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How to Say It: Women need not apply

Discussion: December 8, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I’m an award-winning sales rep. I’m also a woman. I applied for a job at a company whose #2 sales rep is female. After interviewing with the head of sales, I contacted the HR person to follow up. She dismissed me, saying, “We’ve found men do this job better.” I wish I’d recorded the call. I checked and found out the woman who is #2 was hired by a previous sales manager, not the current one. I want to call him or the HR person to tell them they’re making a mistake. How should I say it?

How to Say It: I wouldn’t waste time with an HR person who made a statement that suggests the company violates employment law. But don’t assume the head of sales is just as corrupt. When there’s an obstacle, go around. But don’t call the manager.

I’d call the #2 sales rep. Introduce yourself, then say: “I’ve heard great things about you from headhunters I know. Like you, I’m very successful in sales. Can I ask your advice? Should I consider a job at your company?”

If the answer is yes, she’ll share more advice about getting a job there. My suspicion is she’ll tell you something else — maybe even ask you for advice about finding a better employer.

That’s my advice. What would you tell this reader — and what would you do in this situation?


  1. How bad and why do you want to work at this company? Will you be happy trying to work for a boss who has a “men can do it better” attitude? Will you be happy in a job where you are trying to prove to your boss that he is wrong? Even if you prove you can do it just as well, he may continuously find excuses to not believe you. He may say that you just got lucky.

    I suggest you seriously consider working for that company’s competition. Be the competition’s gain and the above company’s loss.

  2. Send an EEOC rep in there. These people deserve to get busted, fined, and exposed. It is hard enough dealing with subtle discrimination, much less overt discrimination! I agree you should call their top female rep and have the suggested conversation as well.

  3. I would NOT advise her to send any EEOC rep in there because IMHO that would be as good as telling her to kill herself. A shit disturber is always blackballed, like it or not that is fact. I would suggest she walk away.

  4. @ Nic. It’s unfortunate but true that the decision to expose a company who is breaking the law always involves some consideration of the consequences for oneself. However, if everyone adopted your attitude of “walk away” then no one would ever challenge sexism, racism, homophobia and other vile and hateful attutides. Then where would we be?

  5. That is correct, you are 100% correct. Where would we be? Well, that is for those do-good organizations that are paid big money to do just that, flush that out and deal with everything you mention to handle for us. Let them send in people to find out what they feel they need to discover. Reality is this is never going away. This is a world of self-preservation. Would you be the one to blow the whistle, so to say, if it meant you would be blackballed from there on in life? There on known as a big mouth, a shit disturber, a troublemaker? You would have done “the right thing,” but big business, and big money ….the reality of the world is built on trust, and you will see plenty of discrirmination and ugly things go on you don’t like. You have to be able to keep your mouth shut. The hard fact is that no one cares about you doing the ‘right’ thing, and when it boils down to money no one cares about discrimination or any other injustice. You can complain but then no business will trust you from that point forward, they may not say it but it is fact. You will be known as the loose cannon. I learned long ago that the do-gooder is always the loser, always. I may feel this way because I do not believe in doing anything anonymously, so for me it would be in name or not at all. therefore this is off the table. If I stand for something, it is with my name below it because I am no coward. However, I know where the money is and I am not about to burn those bridges. Moreover, what you are suggesting I will not do. It may appear, and be self-centred, but it would not be me, and I would never recommend it to another.

  6. Nic,
    I echo your sentiments about EEOC. I’m all for doing the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is to NOT get the watchdogs involved. Think of all the innocent people that could be hurt because of one brainless moron sitting behind a desk.

    But my first reaction to your advice to not contact the manager was confusion. If it were me, I would definitely not work there, but I would also feel compelled to clue them in. Because if I were the manager I would want to know.

    But you’re right, the manager is probably just as unenlightened as the ding-dong in HR and then the job hunter would be seen as a trouble maker regardless of her good intentions.

    Your advise is perfect, someday the company will get into trouble and they will want to “hire more women” and guess whose name might come up? But I still wouldn’t work there…

  7. Suzanne,

    You nailed every point I originally thought out but didn’t write out in my comment. Thanks.

  8. What can I say, I learn from the best.

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