SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Taryn Gibson
Know Your Role!

 I am a twenty-five year old female working in an industry extremely dominated by the “Good Ol’ Boys Club.” My father has been in the Banking Equipment Industry for several years. Last year, he had an idea to transform the way deals are made by creating an auction web site on the Internet solely for banking equipment. He brought me in to the business to spearhead this project and to teach the older gentlemen of the industry how to use this new idea and how it was going to change the way they did business.

 Before starting with the company, I felt I had strong Marketing and Business education and experience under my belt and I was going to drive this business to the top in no time. Once I started, however, I learned that it was much more difficult than I had anticipated and I went through a battle of low self-confidence.

 As luck would have it, the “Good Ol’ Boys” are not only prejudiced against “little girls” such as myself; they are also very reluctant to change. They resist the fact that this is where the world is going and they will have to learn it should they choose to stay in business. They further resist learning this new technology from a young woman who knows far more than they do on the subject.

 While I encountered several different situations after joining the industry a year ago, the worst came while my father was out of town on vacation and left the business in my hands.

 I was still intimidated by the “Gook Ol’ Boys Club” in the banking equipment industry and often felt overwhelmed when customers used unfamiliar industry jargon that I had to pretend to understand. I fumbled my way through many phone calls. “Your package of Diebold 1072ix ATMs are strapped and palletized and are ready for the LTL pick-up.” When my father was in the office, it was less intimidating because I could ask him my many questions once I got off the phone and he’d bring me up to speed on the equipment and descriptions.

 This “incident” fell in to the middle of my struggle to survive in this job and to hold my head above water. I did not have the confidence to stand up to this man. I believe he sensed that over the phone, heard the insecurity in my voice, and played off of my fears.

 A member of our auction web site had purchased a $50,000 package of banking equipment through one of our auctions. He was nervous about sending us $50,000 without being comfortable yet with the process and us as a company. I reassured him and educated him just as I had many other leery bankers. He seemed to accept what I was saying and seemed to feel better about the situation. He sent his money to me that day and I began the process of getting him the equipment he had purchased.

 He called the next day to see when his equipment would be shipped and I explained to him for a second time what the timeline would be. For some reason, he felt this was different than what I had told him the day before and began to panic about his money being in the hands of this “little girl” who was “playing grown-up” and running the company by herself. He actually used the phrase “malicious intent” with regard to my enforcement of our policies.

 In an effort to get a handle on the situation, I rummaged through my messy desk covered in various paperwork from several other deals. In all the frantic searching through stacks of files to find the needed information, I forced myself to steady my voice and sound confident. I had to stand strong so this male-chauvinistic bully could not push me around any longer.

 He unfortunately had become so belligerent that I had to end the conversation and get my vacationing father involved. This was humiliating to me for one reason and one reason only: I have spent my life as  “girl” trying to prove that I can do anything and everything just as good as any “man.” Now, I had to call my father for help. I had to admit that I needed an older man to help me out of a situation that I couldn’t handle.

 This customer already felt that he was better than me, smarter than me, stronger than me. He believed that as a “little girl,” I didn’t belong in a position of power. When I hesitated and stuttered with my answers to his interrogation, he instantly took advantage of the situation to “beat” me in to submission. I felt as though every sentence had a hidden meaning ? “know your role.”

 My father called this man, who was surprisingly very polite to him. They had a cordial and friendly conversation during which my father repeated the exact explanations I had given the man earlier. For some reason, when my dad said the words, they were acceptable. The conversation ended with the man wanting to buy more equipment from us soon and him asking my father to make sure I wasn’t “scared of him.”

 My father explained to me that sometimes “grumpy old men” need to hear it from another “grumpy old man.” “We are a sales and marketing firm,” he explained. “Yes, we also run an auction site for banking equipment, but first and foremost, we are all in sales. As sales people, we must make sure all of our customers are happy. Sometimes this means we have to jump through hoops we’d rather not jump through, while wearing a big smile then thanking them for the opportunity. I understand, I guess, how you could view this as gender discrimination, but I don’t see it as a problem. This is the way sales work. You can have a great pitch, but if you don’t look or sound the way the buyers wants you to, they will go to someone else. The reasons people put faith in the seller are not always reasons we want to believe. We want to believe we are judged by our ability, but that is not often the case. We are very often judged by people’s ideas of what we should be, rather than what we really are. That is sales. That is business. That is the real world. There is no use in getting upset about it because it is never going to change.”

 I was horribly offended because the only reason I was not able to handle that man and that situation was because I am a woman. The fact that I know more about the auction site than any man in this world and could run circles around him with Internet knowledge proved useless. He didn’t want me to be smart or responsible. He wanted me to accept my role as a woman and act only as my father’s secretary. Based on his beliefs and attitude, it is not possible for me to be a partner in the business, whether I own part of it or not.

 I hesitate to speak for others, but I believe it is safe to say that women in male-dominated industries understand that more is expected out of them just to survive. They have to be smarter, stronger, faster than every man that approaches them in order to earn their respect. If it is not the taunting of sexual harassment, it is the assumption that women cannot handle the stress or pressure as well as any man. Not to mention the differences in salaries between men and women in equal jobs and the “Glass Ceiling” that is only apparent to those who choose to see it.

 The “big picture” is that gender discrimination exists in every industry and both genders are affected. Whether it is a male nurse or a female plumber, they all have to deal with the same issues.

 Now, when that particular customer calls in, he will only deal with my father. Unfortunately, he is not the only one.

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