Sexism & How it Affected My Life and Business
By Stev Fair
Sexism has become a hot topic. The problem is that sexism has always been there and I can personally attest to that. You see, before I was an author and songwriter my career began in sales. Then by accident it morphed into my becoming an entrepreneur.
Before all of that I was just an African-American kid from a small suburb outside of Detroit known as Ecorse. My father was a wonderful man and head of our household. My mother was incredibly smart and ran our household. Everyone knows that this is the way African American households are run. The father usually played the role of the Chairman of the Board. The mothers, however, were the CEOs. They ran everything including other family members and everyone else’s kids. My mother did that and ran three businesses herself. She was the true matriarch of our family and only on a rare occasion did my father ever overrule her. This became my true education of the power of the woman. My father learned this lesson shortly after they married or so I was told.
My mother would frequently remind my father how sharp she was when it came to business. One such example came whenever we would visit my parent’s best friend’s lakefront cottage about 70 miles outside of Detroit. They had bought the land when it was only $1,000 per lot. Then the lakefront homes started to appreciate exponentially. Whenever we rounded a corner on the dirt road leading to the lake, there were two houses sitting on the lake that my mother would ALWAYS point to. She would turn around and look at us kids as my dad drove and say, “Do you see those two houses sitting over there? Your father and I could have purchased BOTH those lots for a thousand dollars each!” Then she would turn and glare at my dad who remained silent each time. His best friend had turned $1000 into several thousand. My mother never let my dad forget it and obviously I never did.
During my junior year of high school, I became one of the lead players on a top-ten rated basketball team in the state of Michigan. I had recently transferred from a racially integrated public school system to a private school where I was the only African American on the team. In my senior year, we were rated number one and two the entire season, and we lost only two games that year. We had several all-area and all-state players on our team including myself. We had one 7’0 All-American player named Kevin Nash. He later became known as “Diesel” the WWF World Champion.
We were serious players and we lived in the gym. On the last day of school, we were playing two on two when the girls’ basketball coach came into the gym with a senior girl who an All-American on the girl’s national team. She was headed to the University of Southern California on a full-scholarship. Title IX which is the law that allowed women the ability to receive full athletic scholarships like those of men had passed a few years earlier. We called her “Bucky.” She was white, 5’7” and had incredible ball-handling and shooting skills. She was the most amazing player I’d ever played with in high school.
The two of us teamed up and took on every combination of players in that gym. We never lost. We even took on the students that had not made our team but had superb basketball skills. Word began to spread that an All-American girl was in the gym and the crowd grew. Student after student walked inside the gym to see this girl demonstrate her skills with the ball. We swept team after team off the court.
Soon I started noticing something. The players on the sidelines started becoming angrier by the minute. They were getting pissed off because this girl was outshining them at every turn. They started teasing her and getting physical with her. They never touched me because it wasn’t me that they were angry with. They were angry at the girl who was dominating them when she was left open. And when she was open she never missed a basket!
Pretty soon I realized it was because she was a girl. So I took advantage and started talking trash back to them and irritating the guys as much as possible. I was having a blast!I would say, “How can you let a girl do that to you, man?” I can still remember how great I felt watching her dominate any of the guys who tried to stop her.
It was such a stark difference to my reality. I had a cousin who was an incredible baseball player. Karla had a gift for the game. She grew up in Atlanta and during the summer vacations they would drive up to visit us. When we were around 12 years old or so, my friends were in awe of her baseball skills. I was used to women doing everything us guys could do. From my mother backing up or leading my father to my cousin ruling on the baseball field. All my African American friends would love and support them! All of this would play out again for me fifteen years later when I owned a security and alarm firm.
Most entrepreneurs have a common problem. They work all the time and have a hard time finding good help for their business. I personally was putting in 16 hours days even though I had about twenty-two employees. My company was a sales and installation firm and I was on the hunt for a good General Manager who could run my inside sales department as well as the installation crew. Finally, I found Tina. She was 24, white, athletic and from Kentucky. She was a dynamo. She started as an inside sales rep and eventually became my inside marketing manager. After I realized how well her management skills had developed, I gave her a big raise and promoted her to GM. This move allowed me more time in the field with my sales reps without the worry about the Techs getting dispatched, customers calling or most of the other inside details.
Then there was my Technical/Installation Manager. His name was Carl. He was white and around 45 years old. I always felt that Carl was a great asset to my company and I never had a problem with him until I did. You see we had a rule. The techs would be off on Saturday unless we had an installation. If there was an install on Saturday, then they would have Sunday and Monday off. One day, one of my sales reps, Bob Buffmeyer, an older gentleman in his sixties, who also became a great friend made a massive sale on a Friday. The couple ordered a system that was close to five figures for their mansion with the understanding that the order MUST be installed that Saturday as they were going out of town on Sunday.
I was in Hawaii at a conference and Tina was in charge. She called Carl on Friday to report with his crew for work Saturday morning. He never showed up but his assistant did. The customer canceled the order.
When I arrive home and found out about it, I was furious. I was angrier that Bob had lost a large commission on the sale than I was about making a corporate profit. I called Carl into my office. I handled it in the Socratic way which is to ask questions.
I asked, “Carl, do you agree that Tina is the one who feeds us sales leads and does a great job at it?” He agreed.
“Does she handle all customer complaints and the scheduling?” Again he agreed.
“Tina does everything around here very well, right?” Again he agreed.
Finally, I asked, “So what is the problem? Why didn’t you report to work as scheduled after you spoke to Tina?”
His next answer infuriated me. He said, “I guess I’m just too old to take orders from a woman.”
I had never felt like firing someone along with having the feeling of wanting to “fire them up” in a physical way. But this was different. I had a lot of time and energy invested in this young woman, and she was delivering. I would have hired an alien from space if they could’ve handled that job! I was so happy with her performance and now this guy doesn’t want to work for her because she’s a woman?
I said, “Aren’t your mother and your wife women as well? Do they ever tell you what to do? I’ll say this: your foolishness has cost Bob a big job and therefore you have caused you to lose your job. Turn in your equipment!”
It felt the same as the racism I would experience at times during my life. I had the same feeling of wanting to lash out at the ignorance. I later sold that company, formed a new business, and eighty percent of my workforce were women. We were pound for pound the best company I had ever been around.
These attitudes are still prevalent in our society today, and we must combat those attitudes in men and women on a daily basis. I know for certain that there is not any difference between the sexes when it comes to leadership, skill level, loyalty, and vision. I will continue to fight for the rights women everywhere in our world.
Just remember in the excellent game of chess, the queen has much more flexibility and power than the king. This is the philosophy I put to work if a thought enters my mind about a woman’s limitations.
Copyright © 2016 BY Stev Fair
Stev Fair is the Author of: Love Reveals: A Novel