First account story from a country where similar issues are often ignored or invalidated
When I launched my business 2 years ago, I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into. My successful parents had given me a very liberal education. My ideas had always been supported, even if they sounded controversial, and experimentation and creativity were encouraged. I spent my university years in Paris – a city of liberty and free opinions, where I was surrounded by friends, who, like me, were struggling to become something: European, people of the world, educated, constantly improving, meeting new people and cultures… and finally helping each other on a daily basis. If I had any issues in those days, it was because of my origins, never due to being a woman.
In all honesty, I didn’t have to worry about being one until I launched my digital content production studio, RDY, in Bulgaria. Luckily for me, the first project I got involved in was international and led by a woman; so was the second one.
Soon after, however, came the slaps. Here are some of the phrases that I heard from people I was seeing for the first time in my life, before they attempted to get to know who I was or what I was able to do for them:
- I can’t do business with you because you are a woman, I am attracted to you.
- I distribute my yearly marketing budgets during lunch with friends… or evenings, but you have to contribute. Wink!
- Who is paying your salary? Don’t tell me you don’t have a guy paying your bills?
- Don’t worry, if you find yourself without clients, you will find someone to pay your bills. You are a team of really pretty women!
- You have really produced this video? You? Come on, tell me who is the real team behind it!
- And you can not code? All you do is strategy?
I started asking myself what I was doing wrong. With every subsequent comment of this sort came an element of surprise, then confusion and finally they turned into anger. I tried to express my frustration to colleagues in Bulgaria and looked for advice – but they were all so used to this type of misogyny, that they didn’t even see it as problem anymore – they found it FUNNY. On the contrary, to my friends living in other countries or continents, or having dealt with international companies, it seemed like a brutal fantasy or an exaggerated story.
While still working as an employee, I remember hearing people say that they preferred to work with men. Men are more reliable, they said, they are not emotional, they are rational – it is what everyone needs in business. Women are bitches – declare others – even more often to other women, sadly. And everyone just keeps laughing; at that point I was laughing too…
From the moment I started working for myself, I realized that more often than not, I prefer to do business with women, when it comes to local campaigns – simply because most of them give you a chance to prove yourself as an expert, not as a woman.
During a recent meeting with a potential client, I was interrupted so often by the two men I was meeting with that I couldn’t even focus on the presentation of the creative I had worked on so hard during the past week. Instead, I had to enter into an explanatory and self-defensive mode. I began the presentation and was quickly interrupted by the following phrase: ‘’Don’t try to bullshit me – I have watched Mad Man; I know what advertising is.’’ Needless to say, this type of behavior stops the conversation and a potential collaboration in its tracks.
That day I found out that there is an application called Woman Interrupted, which blows the whistle every time a woman is rudely interrupted during a meeting. What’s crazy is not that it happens but that it’s so pervasive that we need an app to deal with the phenomenon.
I realized that when you are hiding behind a company name, or you are working for someone else (preferably, a man) – you are treated completely differently, compared to when you are alone and all you have is your name and your expertise.
I am not scared and I am not giving up. I refuse to bow to the system, change my values or contribute to the problem by playing the role they are comfortable with.
I would like to reassure all women who are trying to make it on their own, for their families’ sake or for the sake of the idea of success – you are not alone. You will meet people that will underestimate you, try to stop you, offend you, take it all away from you so you can go back and rejoin the matrix… but there are also people who will help you achieve your dreams. Just keep looking harder for them and keep working on being the best version of yourself.
Being a woman is not scary. Being emotional is not a problem in business – it is bringing care and true value to a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on artificial intellect and robotics.
Data is great, yet storytelling is the essence of being human. And, at its core, all business is human to human, agree?
I am curious to hear if you’ve had similar experiences and what your ideas would be on improving the business climate for women in traditionally male-dominated societies.