? Of course, you cannot, because it's written into your genetic code, like a primal instinct. And you are too insecure to consciously fight it off! If it was me... But she is not me, in many ways she is very different. And that's why he'd financed this business for her.