Let me state upfront that this column is primarily directed at women, though there are lessons here for men as well.
I never mind fighting for what I believe in. But when the battle is decades old, though, it starts wearing on me, making me angry. That was my initial reaction last week when I read a blog written by Gini Dietrich, the CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based PR firm. I’ve known Gini for about six months and she’s smart, articulate, and really good at what she does. I always wondered who her partner (the “Arment” in Arment Dietrich) was, but never took the time to ask.
And then last week I found out she made him up. To be clear: I’m not angry at Gini for inventing Charles Arment; I’m mad that she had to. Gini tells how it started: “When I started Arment Dietrich nearly five years ago, 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.” Finally, at a meeting two men demanded to meet Gini’s husband that day or she would not get their business. Apparently these men assumed Gini couldn’t possibly be running her business alone — there had to be a man (her husband) who actually controlled the company.
After booting these sexists out of her office, Gini was commiserating with friends about the situation and one suggested she create a “Remington Steele-like male business partner.” (For those too young to know, “Remington Steele” was a TV show from the ’80s featuring a female detective who hired a “fictitious” male partner in order to attract clients.) And so Charles Arment was born.
Gini used Charles as a foil. If she didn’t like an offer, she would “kick it upstairs” and then told the client Charles wanted more out of the deal. She writes, “Charles gave me great business confidence and taught me how to negotiate. [He] also helped me gain more immediate respect because it was perceived a man was running the business.”
About two years ago Gini fessed up to a business columnist and all hell broke loose. In her blog Gini recalls, “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! Women thought it was terrible and that I was doing a big disservice to the gender.”
Reading Gini’s blog reminded me of a column that appeared in the New York Times last January. The topic of the column, written by Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and corporate trainer, was workplace infighting among women. At the time I was shocked that in 2009 we were fighting battles I thought were fought and won 20 years ago, when this was a real issue.
Klaus, citing a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute (how pathetic such a place even needs to exist) said men are “equal-opportunity tormentors” when it came to bad office behaviors like verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority, and destroying of relationships. Women, on the other hand, pick on other women 70 percent of the time.
Seventy percent of the time! C’mon, we women are better than that. Klaus argues that we can spend a lot of time trying to figure out why this behavior persists, but that’s not what’s most important. “Rather,” she writes, “we need to simply stop our own misbehavior and to call our colleagues on theirs.”
So, are you a workplace bully? Perhaps you are and aren’t aware of it. We all need to examine how we treat our staff, male or female. But go beyond that. Are you active in any women’s groups? (I’m a proud member of NAWBO-LA.) There are quite a few women’s business organizations where you can help and be helped.
Now think about your own company. There are a lot of bad bosses out there. Are you one of them? Do you operate from the “because I said so” school of management? That not only doesn’t work, but often leads to staff rebellion and an eventual exodus. Respect has to be earned; you can’t demand it.
So many of us worked hard to achieve and succeed without outside assistance, we think others should go it alone as well. Klaus calls this the “D.I.Y. Bootstrap Theory,” as in, “Don’t ask me for help, do it yourself.” But examine your success path. Did you really do it yourself? Sure there are the rare few who single-handedly reached the top, but most of us received some help along the way.
In that spirit I want to tell you about the call for nominations for a great program sponsored by Ernst & Young. The Entrepreneurial Winning Women competition is designed to speed up the growth of “high-potential businesses” founded by women. Ten winners will receive personalized counseling and gain access to strategic networks of successful entrepreneurs, advisors, and investors.
To be eligible to win, women must be the founder of their business, which must be less than five years old and have had revenues of at least $1 million in one of the last two years. The winners must also be available to travel to New York in October and Palm Springs, Calif., in November. The deadline to enter is September 4th, 2009, and applications are available at www.ey.com/us/winningwomen.
It’s past time we all stopped wasting energy fighting old battles. We’ve got so yet much to do — let’s get to work.
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