This isn’t my first post about chauvinism or feminism. But it’s been a while since I’ve experienced overt chauvinism as a female entrepreneur. I thought I’d somehow lessened the effects of male bias on my work. Maybe I was choosing better clients. Circulating in healthier circles. Got rid of colleagues who were making me uncomfortable. I was wrong.
A month ago I hired an amazing female website developer. Hiring the right people for your business is the difference between you pulling your hair out and things going smoothly. If you haven’t had the pleasure, you’re in for a treat. (However, hiring the wrong people will make you go bald faster.)
My policy with a new hire is to introduce them to our clients. They trust us with the online representation of their businesses (website, social media, blog) and making the introduction adds to that trust. Typically I include a photo, short bio, and fun fact in an eBlast to familiarize them with the new hire.
Unfortunately, the tech industry is seriously male dominated, and female developers are hard to find. As such, this is the first female hire I’ve made in some time. I had become unprepared for the response we would receive.
Let me clarify that most of the responses were welcoming and congratulatory. But two separate male clients went out of their way to say something different.
What’s Wrong With This Picture
Did you feel icky? I felt icky…
Let’s unpack this for a moment. One client responded directly to the email using our initials as if we were not in a professional relationship. The other switched from email to texting, adding effort to the response.
Both gents seem to have forgotten they were responding to my new developer’s boss. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t dream of approaching the boss of someone I work with to tell them what I think about their looks.
I’m very protective of my employees. As a former manager at a company that would drag their employees through the mud, I probably got a strong sense of protectiveness from having to shield those former employees from a lot of bureaucracy.
Since starting my business, only a couple times have I had a client speak down to one of my employees. Each time, I take action. I work hard to find the right people for my company culture and needs. Every company has its own orientation process after making a hire, ranging from a week to months. Each time, it’s an investment in another human and the company.
I’ve put up with difficult clients when it was my choice alone, when I thought there was still something to be gained. But my employees don’t have that choice, since I’m the boss. And a difficult client is the fastest way to burn out a good employee.
How I Handled It
As you can see in the case of the texter, I responded directly. Up to that message, he and I had a good rapport and I felt that I could say something to check his comment. The emailer, however, has not heard from me since. In both cases, I will gently detach us from their work.
Unfortunately, doing more than parting ways is risky. WIRED Magazine stated in an article about the tech industry’s gender gap, “For women who have experienced this bias—and there are many—the simple act of talking about it is taboo.” Calling men out on this issue is still a quick path to making enemies. Though I’m not too worried about my individual consequences, I do have to consider the reputation of my business for the sake of my other clients and my employees. Just as when I was asked to be a Secretary for a day, I will let sleeping lions lie (as they say).