Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm Just a Girl in the World

I'm at a trade show this week, with 20,000 of my closest nerd friends. I love nerds - they tend to be easy to engage. Working a booth, a smile and a little friendliness opens them up, and they tell you their nerdy story pretty fast. I love hearing about their challenges - in their own words. And this trade show happens to be my equivalent of a high school reunion. Surrounded by friends and folks I've known for years and years, I feel comfortable and content, if exhausted. 

So, this usually is my playground. Breakfast with some dear old friends. Hugs at the booth from a colleague I haven't seen in years. Drinks with new partners and customers. I love it.

But today, something less fun happened. Surrounded, as I am, by dozens of people I trust with my professional life - and letting my guard down, I went to a customer meeting, pinch hitting for a man so much my senior that I was certain to be a disappointment. With precious little in preparation, I grabbed a friend and colleague, who I respect and trust, and we went to get a beer with this customer. It's what I do - day in, day out. I talk to customers. Nothing new.

Now, to paint the right picture, I'm in Vegas. This is a place where partial nudity is the dress code and leering is a recreational sport. But, I'm thoroughly covered from neck to toe in a skirt,thick tights, an ugly shirt, a hat, and even a knee brace and orthopedic shoes. If you're looking to stare at a girl in this town, I'm the opposite of interesting. Unless you get off on a chick who can use technology words in a sentence.

This customer was ADD at best, or on speed, at worst. He was rude, lewd, and totally disinterested in talking shop. Usually, in exchange for an overpriced bottle of imported beer, I get to ask you a couple questions about your technology situation. But, as we sat at a bar on the indoor Vegas equivalent of Main St, his wandering eye picked up every passing guy and gal, who all apparently knew him, and he struck up conversations, interrupting the train of conversation that might be in process. The only comments he directed my way were of a totally inappropriate sexual nature, debating the merits of being stuck with a pretty girl like me, in place of my superior - offset by the unattractiveness of my knee brace. When he got up to grab the drinks, I was subject to a bear hug. When we left, he gave me a kiss on the cheek.

Before you judge me for not kneeing him in the balls - which I was sorely tempted to do - remember: hundreds of people are walking by every minute. I'm not alone. I am in no real physical danger. My colleague is next to me, trying to help. Millions of dollars in sales are on the line. My competition is sitting 5 feet away. I'm in no physical danger. I'm picking up the tab. I'm just royally offended.

Sure, the TV movie of this event shows me standing up for myself, screwing the deal and the ramifications, and causing a scene. Sure, that ends with me getting some sort of medal of valor, in the flick. But, in real life, when you know the risks are low.. you just don't make that move. It isn't going to happen again - not with this client, not at this time. And causing a scene will cause paperwork, emails, HR actions... all because .. someone make a few comments? Gave you a hug? You - the girl who hugged a dozen long time friends as they came by the booth hours earlier?

So, you take it. You smile. You decline all future meetings, and you expense the tab. You take a shower. You put it behind you and go to dinner with 8 lovely guys, who would never dream of picking on you for more than your pink iPhone case.

And sometime around midnight, back at your hotel room, as you're about to fall asleep, you realize how much it bothered you. 15 years in this career. 15 years of professional hard work and expertise. 15 years of trade shows and customer meetings. And you can't explain why - but you're in tears...


Kara R said...

ICK.ICK.ICK. :( It would have bothered me, too. Any woman I think--except perhaps those who earn their living off of guys like these. (Shudder!) I am thinking of you...

Jon Giddy said...

Sure, the TV movie of this event shows me standing up for myself, screwing the deal and the ramifications, and causing a scene.

Your career in tatters, you then learn that a vital task that you earlier entrusted to a lovable but eccentric character, was completely screwed up, serendipitously leading to you becoming owner of customer's company and kicking him out the door.

Triumphant music, roll credits, segue to song by popular artist to help sell soundtrack, cut and print.

Rob said...

Yeah--way gross. You really show how tough and complex the issue is here: you're an accomplished professional, and you can be validated in that in your life and people will try to point to that in telling you to let it go, but it isn't quite enough somehow.

Perhaps it's because it goes beyond just one asshole and toward a culture in which assholes are allowed to think it's ok to do things like this, even if many people recognize them as unprofessional. Maybe these assholes even rationalize it to themselves by pointing out that perhaps 1 in 10 women respond positively, so really what they're doing is just flattery, right? And if the person doesn't respond positively, it's just harmless fun anyway, right?

It pisses me off enough that a prof I'm TA'ing for called me "sweetie" over email; I wouldn't last two seconds as a woman in this world.

Lilac - Like The Flower said...

Thank you all... thank you. I'm glad to be home... and have your support