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Can I ask some advice?

(44 Posts)
EustaciaBenson Thu 30-Oct-14 23:40:35

I work in a rather sexist industry (brewing) which has typically been dominated by men, there are more women coming through as brewers but traditionally the only women to work in this industry have been in admin roles. I work in telesales and admin, I bring in about 80% of the sales, the two sales reps who are both men bring in about 20%. One of the reps is incredibly sexist, says things like women get paid less because they dont work as hard, female pub managers dont do their job as well as men do, hes shocked that there are so many female pub managers etc

I challenge him on these views although its pointless because I cant just sit there and listen to it, or the rasist stuff he spews.

What I've come in here about though is the fact that I always get referred to as "the girl in the office" thats what he calls me to customers and hes not the only one. Some of the customers refer to me as the girl in the office. I'm 30 for goodness sakes not 10!

Does anyone have any good strategies for dealing with this? I've considered referring to them as boys to their face e.g. you boys going out to the pubs etc. I know theres isnt much I can do about the customers, maybe a light "I think im a bit too mature to be a girl" etc.

But has anyone come across this and can they give me any advice? Part of me wants to leave the industry because of the hanitual ingrained sexism. Despite bringing in a lot more money I am paid less. Despite being the top sales person I am expected to take minutes in meetings (I accept this may come under the admin part of my job, but its asked with the implication its because I am a woman), sales meeting are held with the men when I am not there, because they will all go out to a pub and get drunk together and I am not invited. Then I find I've yet again been blamed for something because I wasnt there to defend myself

On the other hand I dont want to be forced to leave, I want to try and do something about the attitude, the industry will never be less male dominated unless women do something about it, even if I am in a more traditionally female role. I'm the only woman in a small company. Not everyone is sexist but the men who arent wont do anything about It even though they agree its wrong. They ignore it when it happens and say they didnt hear it or they werent listening. They ignore ofical complaints about it and suggest I put up with it as the main offender MAY retire in april, but if he doesntmI'm sure I'll just be expected to put up with it for a little longer etc

sorry this turned into a longer post than I expected, I think I needed to get that off my chest. Sorry for any spelling mistakes, my fingers and a touch screen do not get on well!

Damsili Thu 30-Oct-14 23:48:31

'Girl in the Office' is a device he uses to make himself feel more important - and to try and present a puffed up version of himself to others. It rather sounds as if you could counteract that by calling him Grandad or reminding him of comparable sales figure whenever possible. It's perhaps a bit petty, but he can hardly complain and it might serve to get your point across (yeah right - good luck with that!) You can't leave though cos he'd have won.

YonicScrewdriver Thu 30-Oct-14 23:54:15

If you are unhappy, you can move - it doesn't mean he "won" - it's your life, not some abstract game or debating society. You don't have to be miserable to prove a point to someone who won't even notice you've done so!

Not all companies will be this shit.

In the meantime, what would happen if you said "let's make the person with the highest sales figures take the minutes - oh, that's me"? Or "let's make the person with the lowest figures take them - oh that's you, Cedric"

Damsili Fri 31-Oct-14 00:02:03

You're probably right Yonic. Just seems a shame, if she's successful...

JulyKit Fri 31-Oct-14 00:10:50

Eustacia - what you describe is discrimination and bullying.
(Not sure if it's helpful to point that out,but anyway...)
Are you part of a union?
Is there and HR department at your work?

YonicScrewdriver Fri 31-Oct-14 00:15:15

DS, why a shame, if OP can get the same or better job somewhere more pleasant?

antimatter Fri 31-Oct-14 00:40:57

Have you talked to your HR about it?
I would write down all examples of such behaviour and ask your manager for help. Only when you mention word HR to him/her you would be treated seriously.

IMHO they do that because they know they can get away with it.

If you are good salesperson you can get a job anywhere you want to. Your manager knows that and I guess gentle reminder of your abilities and that "I am not sure if I can work in this kind environment for much longer" would make all the difference.

Keep notes of all discussions. Sent emails confirming what has been said ("I am sending this email to confirm what we've discussed today...") and see how quickly things will change.

You can also do one trick - go to your manager and say:
"Here is how my colleague Bob talks to me and this is kind if behaviour which I find makes working with him difficult. Could you please observe us for couple of days and help me to understand what I am doing wrong so that Bob acts and talks in such way to me."
Make sure you expect your manager to meet with you on the third day and see what he says.
This way you won't put Bob on the spot, make manager to see what's going on and he has to respond and be constructive too!

Let us know what you decided to do.

Rumplestrumpet Fri 31-Oct-14 08:37:17

This is completely out of line and illegal, and you do not have to put up with it. I'm actually aghast that anyone would suggest you ask "help me to understand what I'm doing wrong" to your manager... ?!?!?!? This is simply outrageous! You are doing nothing wrong - unless you call being born with two perfectly good X chromosones "wrong"... The behaviour of your colleagues AND your management is completely unacceptable and I would suggest you tackle it head on.

You could tackle the two issues seperately, depending on how responsibility is organised in your company. As a general approach I would go in with confidence, and show you are serious.

Firstly, on pay, it is illegal to pay women less than men doing the same job. That said, in the private sector, where the lines are more grey than in the public sector, men often get higher salaries simply because they ask for it. If you're really bringing in 80% of sales, then this should be reflected in your paypacket, so I suggest you simply demand a pay rise. This is often hard for women to do (I'm not meaning to generalise, many women can be cocky as hell, but research shows that women are less comfortable making these demands) - but you can do it. It sounds as if you have a very strong case, so just put together some figures to show how much you are worth to the company, and request a significant pay rise. It's hard to work out what to ask for, but at the very least you should be asking for more than what your male colleagues earn, considering their performance. Be ready to negotiate of course, but don't forget that you should be paid according to your performance, not your age/gender etc.

Next, I would tackle the sexist behaviour firmly, but not bother with trying to make him see reason or stand up to him - we all know that when a woman tries to assert herself in this type of situation, this can easily escalate into further abuse (what's your problem, can't take a joke, must be time of the month, she's probably a man-hater, etc). Instead I would raise this with someone in authority who will take it seriously. You say previous complaints have been ignored, so I would suggest going above the person you spoke to last time, perhaps identifying someone who might take you more seroiusly. Put together a list of comments/behaviours that are unacceptable, and present them. Be very clear that this is not simple banter, but behaviour which has consistently crossed the line. You can draw on a few points here:
- you are bringing in serious money to the company, and as such are a key asset that should not be lost
- you otherwise enjoy your job and are passionate about it, but this is a serious block to you progressing
- it's illegal (do a quick google search and you'll find the references you need)
- you will have to raise it with HR/trade union/solicitors if not dealt with

Obviously, you'll use your judgement on which of these arguments is most likely to hold sway.

If you're hesitating on tackling the sexist behaviour, look at it another way: if you were the only black member of staff, and they were constantly making jokes about "bananas" or making you carry the water upstairs "like your ancesters used to", would you even QUESTION the discrimination?! I can't imagine you would, nor would anyone suggest you take a light hearted, jokey approach to tackling it.

When all is said and done, you do have to consider the possibility that you will not be taken seriously, and you may feel you have to move on. If you've got a real fight in you, you might want to speak to a solicitor, but I know most people would just want to walk away, avoid the stress, and find somewhere they are valued. It's your call. If you get a pay rise first, that will of course boost your confidence and put you in a stronger position when applying for a new role.

If you don't feel strong enough to take any of this on, it IS your right to walk away. The men wouldn't be winning. But if you can manage to muster up the courage to assert yourself, you will most definitely be a winner in my eyes, whatever happens.

And as a very final point, I would recommend reading "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg if you haven't already. It's a goldmine of information, really easy to read, and I found it truly motivating.

Best of luck!

lottiegarbanzo Fri 31-Oct-14 09:12:29

Wow, you're doing sales as half your job and making 80% of sales (or revenue?), while two full time salespeople make 20%. That is amazing. Either there's something structural going on - you deal with the high value clients - or you are incredible and would be a huge asset anywhere, or the others are really crap, or some combination of these things.

Are these figures, or at least your sales superiority, indisputable? Why don't you mention them, loudly and often?

It is nuts that they're having sales meetings without someone responsible for such a significant proportion of sales. Makes those meetings pretty pointless. Have you said that to your manager? What is their explanation? I'd be going to their boss and pointing out the absurdity - and waste of company time.

How are you excluded from these sales meetings? Couldn't you just turn up?

Can you imagine how a man with your record would behave? He'd be full of swagger, constantly talking about how successful and ambitious he is and when he'll buy his Porsche or whatever. You don't need to be a dick but selling yourself and just talking openly, confidently and with relish about your achievements is normal behaviour in an office. It's amazing how easily people believe what you tell them about yourself - and make inferences from what you don't say.

The girl in the office thing is, in my view, a slightly separate issue, though of course it's all mixed up. I think it refers to your admin role. These staff will be used to female admin and reception staff and to saying 'just call the girl in the office and she'll get you in my diary' etc. They'd say it about a 50yo grandmother.

If you are admin manager, rather than 'person who does general admin' you'd have a stronger case for asking them to say 'could you ask our head of admin if she can fit that in', though obviously using your name would seem a good idea!

Certainly challenge sexism but don't it distract you from your work - that is probably part of the point - and do keep notes of instances of that and the exclusion from meetings etc. You may want to be able to set it out to management, or even make a case about working in a hostile environment (I'm no expert but you could have an informal chat with a union). If your colleagues become uncomfortable with your success, it's possible you might find yourself needing to make a case for constructive dismissal.

Most of all, look after yourself. Don't sacrifice yourself to an unwinnable battle. Make plans for what your going to achieve, for your cv, in three months, six months, a year and be ready to jump when a better - most likely more senior - position comes up elsewhere. The twatty men will remain mediocre and bitter where they are.

YonicScrewdriver Fri 31-Oct-14 09:33:39

Another consideration: I don't know what your plans are for family but if you think you might want to take maternity leave at some point, have a think about whether you'd want to do it from there or from a new employer.

Apologies if this isn't relevant to you.

Zazzles007 Fri 31-Oct-14 09:40:22

Don't sacrifice yourself to an unwinnable battle.

I would have to agree with this. The fact that one of these twats can make such sexist comments and get away with it suggests that this in not a winnable battle. Sexist pigs get hired because, guess what, their manager is more like them than not - ie his manager is a sexist pig as well. Being further up the food chain, this manager may be hiding his sexist tendencies.

I have also been the best sales person in different companies. The best thing for you is to look at all the people you know, list the ones who you like and respect, and see if they have contacts that you can get in touch with re: jobs opportunities. If they are respectful of women, they will treat you with respect in the workplace. Life is so much easier when you start off with that premise.

lottiegarbanzo Fri 31-Oct-14 09:59:28

Agree with that. Was going to add that 'if management become irked by your complaints and would rather not face the unwanted hassle of changing anything' is another reason you might find yourself needing to make a case for constructive dismissal.

Your sales success should play in your favour with senior management but don't underestimate the possibility of extreme complacency in their part. They might prefer to bumble on in mediocre style unchallenged, than address the real, serious issues you raise and face the fallout.

MyEmpireOfDirt Fri 31-Oct-14 10:01:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MyEmpireOfDirt Fri 31-Oct-14 10:03:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FunkyBoldRibena Fri 31-Oct-14 10:34:48

There are many ways you could go.

A - make a fuss, and keep complaining.
B - retort each time 'Yes we work so much less that we get nine times more sales. How is that exactly.' Female pub managers, jealous - much'. Retort retort retort.
C - each time they make any comment, you go to your bag, get out your pen and diary, look at your watch, note down were you are, what time, who is there and exactly what was said. Then quietly put your diary away. If they ask what you are doing, you say 'I have been advised to note down every instance of sexism from my colleagues' and say no more. Make sure you take the diary home each day and photograph the pages so that it is all recorded for future use. Do not say who has advised you.
D - leave.
E - go to the head honcho and point out your consistent sales figures and negotiate a pay rise and management of the 'boys' so that you can bring them into line [sales-wise]. Then at the first sign of sexism, take them through a disciplinary and get rid of them and hire better sales staff.

antimatter Fri 31-Oct-14 10:37:41

Rumple - I suggested in my post what worked for me in a similar situation. If well documented it will help OP to move forward.
Have you yourself complained about sexist behaviour and proven your point to your manager or HR? I am asking that because I have. And have better sleep and less stress at work for it.

Rumplestrumpet Fri 31-Oct-14 15:54:39

Anti - I guess what we're all doing here is try to offer a range of approaches that the OP can consider going forward. I'm glad you found an approach that worked for you. That said, I was - and remain - very uncomfortable about your suggestion, as it clearly transfers blame from the perpetrator (where we all agree it belongs) to the victim. I just don't see how that can be a positive approach for either the OP herself or for all of us trying to overcome such discrimination. As women we are CONSTANTLY being told we need to behave differently (dress differently, smile more, etc etc) in response to harassment, and I feared your suggestion would only accentuate this.

FWIW I have tackled bullying and discrimination in the workplace by going up the chain and being very frank about the fact that it was unacceptable and needed to stop. I was able to do this because I knew the person I spoke to would HAVE to take it seriously (public sector), even though he would probably think I was making more if it than I should (and as you said, using concrete examples that I had noted down). That worked for me, and I felt empowered by it - and I know for a fact that my approach also empowered other women I worked with, and reassured them that what they were experiencing was neither acceptable nor their fault.

I respect the choice of any woman or any victim of discrimination to simply walk away, or do whatever it takes to reduce the stress - like I said, it's her right to do this. But I just wanted to encourage the OP to consider whether she might be able to take a strong stand to put a stop to it.

antimatter Fri 31-Oct-14 16:11:47

I am not sure that my suggestion is about transferring blame. It is just a technique I used suggested to me by someone long time ago.
It isn't always possible to be very open about everything at work (in my case perpetrator and my boss were very good mates).

Anyway OP will choose her best way to tackle her situation. IMHO her boss can see and quietly agrees with the current status quo.

EustaciaBenson Fri 31-Oct-14 18:07:07

Thank you all for your suggestions and support. To answer a few questions

There is no HR department its a tiny firm, less than 10 people in total

The only person above my boss is this salespersons best friends and has been for years. He's the one who has the sales meetings without me, hes the one who asks me to take the minutes and he's the one who gets sarcastic if I dont offer to make him a drink the moment he walks through the door even if I'm busy

My boss and the other director (there are three, my boss, the guy above and a third director) agree that it sexist. I have been pretty blatant and and said that I could get another job with my sales record and shouldnt have to put up with this, thats when I get told he is possibly retiring soon and if I just put up with it it will stop, but they dislike confrontation and so wont do anything about it

The sales meetings are arranged without me being told about them I find out afterwards

The thing that complicates all of this is that these two sales people are self employed, I dont know where I stand on bullying in the workplace etc when it is done by people who arent employed by the business

I tried to point out that I was a bit old to be called a girl today when the salesman said "good girl" to me when I offered to do something but as usual he just ignored it. If someone says something he doesnt like he either ignores it, talks over it or stomps off in a mood and then I get accused of bullying him. Hes actually accused me of that before, because I ignored him when he came into the office once, luckily my boss was there and did point out that I was on the phone to a customer at the time!

As for the sales split, they are terrible sales men to the point of it almost being funny, but they are also the bosses mates

I have asked for a payrise, twice, but its been turned down because the business isnt doing well enough, as the salesmen have recently been made self employed and are paid less than they were before its probably true

I hope that answers all the questions. I am very fed up about this, but I'm going through treatment for infertility, and they are excellent about it, fine about me changing my hours for appointments or taking time off at short notice. I don't really want to have to move jobs at the moment hence needing the strategys to try to combat this.

Theres no point doing the whole observing thing between us as in my bosses words the salesman in "a bit of a knob" and hes aware of the situatio

FunkyBoldRibena Fri 31-Oct-14 19:49:12

There is every point doing the observing thing. It makes them think that you have an adviser and stops them in their tracks. They do not know whether it is internal, or a solicitor that has advised you. It is a very powerful tactic.

Blistory Fri 31-Oct-14 20:18:34

"I am very fed up about this, but I'm going through treatment for infertility, and they are excellent about it, fine about me changing my hours for appointments or taking time off at short notice"

Firstly good luck with the treatment but you do realise that you don't have to be grateful for this. It doesn't cancel out the other stuff you have to put up with. Obviously you know that the correct thing to do is to raise a formal grievance over the sexist behaviour but to be honest, I can see why that is unappealing, particularly in a small organisation without an independent HR department to approach.

If you do want to pursue it, the fact that they are self employed is irrelevant - your employer has a duty of care to you whilst you are in the workplace.

EustaciaBenson Fri 31-Oct-14 20:39:47

Sorry funky I meant getting my boss to observe our interactions, I actually think keeping the diary is a good idea and I will start to do that thank you

EustaciaBenson Fri 31-Oct-14 20:41:56

Blistory I have raised a formal complaint to my boss, a few days later I got told not to worry about it it was sorted but nothing has changed, if I raise another complaint I'm sure the same thing will happen again, unfortunately I think the only way to change it is to use an outside influence eg a tribunal and going through fertility treatment is probably not the best time to do this

Zazzles007 Fri 31-Oct-14 20:53:18

Oh Eustacia, that is a pretty shit situation you are in. I have been a similarly, very sexist environment in the past.

I have done post-grad business degree, and women in business is a pet topic of mine. Do you realise that with one person bringing in 80% of the sales, that the company has exposed themselves to a real and dangerous risk? If you were to leave, the company's revenues would drop to a very, very dangerous level - no company in their right mind would/should leave themselves exposed like that. Would the company even survive if you up-sticks and resigned?

The way they are treating you is beyond ridiculous, considering my assessment of their risk as well. What that sexist shithead is doing is making sure that you 'know your place' in the hierarchy, that he can call on his mates and set you outside the whole business planning, and that you are nothing but 'the girl in the office'. He is trying to reduce your importance to the company, because he is threatened by you - I have seen this happen time and time again - by men to men, by men to women, by women to women and by women to men. In fact, I am the target of a woman in my organisation right now.

EustaciaBenson Fri 31-Oct-14 20:53:31

Sorry j probably sound a bit pathetic but ive had a hell of a year finding out I have an rare form of thyroid problem, followed by a rare fertility problem, and I just feel a bit overwhelmed with life which isnt helping the situation!

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