Last week I was meeting with some clients about redesigning their website. They have several big projects and proposals in the works so they realize the need to solidify the brand and refresh the web page. The company is a woman owned engineering firm that contracts with the government which can be a blessing and a curse.
As a woman owned small business their company is privy to certain privileges like incentives for hiring them and exclusive eligibility on particular projects so it’s important to highlight that fact somewhere notable on their promotional material.
So the question came up if they wanted to add a picture of the owner, a very beautiful woman in her late forties, on the about page. It’s a common practice that allows people interested in their services to put a face with the company they are looking to keep. It also gives their claim as a woman-owned small business credibility.
The owner said she was leery of adding the photo. When I reassured her that she’s gorgeous and I would touch up any imperfection for her, she just laughed. She said in a male dominated business like she was in, it might not be the best idea to advertise that she is attractive.
Her partner snickered before adding that when she started in business a male mentor told her it would have been better for her if she “was fat and ugly.” Then they both cracked up over how that observation had come true.
They said that business women in general are scrutinized by their male colleagues but it’s even worse if the woman is physically appealing. Commenting on how much leverage and grace men in their business were given, the two women told of several male associates who failed to meet deadlines, reneged on contracts and performed their tasks poorly yet were still offered all of the opportunities for which they were consistently being rejected.
I commented that their war stories reminded me of a scene out of one of my all ttime favorite movies, Down With Love. Set in the swinging 60s, Vicki Hiller is Bannister House’s first female editor. When she brings her first big find, a book called Down With Love to the all male board they pretend like she is their equal but make her pitch the book while taking orders and serving everyone coffee.
The president of the company I was meeting with told me she even had a problem at the bank when a branch manager mentioned “a pretty little thing” like her might not be able to handle the kind of money she was asking for.
She said it’s not just men that have a problem with her but the petty attitudes of other women in business have been challenging obstacles to overcome. It’s not necessarily a matter of jealousy that causes other women to lash out like they do but it’s more of a protective and territorial type behavior.
For women in business good looks are a damned if you do damned if you don’t sort of situation. In the long run it’s perseverance and not pretty that will get you where you’re going. The lovely ladies I met with last week were proof that you can be beautiful and boss.