Announcement: At 2 pm ET today, it’s part of 2 of last month’s speed round! Last month’s speed round had 700+ questions submitted, so this time I’ll be answering some of the questions I didn’t get to in round 1. Follow along live on the home page later today.
A reader writes:
My boss, Todd, who is the company CEO, believes that we should hire attractive women for roles on my team. Role A’s primary responsibility is to cold call prospects and convince them to take a meeting with our sales team. Role B may occasionally involve coordinating virtual events with our customers and prospects. Our market is primarily middle-aged men, and my boss believes that they will be more receptive to these outreaches if they’re attracted to the person making the request. We do have an attractive, young woman (Pam) in Role A right now. Recently, one of our prospects told a sales rep that he had only shown up for the sales meeting because Pam “sounded hot.” That prospect ended up not being a good fit. I know of one call where Pam was harassed by a prospect who pressured her to meet him for drinks. Pam deferred and the prospect never agreed to a meeting. From the metrics, there is no evidence that Pam outperforms her male colleagues in terms of booking meetings, and she actually has the lowest show rate for her meetings. I have told Todd that I don’t believe this is an effective business strategy, citing the data and examples above. But he keeps bringing it up, referencing pharmaceutical sales as an example of using women’s attractiveness as an advantage in prospecting. What I haven’t told Todd is that personally (and as a woman myself), I find the idea reprehensible and exploitative (and possibly illegal?). I feel like he wants me to dangle inexperienced young women as bait to lure in leering creeps. He would likely brush that off by saying that (1) my responsibility and priority is to optimize the team to get the most meetings and (2) young women who are dedicated and smart should want to use their attractiveness as a professional advantage. The whole thing might be moot depending on the candidates we get. Maybe the most qualified candidate just happens to also be an attractive young woman and he can feel like he got a win. Or maybe no attractive young women apply and we have to choose somebody who doesn’t meet his gross requirements. Or maybe I should just quit.
Eeeww, Todd sucks.
Where to even begin!
First, yes, it is indeed illegal in every state in the U.S. to factor candidates’ sex or youth into a hiring decision. It violates the federal laws against sexual discrimination and age discrimination. (A few jurisdictions also make it illegal to discriminate based on appearance, but not federally.)
Then there’s the fact that Todd wants to use young women for this purpose at all — to, as you say, dangle them as bait to attract men who by definition are more likely to be leering creeps. That’s gross enough, but I also assume he’s doing this without the consent of the women involved, since presumably he’s not explaining his “strategy” to candidates before hiring them. Imagine starting a new job, which you felt good about getting on merit, and then realizing that you’re actually there to be bait for men.
Then there’s the fact that Todd’s strategy doesn’t even work! It just draws in men who want dates, not sales meetings. (To be clear, even if the strategy did work, it still wouldn’t be okay! The fact that it doesn’t is just icing on Todd’s sexist cake of misogyny.)
As for what to do, your best bet is to tell Todd flatly, “This would violate federal discrimination laws and we can’t do it.” And if he keeps pushing, keep up a flat response of, “It’s illegal so we can’t do it.” Or, “I’m not willing to violate the law, and we could get in legal trouble for this.” Feel free to add, “It’s also really gross and I am not willing to do it.” (But if you’re more comfortable sticking to the law, that’s perfectly fine too.)
Whether or not to quit is up to you. I would love to tell you to! Todd deserves to lose his employees. Todd shouldn’t be running a business. But since there are a lot of Todds out there (some more open about their Todd-ness than others), what makes the most sense is probably to look at Todd and the company more broadly — does sexism pop up in other ways there (I’m guessing yes)? What’s your experience there been generally, and that of other women? Is Todd’s judgment this off in other areas too? Basically, take this as a flag to step back and look at the whole picture of what’s going on and decide if you want to be a part of it.