Product Manager is Victim of Sexist Treatment and Receives Pink Slip

In this installment of What They Don’t Teach, we talk with a sales and management professional about the very difficult experience of being fired after only a few months on the job. She shares what she would have done differently in the hopes that other professionals can learn from her experience and have a better outcome.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I was a product manager for a Latin America wholesaler with two years of experience in retail management and about four years overall experience in sales.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a female American, and I am ethnically diverse because my grandmother is from Mexico. Therefore, because of my grandmother’s influence in the family, I am familiar with Mexican culture and grew up with an ear for Spanish. Being bilingual in Spanish and English has been a great asset and has opened many doors, which otherwise would have remained closed for me, in my career. The Latin American market, made of countries with growing economies, is huge. Being able to connect with these markets is obviously an advantage for exporters. Just being bilingual is an advantage when it comes to sales.

On the contrary, being a female has made my employment in product management and sales a great challenge. I have no trouble working with men. However, it seems that some have a problem working with me. In my past two sales positions—maybe it is a coincidence or maybe I am a victim— I have had men superiors who have done a poor job in training me and have even seemed to set me up for failure. I feel like my success has been sabotaged because either I failed to flirt or my superior was attracted to me. This has been my experience with my past two superiors: one completely avoided me, and the other fired me. I am very frustrated because the jobs that I seek, professional jobs with unlimited income potential, are usually male-oriented, and two times in a row I have been burned because my male superiors could not learn to work with me.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
In my past position as a product manager, I would attend meetings with the manufacturer concerning forecasts and updates, and product availability. I was managing two large product lines; the two most important lines in the company under the director’s supervision. Although my title was product manager, I basically conformed to that of secretary. I became the director’s shadow and my administrative duties outweighed my sales opportunities. I was able to free up my director so that he could focus on the Brazilian market, as he speaks fluent Portuguese as well. I was also responsible for pushing the sales of two products. Sales did increase but not as significantly expected upon my arrival. In the beginning, I was not well informed of the expectations of my position. Had I known that I needed to show miraculous sales in the first five months of my employment, I would have definitely given up sleeping and would have demanded a raise! I was never even warned or pulled aside to discuss my progress. I was simply told after five months of employment that I did not meet the expectations and did not have enough experience.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
I loved my job as a product manager, and I did not mind working long hard hours. I enjoyed learning on the job, and I enjoyed the diversity in the nature of the job. I am willing to push myself as long as I am given the proper direction, instruction, and correction if necessary.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
I had my dream job. For the first time, I worked with people that I admired and were very diligent and motivational. I was willing to put in the time and the effort that it takes to succeed, but I just didn’t know how much that actually was until the end.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
If you are a female working in an all-male environment, be careful. And if you hear a sexist comment from your superior, write it down and also write down the name of everyone who heard it. Also, make sure you get an outline of the expectations for your position so that there is no ambiguity. If you are in a management or sales position, be sure to call attention to anything that distracts you from your sales performance such as administrative duties.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I majored in World Business and have always had an interest in international sales. If I could go back to my previous job, I would communicate more clearly with my director. I would have weekly meetings with the owner. I would focus more on sales and leave administrative duties for last. I would call attention to all the time I spent making hotel reservations, following up with customers that were not mine because I was directed to do so, organizing trade show events, selecting store displays for different product lines for retail stores, etc. Basically, I would call attention to not having much time, after all of the duties that I was given, to make sales calls or to motivate the sales team.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I had to learn the hard way that your relationship with your superior is up to your superior. There is only so much that you can do as an employee to earn their respect. I was fired, and that is what made this a reality for me.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
The working world is based a lot on connections and who you know and who you get along with. Once you have the power, you call the shots. Until then, you are either fortunate to be a natural charmer or you have to learn to act like one.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
The strangest thing that ever happened to me in this job was when my director made a sexist statement in Spanish to his client while passing by my desk. He said, “I don’t know why we have unmarried saleswomen working in this office.” So there is no doubt, I will make it very clear that I never engaged in any unprofessional behavior with my director or with any my male coworkers. I do not know why he made that statement.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
I got up and went to work each day because I was excited about the potential that I had with my company, its growth, and its direction. I was excited to know that once I was freed up enough from my administrative tasks, I could make sales and earn a commission. That day came too late.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
Despite all of the challenges that I faced. I never wanted to quit. I was fired.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
Being a product manager was very stressful at times, and work hours were long. I could have worked all day every day and still could have more work to do. I managed to maintain a mostly healthy work-life balance. To me, exercise is key. The beach and the sun, also, are key. And professional friends are a great resource.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
My salary range was $36,000 + commission. I was comfortable at first but realized that I needed to be paid more for all of the responsibility that had been placed on me.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I didn’t have a vacation because I was still in the first six months of employment. But weekends were good enough for a while.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
At least, you need to be bilingual. You need to have great communication skills and you need to be pushy.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
I would tell friends to have good luck, give it their best, and to make sure their bosses like them.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
In five years, I would like to have the same (or a similar) type of job that I used to do. I would like to have my own product to sell internationally and eventually have my own company or become a partner with a company.

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