Recently Barbara Corcoran of ABC’s “Shark Tank” sent out a tweet that would be deemed by many as controversial. Her tweet stated, “I find running a #business in a man’s world to be a huge advantage. I wear bright colors, yank up my skirt + get attention”. She came to her own defense and argued in summary that she simply works her assets to her advantage. Specifically for her, she feels her legs are her greatest physical feature, therefore, she shows them off to gain attention and close deals.
This story was featured on many different news shows and has been shared voluminously on various other outlets. Comments and feedback typically fell on one of two sides of the coin:
1. No problem showing the assets and flirting. Work what your mama gave you.
2. That is disgusting. Have some respect and earn business with your brain.
I will share with you my opinion, because scientifically I have no proof which one is right or if both are acceptable. However, before I can share my opinion I must share a story from my own past that has truly shaped exactly what I believe on this very topic.
The year was around 1997 and I had my first opportunity working for a smaller but national staffing agency. I was hired in as a Business Development Manager with my own small local territory. I was extremely young, I was around twenty or twenty-one years old, attending college part time and working full-time.
My manager’s name was Melissa, she was the Area Vice President for Atlanta. Melissa was in her mid to late twenties, blonde, overly tanned and obsessed with lip balm. Melissa had quite the reputation and as with many smaller companies it didn’t take long to gather an idea of what type of person she was.
At first I thought some of what I was being told about Melissa couldn’t be true, it was too “Melrose Place”. For example, when I heard that our company VP stays at Melissa’s apartment when he comes to town, I struggled to believe that. However, when the VP did visit that is actually where he stayed. She often advised the staff to dress “sexy” on client calls and that “it never hurts to show a little boob”.
The question of how does a girl like this make it to Area VP with only a couple of years of unimpressive work experience quickly became easier and easier to answer. As an impressionable, very young twenty something I really started to question the validity of this method. Could there be something to offering up a little flirting to help open doors and close deals? Now let me be real, I have never been a smooth operator any way so this probably would have never worked for me! Just keepin’ it real!
Nonetheless, there was one faithful event that changed my perspective and ultimately cost me my job!
I had been calling on a particular prospect to place warehouse temporary personnel. The warehouse manager told me that I could stop by to do a quick meet and greet in the lobby and drop off my information. That was huge! So I did that and I did make a connection with him in the lobby. He went ahead and offered to tour me the warehouse and so I spent about an hour with him that day. We had a great conversation and I told him I would like to come back and bring him some pricing information and discuss next steps. He agreed and we set a date.
Like always, my presentation was not flirtatious, I dressed modestly and I kept conversation to business, football and family.
The next day, during a sales meeting I shared how I was on track to closing this deal. Melissa insisted to go with me to the upcoming meeting. My heart sank. I had already heard the stories of how she likes to flirt with managers and in the words of one of my colleagues Melissa liked to “sex it up”. My client was a family guy. I just hoped she would be on her best behavior.
The day came and Melissa and I headed out to my prospective client. Melissa was wearing a very tight gray pencil skirt with a slit a little to far up the side and a tight white buttoned up blouse with her legendary high heels. As we approached the building she literally unbuttoned the top button of her blouse while saying “I’ll unbutton one for good luck”.
My client met us in the lobby, introductions were made and Melissa already couldn’t keep her hands off of him. He showed us the way to his office and we all took a seat. As before I had asked him if he watched the game on Saturday and we discussed those details for a minute. Melissa did not like not being center of attention. She took notice of his Corvette calendar that just had car pictures. She told him how much she loved the picture of that car and how “sexy” that it was.
He was very kind and talked about his Corvette and that he loved that car. Here is where the conversation goes to hell in a hand basket. Melissa asks my client if he has any pictures of the car and he said that he didn’t have any on him. So she offered that she would come out here again next week and wear her bikini and he can take a picture of her lying across the hood his beloved Corvette. She went on to say then he would have a picture of his car he wouldn’t mind keeping on him.
I thought I was going to die in that moment. Maybe I wanted to.
Rightfully so, my client was gob-smacked by the offering. He quickly switched gears and I knew something was wrong when he said he would need to get approval to use us. That was not something he insinuated before I came out there.
When I returned to the office, Melissa hopped in her car oblivious to her behavior. Waiting on me in the office was a message from my client to call him immediately. So I did.
You have already guessed it, my client was irate over Melissa’s behavior. I apologized profusely for her actions (me the lowly sales rep having to apologize for the AVP). He told me that the only way he would work with me (because he was appreciative of my professionalism) is if I could promise in writing that Melissa would never come on their property under any circumstance. He even listed out, “not to bring bagels, not deliver invoices, not to check on temps…”. He was serious, I think he loathed Melissa.
In that moment I learned and recognized how ridiculous the notion is of flirting for success. Melissa looked like a complete idiot to me and to this client. The entire Atlanta staff already thought she was a joke and promiscuous. She had no one’s respect, not even the VP who used her. Melissa was not someone to aspire to be, but she was the example given to me of what to avoid at all costs.
So how did it cost me my job? After advisement from my branch manager, who I did respect, I told Melissa the truth. She, I am sure out of embarrassment, rejected the notion that this was her fault but it was because I was a rookie sales person. She went on to tell me that if I was a good sales person then I would know how to overcome this objection and close the deal. Infuriated, she told me as the AVP she was required to have access to all clients and we could not accommodate this client with his request. In effort to save my job I reached back out to my client and gave it to him straight that we could not honor his request and he said “unfortunately this is where we have to part ways”. In Melissa’s eyes (or at least to what she wanted to see) I couldn’t close the deal and was let go.
So, what do I think about “yank up my skirt” to gain attention and close a deal? Maybe I am a bit sensitive to this due to my experiences but I think it is hogwash. Don’t get me wrong, I do realize that there are many women who take the seductive route and do close a lot of deals. Hey, whatever floats your boat.
Barbara Corcoran strikes me as an incredibly intelligent woman, I truly believe she is! It is funny, I have actually never noticed her terrific legs before, maybe because I am not a dude. However, when I listen to her on “Shark Tank” I am more mesmerized by what she is saying than anything related with her appearance. She is a captivating communicator!
So my advice to women, especially you twenty-somethings, take notice of the value in what you say and how effectively you communicate it. Yes, take pride in your appearance, adjust for your audience, find ways to connect personally and be the professional that you have dreamed of being. Be so insightful and so genuine and so thorough that people gravitate to your intelligence, your friendliness and your connectibility.
Ladies, be more than a short skirt and playful words, the generations coming up behind you are counting on more than that.