Let me set a scene for you based on a recurring situation I’ve encountered more in the past three months than in all the 20 years prior. It is one that is unfamiliar, unnerving, uncomfortable, but most of all, enlightening.
To set the scene, Jacquelyn (our Director of Sales) and I are entering a normal pitch meeting. Our pitches are to marketing teams and the attendees are mostly, often entirely, female.
This is in stark contrast to my career as the founder/CEO of a venture fund. While I built a fund portfolio with one of the highest percentages of women and minority founders/co-founders in the country, as high as 40 percent at one point, most of the pitches took place in entirely male-dominated rooms. I now find myself the “odd man out.”
That phrase is intended as “I am not just the only male in the room, but I find myself viewed as the outsider.” I have been afforded a glimpse into what it’s like being the only one of a gender in a well-attended meeting. And I am sure it is but a glimpse into the feelings and dynamics that women have felt throughout their careers. A pattern has became apparent, and Jacquelyn has affirmed it.
The female attendees direct their “greetings” to her when we walk into the room. From eye contact to handshakes to pre-meeting chatter, I am gently avoided. Consistently in these meetings, the person closest to me comes to realize that it’s now time to acknowledge the person of the other gender in the room.
Maybe it was her boss motioning with her eyes. Maybe it was just the uncomfortable pause. It’s my momentary ice age. And it’s clear she’s not thrilled to have to be the first to engage the one male in the room.
I am grateful, and feel a sense of relief that the awkwardness has been addressed, if not abated. I express my gratitude.. Interestingly, as handshakes are exchanged, not everyone makes full eye contact with me.
Once introductions are completed, I am somewhat invisible again. My role has become observer as the conversation ricochets around the table, like watching a pinball inside a glass case. I can only imagine how many alpha-males have been pitching to this team, the booming reverberations of egocentric megaphones relentlessly barking away.
And finally, business begins. Jacquelyn (Completely aware of the room’s dynamic): We are so excited to be here today! I think you’ll love what we do.
First, I want to introduce you to our founder and CEO.
Me: (Eager but careful) Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you all, thank you for dedicating some of your time to us today.
Marketers in Room: (Interested but cautiously distant)
Me: We think our platform will be very interesting to your team. If it’s OK with you, I would like to give you a brief overview and then we can discuss it in more detail and answer your questions. Sound good?
Marketer: (Relieved this is not an egocentric megaphone meeting) Sounds great, go for it.
Me: (Don’t interrupt, don’t say “good question” because it might sound patronizing, don’t use selfish-sounding personal pronouns, no pitch deck to ‘control’ the audience, just have a truly interactive conversation. Don’t be the typical male pitching…) Thank you. PebblePost invented … Our discussion proceeds.
Jacquelyn and I handle Q&A and wrap with end-of-meeting pleasantries. Exit, stage left.
The moral here: Walking in another person’s shoes is very uncomfortable, especially if the other person is a woman wearing high heels and you have fat, hairy toes. But embracing the discomfort in order to learn is very valuable in many walks of life. This new and powerful (for me) dynamic has taught me more on the topic from this series of meetings than I could have realized from all my prior career experience.