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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

That Post About Sexuality, the Workplace and the Award

Written By: Carol Roth | No Comments

I originally posted some of the following story about two years ago.  With the continual discussion of the “war on women” and also some fairly inappropriate things (and by things, I mean people) that I have encountered recently, I thought I would share it as a point for a new discussion.

I started my career in investment banking, which is a very male-dominated industry.  I never thought much of it.  I was raised as “my father’s only son” and Wharton had a lot of guys there too.  In fact, I had always been a “guys’ girl” as some like to say and have to this day a large percentage of male friends.

While working for the investment bank Montgomery Securities, I had the opportunity to work on a follow-on public equity offering for Cooker, a once-publicly traded restaurant chain that unfortunately has since gone bankrupt and closed.

As “low women-on-the-totem-pole” on the three-person deal team, one of my jobs was to make sure that the registration statement (which is what the investors read and gets filed with the SEC- think of it as a capital raising document for a public company) was correct. Since the company was already public, it routinely filed statements with the SEC, so those parts of the document were audited and should have automatically been correct. But because I am diligent (i.e., extremely anal) and wanted to make sure that everything was in order (since that was my job), I recalculated every number in the registration statement by hand.

When I got to the balance sheet, there was a problem- it didn’t add up. Impossible- this was a publicly filed statement?! I had my colleague double check the math, and lo-and-behold, I had caught a major math error (which kinda pissed off the CFO because it made him look bad, but hey, it saved a LOT of potential problems).

After the deal was done, we had a closing dinner with the entire team where the company, the lawyers and the investment bankers got together to celebrate the deal. At these dinners, sometimes awards are given out. My colleagues handed me an award. Guess what it was?

Whatever you guessed, you are wrong. It was the “We Got Leggs Award”, for the team member “most likely to distract institutions, management and other bankers through my alluring hemlines”. Here it is in all its glory (maiden name included):

 


So, I found a mistake in a SEC filed balance sheet that had been audited and signed off on by company management and my freakin’ award was for wearing short skirts. Awesome (not really). And yes, the fact this that trophy is represented by a horse’s ass was not lost on me either. (They claim it was the only trophy they could find “with legs”).

Incredibly, the other bankers who were our co-managers on the offering actually stood up and reprimanded my colleagues for giving me that award and said that they were so amazed by what I did (the math part, not the skirt part) that they actually used it as a case study in their analyst training program on “what to do”. They also told me privately that they could not believe that my team didn’t recognize that.

Now, I have a fairly good sense of humor, so I didn’t care that much, but it would have been nice to have been recognized for my work rather than my legs.

You may argue that part of the reason that they felt comfortable giving me this faux award is because they believed I was “one of the guys”, but from my perspective it goes to a bigger issue- my looks were evaluated first.  If they had given me the merit award first and done this second, it would have maybe been more acceptable as a joke.  Or maybe not.

So, first, if you have employees, make sure you are looking at (and rewarding) their work, not their legs.

Second, I encourage everyone to be a bit more sensitive to the way sexuality is brought into professional encounters.  If you wouldn’t want your own daughter, mother, sister or friend treated a certain way, don’t be treating other people’s daughters, mothers, sisters or friends that way either.

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Carol Roth is a national media personality, ‘recovering’ investment banker, investor, speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett (Shark Tank, The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) produced technology competition series, America's Greatest Makers, airing on TBS and Host of Microsoft's Office Small Business Academy show. Previously, Carol was the host and co-producer of The Noon Show, a current events talk show on WGN Radio, one of the top stations in the country, and a contributor to CNBC, as well as a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and other stations. Carol's multimedia commentary covers business and the economy, current events, politics and pop culture topics. Carol has helped her clients complete more than $2 billion in capital raising and M&A transactions. She is a Top 100 Small Business Influencer (2011-2015) and has her own action figure. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth