Confronting Sexism in Sales, with Rachel Mae and Keenan [Episode 810]

On today’s episode, Rachel Mae (Director of Sales for ASalesGuy) and Keenan (CEO of ASalesGuy and author of GAP Selling). Two weeks ago Rachel shared a story on LinkedIn about a cold call she made to a VP of Sales. In this brief call she encountered the kind of casual sexism that pervades much of the sales world.

Rachel had had enough. And in a courageous post on LinkedIn she told the story of what happened. She named names. She called them out. And she knew Keenan had her back. But that was just part of the story. We’ll also talk about the reactions Rachel received to her post and we’ll get into what everyone can do to take a stand against the behaviors that Rachel, and all women in sales, encounter on a routine basis.

Read Rachel’s LinkedIn Post.

Episode Transcript

AP: Kenan. Welcome back to the show. Rachel. Welcome to the show for the first time.

K: I got you, baby. Glad to be back.

AP: Always a pleasure to have you here. Rachel. Pleasure to have you here.

RM: Thank you. Thanks for the invite, Andy.

AP: So Keenan, it seems like you’ve been on endless holiday since, since May.

K: Come on, man. Living my life, my terms, my way.

AP: Love it. Love it. So let’s see you spent the summer in Manhattan Beach in the LA area.

K: Looking at the ocean every single morning.

AP: Perfect. And then topped it off by going to the Caribbean.

K: Yes. Spent a week in a, uh, a Villa on a cliff in the Virgin Islands. St. John’s was amazing.

AP: Very cool. Very cool. Well, Rachel and I were back here in the States sweltering in California. So Rachel, your up in the Sacramento area and there’s lots of fire activity in that area as we’re recording this.

RM: Yeah, it’s, it’s pretty ugly out there basically looks like nighttime. And from, you know, morning, all day long, there’s just ashes falling from the sky. And, um, you know, the whole house smells like smoke. So, um, but this is, you know, California in August, unfortunately.

AP: But the fires, the fires aren’t close to your, your place. Cause I know they’re, they’re close to Sacramento.

RM: Yeah, they’re, they’re not too close to us, but because Sacramento is a bowl, just all the smoke from all this surrounding like kind of Bay area fires and all the fires in Northern California, just kind of settles here and sits. Um, so, and I mean the whole state, the whole, all of Northern California is on fire right now. It’s crazy.

AP: Yeah. Yeah, no, no. That’s, uh, the pictures look horrible, so. All right, well, let’s, let’s get into the, so, um, Rachel, you were making a cold call the other day, um, and you connected with the VP of sales at a, at a company, a man, and what happened?

RM: Yeah. So the story is not like a unique one. I mean, it’s an example really, of, um, the type of thing that women in sales, um, are up against, on a regular basis, either from prospects or their coworkers. Um, so it’s really just a day in the life, but I just called this gentleman, uh, to, to see if there was, you know, a way that we could help him. And, um, you know, his.

AP: Just to be clear, you were, so what, what was this sales training or, or what were you selling?

RM: Yeah. I mean, just seeing if they, if their sales team was happy, having, you know, particular challenges around like their conversion rates, you know, reps hitting plan, long single sales cycles, right. Just to see if there was an opportunity to help. I didn’t get very far in the call. I just, you know, basically said my name and uh, said, you know, mind if I share why I called, why I reached out and the response I got was it was, it was quite creepy. It was, “Sure I love it when a girl with a sexy voice tries to sell me something.” It was really drippy like that.

AP: And so, um, I know when I was reading your post, I just, I just stopped at that point. I’m thinking, and I should know better because I’ve been in sales for 40 years, but it’s like, who talks that way? And so what at that instant was the first thing that went through your mind when he, when you heard that from this guy?

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RM: So the first thing that went through my mind, there’s a moment when this happens to you, when you just kind of are in shock, you don’t know what to do because as women, we learn to wear armor to work and all of the sudden in those moments the armor is stripped away and you just kind of have this very vulnerable moment and you go through a million kind of things in your head. Do I laugh this off? So it’s less awkward for both of us. Do I say thank you, even though I’m horrified and try and continue the call, right? Like all of these things run through your head, but I just kind of sat there and shock. Um, I think actually made a, an audible noise, like, and then I just hung up and I hung up the phone and I thought man, this guy’s CEO really needs to know that this is the way he is speaks to women in the workplace. Like he has a right to know this. So that’s what I thought. I’m just going to call the CEO and tell him so that, you know, because look, if somebody talks, if someone has any leadership position like that, and this is how they speak to women who are coming in contact from outside the organization, um, you know, that guy didn’t wake up and decide to be a sexist jerk that morning in that moment, right? There’s a mentality behind it that’s pervasive. And so I thought, you know, the CEO needs to know, that was my thought.

AP: And so, you know, just thinking back to, or harking back to what you just said is, you know, when you hear about your reaction, you said you wear that armor and yet these first thoughts went through your mind, it was like one of them, which is most shocking, you know, for those who don’t have to live through that as, as your thought was, well, how do I make him feel more comfortable in this moment?

The guy that just insulted you. I mean, it’s just, it’s amazing that, that we’re still, you know, dealing with this at this point. So, so, um, and made me think when I read your post, it made me think also, also automatically is going through it it’s like, yeah, this is like what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know went through with that Yahoo from Florida, the congressmen that, that, uh, leveled all the sexist remarks at her.

RM: Yeah. I mean, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who has not been in this type of a situation, you know, at least a few times, if not just kind of on a regular basis. Right. And do you, you go through these transitions in your career where like when you’re younger, um, you, you don’t have any power, right?

You, you, haven’t established a lot of credibility and expertise, you know, you you’re, you’re lower generally on the totem pole within your organization. And, um, and so there’s a much higher level of fear attached to not tolerating this behavior or speaking out against it when you’re younger. And so that you learn in your twenties, it’s a skill that women learn to diffuse the situation to make it less awkward for the other, not just for you, because you can’t make it less awkward for you, but to literally make it less, less awkward for the other person.

And also there’s this thing when you don’t want to be that girl, right? Like there’s this label of women who don’t tolerate being sexualized in the workplace of like, Oh she’s that girl. Don’t don’t invite her to drinks when all the colleagues are going out. You know, be careful what you say around her because she’s trouble and you don’t want to be that and so you try and like laugh it off or pretend that you didn’t really know what the person meant. I mean, we all sorts of techniques to get us through in that type of environment.

AP: Yeah, which is, you know, an experience that for a large fraction of male sellers, just never encounter. I may have had awkward situations in my career, but it was more about, you know, me asking them a question and I’m gonna tell me to go get lost or something, but nothing. You know, personalized like that, but that is just so offensive. Um, I mean, how often do you think you run across that in, or have run across it in your career? Is this, as you said, daily, weekly, monthly, I mean,

RM: I mean in some ways, you come across being sexualized and objectified, um, I mean, I don’t know weekly, I would say, um, again, it’s, it’s more pervasive when you’re younger. When you’re more established in your career, I think men like this are more fearful because they, you know, they do know that you have, you know, either a platform or, um, you know, more expertise and you’re not really going to tolerate it the older that you get. So it does tend to happen less and less, um, in person. Right. But over the phone, they don’t know. Um, and it’s not just about like sexual harassment. I think we have a lot of conversations about sexual harassment. But we don’t have a lot of conversations about just being sexualized and objectified and what that does when it happens, like all throughout your career on a regular basis. I just don’t think that we have those types of conversations, which was the point of the post.

AP: Yeah. I mean, cause you’ve made this, you know, just listening to you talk and listening to your earlier comment of having to put armor on is, is, is this something that you’re conscious of that could happen every time you call somebody

RM: I don’t know that it happens every time you call somebody.

AP: But you’re conscious of the possibility that it could. I mean, are you armoring, are you armoring your self, I mean putting your armor on for every call?

RM: Do you remember in the eighties? When,

AP: Unfortunately. Yes.

RM: yeah. Remember in the eighties there was like the power suits and women would try and dress like men with the giant shoulder pads. Right. Um, and they, so they were trying to like kind of gender neutralize themselves. Um, and come to the table as men. And so the goal was to, you know, shove your femininity as much as possible, into a box and that’s the armor, right? And so it’s not even a conscious thing that you do. You just, you just learn to do it because you know, that, you know, sometimes just being too friendly or too, you know, I have a really like bubbly, fun, you know, open personality, and I think that the more that you do that, the more certain men see that as invitation. They see it as an invitation to say whatever the heck they want to, because from their standpoint that bubbly, friendly, open personality, is flirtation in some way, right? Because, because of some sort of sense of entitlement that they have. And so, um, you just, you just learn, you’re not even really doing it consciously. You do know it can happen at any moment. Um, but it never stops surprising you. I was just on a podcast yesterday where, um, out of the blue that the gentleman just said, well, you know, you’re a pre-madonna. And I was like,

AP: He said, you’re talking about the, talking about this situation.

RM: No, we weren’t talking about this situation. We were talking about sales and all of a sudden it was like, well, yeah, but you were a premadonna. And I had never met this person before, before like 10 minutes before that. Um, and so it’s just, it like happens so much that sometimes you’re hyper aware of it. And then sometimes you almost don’t notice it at all.

AP: So, what was it about this guy, who I’m picturing my mind, as you know, in the New York area is probably classic New York, New Jersey type person, not to over stereotype, cause they’re not all that way, but there’s a stereotype we all, all hold in our mind is, uh, Yeah. I mean, what, what was it that said this is different than I need to say something?

RM: You know, Andy, I think there was a combination of a few things. Number one, I think he just caught Rachel on the wrong day. Like I just had no tolerance for bullshit.

AP: No, I’m glad, glad he did catch her on that day.

RM: Yeah. So it was part of it just a day, right? I mean, look, no matter how long you’ve been doing this job, getting on the phones and making cold calls and you know, you never know what is, how it’s going to go. And so, you know, you, you gotta put your game face on, you gotta be courageous, you plan, you prepare and you come to the table like ready to have great conversations. And so it’s just like, in that moment, it was just so like demeaning, but at the end of the day, the post would never have happened, okay, the reason that post happened was because when I called that CEO and I very politely said, “Hey, I just called, you know, your VP of sales and you know, this is what happenedand I really felt like you should know. And the response was, appreciate the call, click. And he hung up on me. No. Oh my goodness. Thanks for bringing me bringing this to my attention. You know, if indeed that happened, um, you know, that’s completely unacceptable. I’m going to look into it, you know, please give me your information. Nothing just total, blatant dismissal. And it was in that moment that I realized here right now, have a CEO and a VP of sales and. So, this is obviously a pervasive issue here. And I just, in that moment, thought of all the women who do speak out and who are dismissed. And, um, and I was terrified to write that post. I knew that I was going to get a lot of backlash there. Um, and my hands were literally shaking when I did it. And yeah, I was terrified.

Um, but I also had a little voice in my head and that voice was my boss’s voice. It was Keenan’s voice. Because I shared a million of these experiences with him and so has Brady. We talk really openly about this stuff, and Keenan has no tolerance for it. And he’s always told me, you should speak out. You should speak out. And I remember one day I said to him, I’m afraid to say things that are controversial online. And he looked me dead in the eye and he said, don’t you ever bow down to anyone? And so the post happened because the CEO dismissed me and the post happened, because in that moment, I thought of all the other women who, you know, maybe don’t have the support of their company to speak out, but I didn’t have to be brave because what women fear in speaking out, isn’t the backlash from like sexist jerks on the internet. It’s not the backlash from the person who harassed them or demeans them. It’s the backlash from their own coworkers or possibly their own employer, their boss, who will not support that. And I didn’t have to be brave because I didn’t ask permission. I literally posted it, texted it to Keenan and said, so this just happened.

AP: So Keenan, what was, I’m sorry, go ahead.

RM: Oh, I’m just saying, and I knew he would support me and that made all the difference.

AP: What was your reaction?

K: No shit. Wow. Did that really happen? What a fucking idiot.

AP: That was my reaction too.

K: Yeah, I think what was even more of a reaction was the CEO. I was like, I like, look, I’m not going to be subtle about this. I personally think, and this is, I have no evidence and I, this is just anecdotal, but I think 50%, if not more of most senior executive leaders are fucking dickwads. And they’re the most politically oriented dipshits in the world. They got to the position, not because they’re brilliant strategists or the brilliant leaders they got there because they play the political game better than anybody else. They are able to outlast everybody else. And so I wasn’t entirely surprised, but this dickhead had a complete opportunity to do exactly the right thing, like, Oh, snap, that is not how it rolls in my organization, and he didn’t do it. He dismissed her. And that’s what pissed me off. I, you can tell, I get really irritated at shitty leadership and I see it everywhere in companies drives me insane.

AP: Well, yeah, and especially on stuff like this, I mean, this is, this is yeah. I mean, what I find interesting is so someone on some of them in all the comments, about to the post, you know, did some research and said what they have, well, a fair number of women in sales in this organization that Rachel is spoken to. And what I found interesting is that I read the comments again last night. I, correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t see a single one from anybody that worked for this guy, defending him.

K: Oh, that’s a great point. I bet they we’re all scared. I bet every single woman in that company was not going to chime in. They weren’t going to say damn word. To Rachel ‘s point, right. To Rachel’s point. They didn’t feel comfortable wading in defending him or saying, Hey, this shit happens here all the time. Exactly her point. If the CEO dismissed her, what do you think he would do if anybody got in and said anything on that? Wouldn’t surprise me. If HR sent something to every single person said, stay away from that.

AP: Oh, I imagine they did. So you said, Rachel, you said HR reached out to you. From this company.

RM: Yeah. So after the post, um, someone from HR did reach out and, you know, wanted to assure me that this is not okay in their organization and they’re going to look into it and that people go through extensive, um, You know, sexual harassment training for these types of things. And I’m thinking, you know, well, it’s obviously not working. Clearly you need to take a different route, but you know, you can’t train your way out of this, right?

Like people don’t objectify and sexualize women or sexually harassed women in the workplace because they don’t know they’re not supposed to. Right. Like, that’s, it, it’s ridiculous to think that that going through sexual harassment training, especially the watered down like vanilla version of it with HR, that HR usually presents is, is going to stop this type of behavior.

The only thing that stops this type of behavior is number one, like women feeling empowered to call it out when it happens and not just the most egregious acts. Right. It doesn’t have to be the guy grabbed my ass. It can be, listen. I’m trying to do my job. And this guy keeps talking about how sexy I am. Like that’s revolting. And, um, and they just, you know, it’s so, so calling it out and having women feel supported in calling out and then having zero tolerance for it, that is the only thing that’s going to stop it. But yes, he reached out to tell me that the guy went through, you know, training and, you know, they’re looking into it. So I appreciate that. But, but obviously that was a result of the post, not of my phone call.

AP: Yeah. And, and did, uh, the gentleman inquestion did he reach out to you?

RM: Yeah. So I actually did get a, uh, a apology via LinkedIn message, um, something along the lines of, uh, you know, uh, apologies for the comment. That’s very out of character for me, happy to jump on a call, but, um, you know, I don’t, I don’t really have a response to him.

AP: No. Well, first off-

K: I think you should.

AP: It was a chicken is a chicken move, not to call you and just to do something, just to do something on LinkedIn. And I mean, at this point in any of this type of misbehavior, does, does anyone believe these are sincere? Apologies?

K: Only one way to find out, get on the phone with them.

AP: Yeah.

K: Seriously Rach. You should take, you should take him up on the call.

AP: Well, I mean, it’s like, you know, this broadcaster for Cincinnati reds was in the news this morning for using a homophobic slur on the air. And the next day post, the apologies  is completely out of character for me, dude. You’re 56 years old. That’s completely in character for you. No one believes this apology.


RM: That’s how I felt. Right. I’m looking at this gentleman and I’m like, he’s well, well past his, his fifties, you know?

AP: Easy. Now, some of us are past our fifties.

RM: Well,

K: yeah.

RM: Not me because, you know, but my point is is that is just what you said, right? Like this is, this is pervasive behavior. This is probably something that this person, you know, how he speaks on a regular basis. There was a comment on the posts from a gal who had interviewed with the company and she said in the comments that she faced similar comments tr her during the interview process?

AP: With the same company.

RM: The same company. And if you go to glassdoor, people were finding, you know, taking screenshots on glassdoor of women saying that they were discriminated against for their gender and, um, And, you know, sexualized in the workplace on glassdoor. So no conversation I have with this person is going to change their minds or change their behavior. And-

K: Absolutely disagree. That’s the one place we’re going to, we’re going to deviate, right? When you said nothing’s going to change until women speak up. Right? Well, actually nothing’s going to change until men are willing to acknowledge the culture and then accept that it’s wrong. And so sometimes that has to be one conversation at a time.

If you, you don’t want to know how many conversations I had with one-on-one person was a straight racist to help them get this through there a little head. It, I can’t stay up in the cloud and as a woman or as a black person or as a gay person, whatever your situation, up in the clouds. And then when someone, I have a chance, one on one to have a dialogue with somebody, I’m not doing it. You pissed me off. You don’t deserve it. You’re not going to change. No, no, no. We all have a role and sometimes we’ve got to do more than we want to do and have to represent. Now after that conversation, if they’re a jerk and they’re still sexist, you can walk away with your hands clean and saying, I did what I needed to do. This person is a lost cause.

RM: I can see that. I can see, I can see your point there. Um, it’s just a lot of that though is also putting the responsibility on. Right. Like putting the responsibility on women to educate these men. And I just, I don’t know that’s our responsibility.

K: Yeah, I’m sorry, but look, I don’t like it, but this goes back to why nothing ever changes. This isn’t about responsibility. Do we want change? Do we not? And just as a brother, I can parallel. Obviously our issues are different, but if every brother says I ain’t got time to talk to that white dude, he can’t get it, then you’re part of the problem. I’m assuming that do I agree that logic, you know what that’s like, it’s like a husband and wife, they get into a huge fight. The husband did something wrong. The wife is completely in the, in the right and she’s like, well, I don’t feel like I should have to say another word because he was, well, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re not going anyway. So I agree with you Rachel. 100%, we shouldn’t have to, but if we truly care about the cause we will.

RM: I see your point there. I see your point. I mean, I had, I had the whole, the whole situation, you know, my inbox is full, right. And it’s full of, um, number one, women from all over the world sharing their stories many, much more heartbreaking than this one or telling me that, you know, they, they have printed it out and put it in their cubbies, like all over their offices and you know, that they feel more empowered to speak out.

And that’s wonderful. And then I’ve also had some men come into my messages and attack me and it’s the same things. Right. You need to have a thicker skin, you’re overly sensitive, and you’re trying to ruin this man’s life. You’re doing all these and I have engaged in those conversations. And in one conversation, Keenan, to your point, I was so moved because I, I changed this man’s mind. By the end I changed his mind.

K: Which which means you’ve checked, you potentially have changed the mind of every man or woman he talks to moving forward. See, that’s the thing we forget, right? Like you were talking earlier, Rachel, and I’m kind of glad this was not videoed because I was getting a little emotional when you described why you felt empowered. I had no clue. I had that level of impact on you. I don’t think any of us in our lives truly understand the level of impact we have on people. We’re too short sighted. So if we can start thinking about, well, I changed this one, guy’s mind. Now he’s going to talk to his daughters or his, his wife or his son or his cousins or whatever. And he may change it or their minds, and then they may change one of their minds. It’s got a network effect. We, we, we, we have to stop being so playing small ball and thinking, you know what, we’re right to do a right. Not to, we have no idea how we can affect people. If we have the conversations.

AP: Follow that thread too. Because, yeah, looking through the comments. I mean, I was as shocked by some of the responses that people gave on LinkedIn. And I just sort of wondering what your reaction was to some of those. Cause I, I think if you’re getting these, these stories from women all over the world, I think it’d be great for you to start posting on LinkedIn as well as, you know, sort of continue the theme. But, but you know, there’s one guy, if I understood his, his, uh, his point is he basically, was comparing cold calling to like nonconsensual sexual contact.

K: pretty much.

AP: And I’m just sitting there reading, I’m sitting there reading that going, what the fuck are you talking about? Um, that one, I was wondering what your reaction was to that one. I know Jim, you responded to it or Keenan, you responded to it, but it was just like, what’s this person thinking.

RM: You know, I feel like it, it cracks me up because so many men that read the comments were in shock at reading the comments from other men. Right. But no women are reading those comments and having any type of surprise at all. Right? So like, so like you cold called him so it’s your fault is the same like you were wearing a short skirt, so it’s your fault or you were drinking, so it’s your fault or you shouldn’t have went to that party cause it’s your fault, right? It’s all. It’s just, it’s a way to take the blame off of men and make it the women’s fault and that’s just part of this power dynamic in, in, you know, how, um, How some men treat women as they see them as, you know, fair game, right? Like you are a sexual object and therefore it is okay for me to treat you like one. And if you, if you call me out on it, then I’m simply going to put the onus back on you. So that’s just, that’s just normal dude stuff that women are facing all the time. So that didn’t surprise me at all.

AP: Yeah, well, the mansplaining was, was running rampant, uh, in the comments. I mean, it was, it was like, these guys are saying like, Oh, okay, well, I think there’s another way you could have handled that. You know, if it had been me, this is what I would have done. And it’s like, dude, you would never, ever, ever be in this situation nor I’m sure have you ever experienced anything like it, don’t tell people what to do.

RM: Yeah. Well, the idea of, you know, you should just handle this privately.

K: You try it, you know?

AP: Well, you tried.

RM: try tried. Um, but that that’s another tactic that’s like, you should just handle it privately means shut your damn mouth. Right. That means it means stay silent. And the worst of the worst, I think in the comments is the people who were saying that I’m some vengeful woman out on a rampage to ruin men’s lives for no reason.

Right. Like, to me, that is just the most offensive thing. And again, not surprising at all. Right. I mean, you could look at like, I don’t wanna get political here but you can look like the Brett Kavanagh situation, right? Like it’s like, Oh, these women, they just come out of nowhere and they wake up and all they want to do is ruin the lives of men.

And I’m like, if this man is a vice president of a company, and he speaks to women like that when he’s on work and he has to, has to pay a consequence or be held accountable for that. He ruined his life. I didn’t ruin his life, first of all. Second of all, the idea that this man’s life is going to be ruined because of this is just absurd because men do far worse than this every single day. I mean, nothing’s going to happen to him. They get away with it over and over and over again. The idea that one, one woman is going to come out and call someone out on their shit and their whole life is going to spiral for no reason at all. It’s just completely absurd.

AP: Yeah, I suspect those. Yeah. We’re recording on Thursday. This was on a Monday. Yeah. I suspect that’s yesterday’s news already within that company.

RM: Yeah, he had a bad week. I’m sure

AP: Yeah. He’s sincerely, sorry. Quote, unquote for that. Well, well Keenan, so how can. Other leaders, take a page from your book and develop the courage to support their sellers that encounter behavior like this. I mean, it was just amazing that in my mind, when I was reading, especially learning afterwards that Rachel did this without talking to you first, felt empowered to do it without speaking to you first, to me just is a wonderful story. So how, how do we help leaders develop the courage to stand up to this and support the people in the field who are experiencing these things?

K: Um, people over money to starters. People over money. We understand what, what, what makes leaders nervous about something like this is the exposure that it gets them and they’re afraid it’s going to hurt their brand. They’re afraid it’s going to hurt something in the company. That’s going to therefore translate into a declining stock price or a lawsuit or anything. And it all comes down to money. And so when people are running around afraid of money, Um, and losing money or something like that, then they’re going to put money over people. As long as you put money over people that’s what you’re going to do. So, I mean, I’m sure that there are people read this and they’re like, don’t do business with ASalesGuy, yeah. Okay. But I couldn’t give two shits, you know what I’m saying? So, I mean, look, I already know, I give people enough reason not to do business with me. I’m okay with that. So, because to me it’s about, it’s just, it’s simply that people over money. And if you create a culture inside your organization, that there is no gray line, there is no thin line. It’s a, you know, there’s just no room for the disrespecting of people and albeit race, religion, color, sexual orientation, gender, like you just, just make sure that people understand there was no room for that. Then it’s easy then it’s absolutely easy.

AP: Alright. Well, I appreciate both of you, Rachel, Keenen taking the time to come here and speak about this. Originally we were scheduled to talk about just sales, but this was in my mind so important that we needed to address it. And, um, we’ll have you back on to talk about sales next time. So Rachel, thank you very much. Keenan, as always a pleasure.

K: thank you baby way to pick it up.

AP: All right, Alex.