Screw the Glass Ceiling, Let’s Talk About the Cubicle.

This year, these women cussed. They were pissed. They were talking to me. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to a talk about making sure other women were on your board. Was I ever on a board? No, I was not. I still cried for that lucky chick...

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This International Women’s day I broke away from my ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ in Anaheim, CA, the largest natural global product show, Natural Product Expo (a frequent haunt of many health conscious D+ level celebrities) to pilgrimage to the place where some of the most famous female business goddesses (such as the first women to sell her company for one billion dollars, Sabrina Kay an immigrant single mother who dropped out of college) have told groups of women how to rise up and scale the maddening business gender walls that limit them.

I am in a unique ‘fly on the wall’ situation as by day I am an ingredient sales rep (20 years and counting) and by side-hustle (night and all other waking moments), a female empowerment author. It took me a dozen years to ‘self publish’ about my first topic (Women in Sales) but chapter one was originally written from my isolated voice inside a cubicle.

When I peaked out of the cubicle at the world of professionals, I wanted to be one of them—one of those powerful people who speak a language that I couldn’t understand. I called it corporate blah blah. I was a Sales Assistant, just out to the Army, and had my first corporate job at a Flavor and Fragrance company. That company was 135 years old at the time and considered the very best at what they did (with celebrity phone calls twice fielded by yours truly). There was no transition in my mind between the motivation that I had to be a good solider (who didn’t get her ass humiliated every day) and the motivation that I had to be a good Assistant. I had to get myself through college at some point, this I knew. But at the time being I was a new mom with a 6 month old baby, New York rent that cost far more then I made, and a husband that may or may not had wanted to go along with whatever scheme I had cooked up to be part of that group to which I did not ‘belong’.

I liked the cubicle, don’t get me wrong, I was busy in there—felt productive and appreciated. But that group outside of it, they felt like a clique that was having a party without me. Even though many of them might had wanted me to join. I didn’t understand them. I’m sure a few of you know how that feels. Every word felt like a match that I didn’t know how to win. So I decided to figure it out.

Years later, I wrote a book for women in sales, The Authentic Sale, a Goddesses Guide to Business, that essentially translated the male dominated world of sales methodologies to a female language. I used Goddess Metaphors because they made me happy. It assuaged my pain of feeling ‘less than’ by emphasizing that I was in fact, ‘pretty darn equal’. Heck, a Goddess. In the Olympic Battles of Business, Every Women is a Goddess.

Fast forward a couple of more years and I’m still talking to that person in the cubicle. Yes, I now speak fluent corporate exclusionary terminology (an upgraded term for that original language I referred to, I only use it when people want to play a game of ‘who sounds smarter’) and have finished most of the steps required to be there. I’ve had many reality checks along the way (economic crash of 2008, divorce, use your imagination). But the good things were and are really really good. So why am I still talking to the girl in the cubicle. Why?

Because that cubicle did not only represent a wall or language barrier between me and the crowd that was heading toward a glass ceiling, it also represented a wall between me and being an entrepreneur (good luck, only 2% of venture cap goes to women, blah blah blah) and a wall between me and being a traditionally published author (good luck at age 45, no traditional publisher would want an unknown like you). That cubicle represents my self/society/and seemingly mutually accepted limitation.

Every where I look the language still seems to exclude me/her. And by the way, it goes without saying that the cubicle divides not only women, but anyone who doesn’t have the money, background, experience or bullshit to feel part of that special group.

I took a stab at becoming an entrepreneur. A clever concept that made people laugh (friends, family and quite a few smart people in entrepreneurial circles) called “Husband in a Box” that was absolutely hated by the target consumer (a women my age with my background). I was a self-described ‘Sales Goddess’ yet I completely missed the mark on voice of customer. I had to learn a whole new language, that of Entrepreneurial Blah Blah. My partner recommended that I read Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist and I did so slowly, 5 times, yet I still never spoke that bad boy fluently. BTW, did I mention that I was a linguist in the US army? Russian. I learned how to speak Russian. But entrepreneurial jargon still makes me shrink. It was hard to start a company when the one voice I didn’t listen to was my own.

As a result, my resolution for International Women’s Day 2018 is both to translate Entrepreneurial Exclusionary Jargon into empowering goddess vernacular but also to call out women who are helping those who are not already at the top. Seems like the right timing as it feels like the universal language of Female Empowerment is starkly real and new–I think people are starting to get it!

The Montgomery Summit (a ‘shark tank’ like pitch platform which hosts technology companies seeking money) is the only male conference to host a night encouraging women to join the waters of Success with “The Rise of the Female Entrepreneur.” I’ve stalked that place like a crazy person for the past three years to hear these few women speak. Not just any women, women who were founders, venture capitalists (and venture capitalist daughters) and extremely accomplished corporate women. These are the celebrities that I care about.

This year, however, these women cussed. They were pissed. They were talking to me. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to a talk about making sure other women were on your board. Was I ever on a board? No, I was not. I still cried for that lucky chick who makes it and the kind reminder to not forget her friends on the way up.

They spoke about Venture Capital (big money for your business once you become profitable and appear to be high growth. This is how most Silicon Valley tech Gods go from small to public. You must either be a man or have one on staff to negotiate for it because men are better getting that money. In fact, only 2% of that money goes to women). The women who were speaking are hoping to increase that %, I think the goal is 3% (they were very funny, not to mention exhausted by the discouraging stats).

They talked (as they always do) about getting women into Tech. BTW, they really believe it. Years ago a woman named Ashley Crowder pitched at this event about her business Vntana (the worlds best hologram company, they make celebrity holograms that one can selfie with!). My daughter was on the fence with choice of college major and I asked Ashley for advice. She explained how important an Engineering degree was for her career. Ashley was the Head Goddess in the house this year and her business is on holographic fire. My daughter is now a 3rd year Electrical Engineering student, a Cube-Satellite Engineer with a plan. That’s for realz.

Oh here is a fun fact: Women die poorer than men. Always a great way to lighten up a conversation, and this talk was getting good. This Goddess (Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder, Ellevest) channeled Nora Ephron as she joked about being pro-man, having had a couple of husbands herself…

Thank you White Entertainment TV for letting super fan BloggerMoi nerd-out at this event (Tawny White the producer, third from the left, is a Goddess). Also in picture are the really nice people at Bluestone Lane Coffee. Thanks for supporting this holiday, pouring endless cups of coffee designed to make me and every other Goddess in the room happy. The guy on the left is a Greek God who fell from the sky called ‘Tawny’s Husband’. Just kidding, he is an awesome live event producer (and her collaborating partner) named Shawn Brown who really knows how to support a Goddess.

Most importantly, James Montgomery, you are a rock star for including a Female Founders night–a platform that is not out there at other conferences hosted by men. I strongly suspect (although I can’t be sure) that it was partially because of the amazing powerhouse women who are around him (he mentioned his wife, there was an Executive Director Catherine Calleja-Caumeran who seemed to have a little-big something to do with this, I suspect there is a power daughter, and clearly Tawny and her army are a force of Female Empowerment nature).

Once you overcome the language barrier I can promise you that a great deal of clarity unfolds. ‘A husband in a box’ will always be hated by a target consumer. I am that consumer (ok, I get it now) … and female founders/venture capitalist/daughters of venture capitalists that stand on stages at fancy events for International Women’s Day really do want to and can help you figure it out. Not a bad thing to know as a first step, even if the next step is vague.

Thank you Gail Evans, Arianna, Sheryl and the many Goddesses for your tireless work on the Glass Ceiling. I’m too busy being pissed off about the cubicle to join you, but when I get anywhere near that glass ceiling, I’ll thank you again for the advice that I’ll need to navigate it. 

Rena Cohen-First has sold in the Food Ingredient Industry for the past 19 years, selling to the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the world. She is the author of The Authentic Sale, a Goddesses Guide to Business, which is aimed at democratizing corporate-strategic selling from it’s patriarchal shroud. She has taught online business and leadership classes as an adjunct instructor, studied Professional and Executive Coaching, completed her MBA and Served in the US Army. She resides in San Diego with her two children and husband. Her goal is to show every woman that she can become a Sales Goddess in all circumstances.

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