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Friday, June 27, 2003

Sales and “Girlism”

I’ve been enjoying the back-and-forth between Halley, Dorothea, and Shelley on the subject of “Girlism,” i.e., the manipulative use of feminine wile, and related workplace issues. Anytime this crackling trio discusses gender issues, you want to lend an ear. Actually, there are many more voices besides these three engaging the thread—see the many comments at Burningbird, and Blog Sisters.

This whole discussion took me back to what it was like when I started out in the workplace after college. Before I was in marketing, I was in sales. In the mid-sixties, when I started out, you saw a woman in sales about as often as you saw a male flight attendant. In most sales organizations, it was as inconceivable that they would have a female in their midst as it would be inconceivable today not to have any women in the sales force.

Then, in the seventies, when the feminists began pushing, women started showing up here and there in the sales forces of some of the more enlightened organizations. But it was rough going—very rough. The rap on them was that they couldn’t handle rejection. Buyers would complain to sales managers that they didn’t want a female calling on them because they would feel less free to say no. They were afraid that the female rep would break down and cry, and they didn’t want to be put in that position.

There was a widely circulated report at the time—the name of which I can’t remember—which managers used as ammunition for not hiring female sales reps. The report inquired into all the possible ways in which males experienced rejection in pursuit of a woman’s sexual favors. The researchers looked at the period between the man’s first approach, by phone or in person, to the last moment before possible penetration. They identified 88 steps along the way where the woman could say no. (It’s interesting that I still remember that number).

Since any heterosexual male with anything faintly resembling a libido has experienced many of these 88 possible rejections many times over, the report concluded that men had a built-in experience of handling rejection that made them far more suited for sales. The report, although laughable in its science, managed to gain a level of influence because guys would read it and see their own experience validated—“Uh, huh. Oh, yeah! At least 88 ways. Don’t I know!”

However, as time went on, regulations became more strict, more women were admitted into the game, they proved their mettle, and attitudes slowly but surely began to change. Then, an interesting development began happening. Some sales managers started practicing a reverse discrimination. After being shown that women could sell as effectively as men, they then got the bright idea that they could USE women to get into more doors. They calculated that guys would be hypnotized by the chance to get a women into their office. The smart thing to do, many sales managers concluded, was to give hiring preference to females.

The idiocy never seems to stop. All I can say is that, during my advertising days, when media reps--many of whom were women--called on me, I NEVER once experienced any of them practicing “girlism” to influence the situation. It was the merits of their case, period. As for the male reps, every once in a while I would get some hard-ass whose hidden agenda was “I can outsmart you, you little piss-ant. And, besides, mine is bigger than yours.”

So maybe the modern sales managers are partly right. Everything else being equal, I guess I would rather have a woman call on me than a man—but not for the lump-headed reasons the managers think. No, It’s just that I prefer getting a professional approach. And in my experience, that’s what I get from the women.

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